In life it is said that the best ideas are the most obvious. In the case of a small group of Irish Americans from Connecticut, their vision of building a national Irish American museum in our Nation’s Capital has been staring them in the face for years and now they are taking steps to make it a reality. The Irish American Museum of Washington, DC will be a major cultural institution that will bring Irish-American history to life for visitors of all ages and for all American’s to see. According to Carl Shanahan, a founding director of the Museum, The history of the United States is the history of Irish America and that history deserves its rightful place in our nation’s capital. He continued to explain that, The museum belongs in Washington to reflect the national character of our story; the Irish legacy is evident all across this country.
The museum will be one of ethnic identity and join the likes of similar museums in DC honoring African Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans and most recently German Americans. The goal, according to Shanahan, is to explore the experience of the Irish people from immigrations through the evolution of their communities as well as to acknowledge their struggles and triumphs. James Dougherty, another founding director, explained that The story of Irish America must be preserved and the story must be told. Every day a little bit of our history fades away. We must record and preserve that history before it is gone.
AOH National Historian Mike McCormack noted, How many times have we said I wish I could have been there to help during the Great Hunger, to fight with Pearse in the 1916 rising, to work with Michael Collins, or to lend a hand at any other crucial time in Irish history – but I was born too late. Revise that thought! We were born at just the right time to do all those things and more for to keep their memory alive for posterity is to aid them more than any aid they received in their lifetimes. This museum is a critical effort and it’s what we are all about. Now is our time to be a hero for Irish history.
Early plans for the museum include housing in temporary gallery space until a permanent building can be built; site locations for a prestigious permanent establishment are presently under investigation. The museum will provide future generations of Irish-Americans with a proper sense of their history. With very limited space for museums available on the national mall, the search will include property of historic significance in the early Irish history of Washington DC which also allows convenient access to visitors.
Education will be a key component of the museum to showcase 250 years of Irish-American history through innovative exhibitions, education and cultural programs. This will be done in a state of the art facility designed to pay proper tribute to all those of Irish descent who played a role in the birth and development of the United States of America. The Museum will be a living and constantly developing entity. The core elements of the initial plan include exhibits of historical artifacts from the earliest Irish settlers up through the present. Also included will be oral history projects recording the memories of individuals who contributed to the Irish American story; a library of donated and collected books, films, magazines, newspapers and recorded music; a historical research center; a genealogical research center; an auditorium for presenting plays and musical performances that tell the Irish American story and a gift shop where visitors can purchase books, films and other items of Irish American interest. A cafeteria will serve quality food including dishes that would have been familiar to Irish immigrants. A publishing department will also develop and publish books and films on the Irish American experience. Also planned is a state of the art cinema to present audio/visual material produced by the Museum and by outside sources on topics of Irish-American interest.
Raising money for such a facility and operation will take a significant amount of time and effort and it all began in 2007, when the Board of Directors of The Wild Geese, an Irish American cultural organization based in Fairfield County Connecticut, authorized its President and Vice-President to pursue the establishment of an Irish-American Museum as a standalone tax exempt organization. They appropriated $30,000.00 as seed money to form the organization, and produce publicity material. The Wild Geese have subsequently granted an additional $5,000.00. The Museum has been incorporated and has been granted section 501(c)(3) tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. According to Patrick Flaherty a founding director of the Museum, the organization must raise $10 Million to build, maintain and endow the museum in perpetuity. They are soliciting funds from numerous sources including corporate sponsors, foundations, governments and individuals.
More informational can be found at their website www.irishamericanmuseumdc.org which is also in the process of being expanded.