Lahey: Irish history legacy ‘makes me proud’
An initiative realized
President John Lahey has been the driving force behind this collection, which is the largest collection of artifacts in the world dedicated to the Irish Famine, or the Great Hunger. Lahey secured almost every piece of art himself, traveling back and forth to Ireland about 10 times in the past 15 years. He gives all of the credit, however, to Murray Lender, the collection’s financial backer and the namesake of the business school building, who passed away this past March.
Lahey sees the museum accomplishing two things. The first is to educate people about the Great Hunger itself, and the second is ultimately to become respected as a museum of artwork.
The collection has previously been housed in the Lender Family Special Collection room, but according to Lahey it was about three years ago that he and Lender realized that they had acquired more art than they could accommodate in the one room. The pieces of the collection were spread out around campus, and some were still in boxes and crates, waiting for a home.
Although the idea to house the collection in one place was already in the works, it wasn’t until 2010 when the Consulate General of Ireland showed the collection in New York, that Lahey and Lender really saw the vision come to life.
“Doing that really gave impetus to [the idea of a museum],” Lahey said, “I was able to see all the sculptures and the paintings in a museum setting.”
Having an art gallery in the name of Quinnipiac University, according to Lahey, will also put the university more on par with some of the biggest and best universities in the country.
“Yale University has a British museum of art so I think it’s appropriate that if Quinnipiac was going to have an art museum, it would be an Irish museum,” Lahey said, “We’re kind of the scrappier, new kid on the block.”
The Whitney Avenue building itself was a combination of perfect qualities in Lahey’s eyes. Located between the two undergraduate campuses, on the main street, and easily accessible from the highway, Lahey sees 3011 Whitney Ave. as a new major anchor of a Quinnipiac presence on this main road.
Plus, the building itself has some history to it. Opened in 1890 as Hamden’s first free public library, the exterior design reflects the look of old Irish workhouses during the famine.
It is clear that this project has been close to Lahey’s heart for over a decade. In 1997 he served as Grand Marshal for the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and had what he calls his “intellectual awakening” in regards to the real story of the Irish Famine, and how the real story was more directly the fault of the British government than they advertise. That same year, he testified in front of the Connecticut state legislature in support of adding the Great Hunger to the curriculum.
Lahey recently noticed a group of schoolchildren in the Lender room in the library, viewing the educational materials and artwork. “It just gave a warm feeling to me to see that that’s really the legacy of Murray Lender,” Lahey said, “To see young people reading about the Irish plight, that more than anything makes me proud.”
Next week will play host to many events leading up to the opening of the museum.
“With anything like this, I wanted to tie in everyone and get the whole community involved,” Lahey explained. Gerry Adams, president of the Irish political party Sinn Féin, will deliver a lecture, and there will be a panel discussion of seven Irish artists featured in the museum, as well as a lecture on the history of the Great Hunger by author Christine Kinealy. All of these events were designed to include the public and the academics in the community. The Dropkick Murphys concert was to tie in the students.
“As I get older, trying to figure out what motivates an 18- to 22-year-old gets more and more challenging but I wanted the students to feel some of the excitement and the importance of the event,” Lahey said.
There will also be an open house for anyone in the university community on Saturday, Sept. 29, the day following the concert.