Learning from Tragedy
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Quinnipiac University
Learning from the past is even more critical when it’s focused on a specific and enormous tragedy. Formerly located within Quinnipiac University’s Arnold Bernhard Library, the Great Hunger Museum collection and mission had grown large enough to warrant its own building. The old Hamden Library on Whitney Avenue was redesigned and renovated to house the museum’s collection of works while evoking the Irish way of life in the 19th-century. Today, the museum is the world’s largest collection of paintings, sculptures, and visual arts related to Ireland’s Great Famine of 1845-1850. The institute also offers a strategic program of lectures, conferences, course offerings, and publications.
The building’s exterior is designed to evoke a 19th-century Irish workhouse. On the first floor, low ceilings and minimal direct light relate the environment emigrants experienced while fleeing. By contrast, the second floor features high ceilings and open, bright spaces that demonstrate the optimism of a better future. In the main gallery, a mixture of larger and smaller spaces provides different ways to discover the exhibits and learn about people and events. A flexible lighting system for artwork is provided through a wood slat ceiling that was both an aesthetic element and allowed for easy access. As designed, the museum offers a unique array of primary, secondary and cultural sources available to educate students and scholars, and people of all ages and backgrounds about the Great Hunger.