Anne Anderson, Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, visited Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum and the Arnold Bernhard Library at Quinnipiac University on April 29 to formally open the university’s year-long exhibit “The Lady Sligo Letters: Westport House and Ireland’s Great Hunger.”
“Way beyond providing us with a resource or facility, I suggest that these places – [Ireland's Great Hunger Museum] and [Ireland's Great Hunger Institute] – fulfill a real and deep-seated need,” Anderson said at a reception celebrating the exhibit.
The ambassador said the university’s museum and institute helps put the tragedy of the Famine into perspective as well as telling the stories of some of the victims.
“When we contemplate the deaths of a million people, so huge a figure can leave us numbed, anesthetized. But when we give a face or a voice – through art, or letters, or diaries, or literature – to some of those who died, they call out to us in a different way,” Anderson said. “The duty of remembrance arises in relation to all of history’s terrible and large-scale losses of life: through war, genocide, or natural disasters.”
The need for great centers are more important than ever, Anderson said.
“Today, there is perhaps less risk of anonymity of suffering. Mobile phones have penetrated the planet, allowing images to be captured even in the remotest places and
transmitted globally in seconds,” she told about 100 guests. “A life was worth pitifully little in Ireland in the 1840s; it is still worth pitifully little in many parts of the world today. The Great Hunger Museum and the Institute connect us to the human reality of Ireland in the 1840s. In doing so, they serve a wider purpose, insisting on the humanity and individual tragedy that mass statistics often obscure.”
The ambassador said the new exhibit will relate to all visitors.
“Lady Sligo’s voice interests us not just as a woman’s voice. It is an Anglo-Irish voice, a landlord’s voice. It is very much a voice of its era, imbued with the attitudes – and indeed some of the prejudices – of the era. But it is also a humane voice at an inhumane time,” Anderson said before tours commenced. “I had the privilege of a short private tour of the exhibition this afternoon: the letters remain as vivid and compelling as when they were written.”