Cottages, West of Ireland, 1928–30, Paul Henry RHA
The Irish who began arriving in 19th century Connecticut were a dispossessed people, Catholics in a Protestant land who fled their native country out of desperation after a politically-induced famine that claimed more than 1 million lives and forced the exodus of twice again that many.
In the next century and a half, the Irish would become a substantial portion of Connecticut’s population and make significant contributions here. By 1850, the Irish had become the largest foreign-born group in the state.
Writing for The Patch news service, the historian Philip R. Devlin said Connecticut residents who claim Irish ancestry today are significant in number.
“The percentage of Connecticut’s residents who claim Irish ancestry exceeds the country’s percentage by 7%,” he has written. “Almost 18% of Connecticut residents claim Irish ancestry — nearly one out of every five people in the state. It is a number only exceeded by Connecticut residents who claim Italian ancestry — 19.3%.”
But numbers don’t begin to tell the story of why the Irish came here in such large volume. The answer can be found in Hamden where Quinnipiac University opened Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in 2012.
It proclaims to be “ home to the world’s largest collection of visual art, artifacts and printed materials relating to the starvation and forced emigration that occurred throughout Ireland from 1845 to 1850.”
If art’s purpose is to move us, to touch something deep within, then Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum succeeds.