Alyssa Noseworthy: Pictures at an Exhibition–A Day of Museums

EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum (photo: Alyssa Noseworthy)

In our last days of the tour, we still found ourselves caught in a whirlwind of events. Our morning would begin today with a visit to the Gaelic Athletic Association Museum, then segue into a departure for the Chester Beatty Library. After that, we would subsequently leave for EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum. This hectic schedule’s setting was none other than the vibrant city center of Dublin, and the weather was characteristically drizzly as we headed out.

The Gaelic Athletic Association features a colossal stadium which can hold around 80,000 people. The victors of the matches played classically ascend the stairs on the right, the losing team on the left, towards a large silver cup which is awarded. Interestingly, however, this association doesn’t have a “home” team, but is instead neutral; all teams are equally viewed within the stadium. In addition, the league is inclusive of two non-Irish teams: England and New York. Regardless, the sports are of Irish origin; in fact, until 2005, it wasn’t even licensed for the stadium to house a non-Irish sport. Among these sports are hurling, which uses the sliotar, camogie, the female variant of the game, and rounders, which is actually considered the predecessor to baseball’s development as a sport.

As for the Chester Beatty Library, I admit I’m biased. I’ve always adored books, and this was a breathtaking accumulation of manuscripts, texts, and other tomes.  We were introduced to the samut khoi, or paper folding books, an art form found in Buddhist cultures in Thailand. Most date back to as early as the seventeenth century due to the warm climate there, which wasn’t conducive to preservation, but an impressive collection of them is still present here. We also had the opportunity to see calligraphy in all scripts, from Arabic to Pali Indian to Latin. And we were given an insight into book-binding as a practice in Dublin (which became a hub for it, due to its high quality).  In particular, the linkage between these amazing literary works and the religious beliefs of their peoples was fascinating to explore, and this library allowed us this, to a great extent.

At the Irish Emigration Museum, the biggest allure to me was its sheer interactivity. It was one of the most creative formats I had seen in a long time. We were given passports to depart on the tour, as part of our “emigration,” and their pages covered more information about the exhibits. A silver statue was placed in the middle of a large room, depicting the various methods which supplied transportation during this mass movement. In particular were the “coffin ships,” so named for their high mortality rate, which were an unfortunate result of the Great Famine of the nineteenth century (which also pushed a large volume of this emigration). Past that, we were brought to a series of sad stories of this development: the U.S. in the 1800s through the early 1900s had restrictive quota laws, and in addition, nativism was as present there as it was in many other countries. The Irish were not entitled to the same jobs or social status as those considered “American.”

Past these prejudices, however, the museum also showcased the beauty of this emigration; the cultural influences that Ireland had on the U.S. are innumerable. One room showcased “Riverdance,” and had steps on the floor, so visitors could learn traditional Irish dancing. Another room displayed a large panel of famous Irish descendants in American culture, including President Kennedy and Oscar Wilde. In the adjoining room was a facsimile of an Irish pub, showing the atmosphere which became a cultural norm in America as well as Ireland. Finally, the last room (one of my favorites!) was a bookcase of Irish works, with interactive books you could pull out of the shelves. When you pulled these highlighted books out of the shelf, an audio file would begin to read passages from that book. Highlighted was Ulysses, by James Joyce—an enormous piece of literature that synthesizes the culture through a fateful day in Dublin.

The culmination of these museums just makes one realize how many intersections exist between our cultures, and how interconnected our modern world is today. For that reason and many more, today was a wonderful opportunity to broaden our perspectives through history.

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