Irish Tourism Minister Minister Leo Varadkar, who officially opened Ireland’s Great Hunger museum near the campus of Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, stated the Famine’s impact on Ireland was similar to the Civil War in the US and World War 2 on Europe.
Speaking on Friday last, he applauded the American university’s efforts in preserving the memory of the tragedy, and said that Ireland still hasn’t recovered from the Famine which claimed some one million lives and triggered a massive emigration.
"It is to us what the Civil War is to the United States, what World War II is to continental Europe," Minister Varadkar said. At the start of the famine, Ireland's population stood at eight million, and today it is only six million, he said.
While Ireland itself bore the brunt of the pain of death and departure, Minister Varadkar pointed out that the global community benefited as it became "infused [with] a sense of Irishness” through massive emigration.
Similarly, Ireland came to understand the importance of global aid as many countries offered help during the years of the Famine.
"The Irish people still understand that kindness," he said, "and donate to charities overseas more than any other country.
Several speakers noted that much of the Famine was just being explored. "The bottom line is we don't know exactly how many people died," said Irish History professor and Famine scholar Christine Kinealy. "It was a slow and painful torture."
On hand beside Varadkar were U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny.
Quinnipiac University’s President John L. Lahey said, "The museum will preserve, build and present its art collection in order to stimulate reflection, inspire imagination and advance awareness of Ireland's Great Hunger and its long aftermath on both sides of the Atlantic.”
"This story needs to be told over and over," he said, "and I don't think there is any place better for it to be told than in this museum."
The museum will be open to the public on Oct. 11. It will be open Wednesdays from 10am to 5pm; Thursday 10am to 7pm; Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm; and Sundays from 1-5pm.