- Arts & Life
Just one year after being named Irish-American of the year by Irish American Magazine, Quinnipiac University President John Lahey added yet another honor to his list of achievements.
President Lahey was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame on March 14 joining an elite group of Irish-Americans, including 2011 inductee former United States President Bill Clinton.
“I am happy and proud to be honored,” Lahey said. “I usually don’t think of John Lahey in the same category as presidents of the United States.”
The Hall of Fame was founded in 2010 by Irish American Magazine and, according to their website, “honors the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.”
President Lahey has been an active member of the Irish community for many years. He oversaw the creation of Quinnipiac’s Great Hunger Irish Museum and is a working advocate for education on the famine, earning him recognition among Irish-Americans. He is also involved with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City and was parade grand marshal in 1997, dedicating that year to Ireland’s Great Hunger.
“Being an educator I thought it would be important for me to use my platform as grand marshal to talk about something I thought was important to educate people about,” Lahey said.
His work with Ireland’s Great Hunger may have earned Quinnipiac’s president his spot in the Hall of Fame, but Lahey stressed he is not the only one who should receive recognition.
“Sometimes [presidents] get a little more blame than we deserve, but we always get more credit than we deserve,” Lahey said. “That’s certainly true in this case.”
President Lahey gives much of the credit to Murray Lender, who came to Lahey wishing to spread awareness of the Great Hunger. Lender’s contributions ultimately led to the creation of Quinnipiac’s Great Hunger Collection, a constantly expanding art gallery on Ireland’s Great Famine.
“Some people think that Murray’s biggest contribution to Quinnipiac was his philanthropy. He did a lot more than just give money,” Lahey said. “He was really the origin of these ideas. As much as people want to give me credit for the Great Hunger Collection, it was [Lender’s] idea—not mine at all.”
The Great Hunger Collection is the largest collection of art related to the Great Hunger in the world, and was recently announced to be moving from Quinnipiac’s Mount Carmel campus to a location on Whitney Avenue.
President Lahey said he hopes the new Quinnipiac’s Great Hunger Irish Museum will be open soon, as early as this September. Being the first museum of its kind, the new project has gotten Quinnipiac’s name into the spotlight.
“That’s the talk of the Irish community right now. It’s not John Lahey but it’s that Quinnipiac University is going to have the first museum in the world dedicated to Ireland’s Great Hunger,” Lahey said.
The increased exposure has helped Quinnipiac expand its student body and bring in more students from outside of Connecticut’s borders. When Lahey first became president in 1987, about 80-percent of the student body hailed from Connecticut. Now, just 25 years later, the opposite is true. Only about 22-percent of currently enrolled Quinnipiac students are from Connecticut.
President Lahey’s work has gotten Quinnipiac a great deal of positive press and has helped the school with its recent and planned expansions.
“I’m proud that Quinnipiac is benefiting from it,” Lahey said. “We get a lot of students from New York and the northeast here. There are a lot of students here, who certainly have Irish surnames, at Quinnipiac—and through the Great Hunger Collection and some of the exposure in New York the name Quinnipiac is spread far and wide.”
In addition to opening the new museum in the fall, President Lahey is also working with other universities in Ireland on potential student, faculty and artwork exchanges.