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Great Hunger Museum qnewletter-2

Great Hunger Museum qnewletter-2

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Published by Patricia Dillon
Gorta Mor, Quinnipac U
Gorta Mor, Quinnipac U

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Published by: Patricia Dillon on Nov 16, 2013
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In the six months since its opening, Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Músaem An Ghorta Mhóir, has welcomed more than 6,000 visitors. The response has been overwhelming. In its review, The New York Times (Jan. 4, 2013) said that the museum “packs an intense emotional wallop,” and that it “has the surprising effect of simultaneously softening and sharpening the gruesome facts.” According to History Ireland (March 2013), “the exhibition represents an outstanding and unique achievement.” More than 20 groups—schools, clubs and retirees—have come to visit the museum. We also hosted a number of successful events, including lectures, a book signing by John Kelly, author of “The Graves Are Walking,” and a musical performance by Irish-American folk musician Danny Quinn. A performance by premier Irish fiddler Marie Reilly was so well attended that we had to turn people away! We invite you to watch for further events including a lecture by famine scholar Christine Kinealy. The museum recently acquired an important work, The Ragpickers (1900), by Henry Allan. As the first acquisition during my directorship, I am delighted to have this join the other works in the lower gallery. The Ragpickers not only strengthens this part of the collection, but as some 3 million, mainly rural Irish, emigrated throughout the 19th century, the diasporic connections of the now urban poor are demonstrated in the shocking illustration of Mulberry Street, a hub of ragpicking in Five Points, N.Y. We look forward to welcoming new visitors to the museum. Grace Brady Executive Director



APRIL 2013

Henry Allan (1865–1912) The Ragpickers (1900) Oil on Canvas, 26.5 in x 40 in. Purchased by Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum on the 100th anniversary of the artist’s death, The Ragpickers (1900) is a work by Henry Allan, one of two paintings by him of the same subject. The oil painting was exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1900, and the second version in 1908. Allan’s work is rare today, making this an important acquisition. Allan was born on June 18, 1865, in Dundalk, County Louth. He studied in Belfast and Dublin, and then Antwerp, in Belgium, where he won multiple prizes. He returned to Ireland, to Downpatrick, County Down, about 1889, before moving to Dublin where he spent the rest of his life. His painting of The Little Matchseller was awarded the Albert Prize at the RHA in 1893. Other works include


An Old Beggarwoman; A Flower Seller; Fishsellers; Fieldworkers, Dublin; and Carting Seaweed in the Ards. He was elected an associate of the RHA in 1895, and a member in 1901. Allan’s subject matter included local scenery around Dublin and County Down. The topography of The Ragpickers is consistent with the dunes of Ringsend, Dublin, seen from South Lotts in 1900. The women are collecting for the papermills at Rathfarnham, Kilmainham or Clondalkin. Two crones point threateningly at a group of other ragpickers further away, suggesting perhaps some territorial dispute. The theme was popular with Realist artists, who focused on urban life. The Ragpickers is a decidedly vibrant, modern and gritty work. Ragpicking was a common occupation in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Ragpickers eked out a living by rummaging for scraps of cloth and paper and other discarded items to identify

anything that could be recycled or sold (even dead cats and dogs could be skinned to make clothes). Ragpickers turned over what they salvaged to a master who would sell it, usually by weight; anything of value was to be returned to the owner or the authorities. Ragpickers lived on the margins of society (in Paris, ragpickers or chiffonniers were regulated by law, and restricted to working at certain times of night, for instance). Painters and writers of the Romantic period turned the ragpicker into a type of street philosopher who, living from day to day and unburdened by material things, understands human nature. Unobserved, he observes others. In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862), la Vargouleme is a ragpicker. And Édouard Manet depicted The Ragpicker (c. 1865–70) as a social type, representative of the age. Rag and bone men persist today, and ragpicking continues in Third World countries, specifically in India. In so far as it requires no skills, it continues to be a source of income for the urban poor.



APRIL 2013

Harper’s reported: “The house is never cleaned, and the floors and walls are saturated with offensive effluvia…and the atmosphere within is rank poison. Decaying garbage and filth of every description cover the passageways and court, and sickening odors and gases rise from the choked sewers, and penetrate every part of the building.” Here resided the Irish, “the lowest class, steeped in ignorance and degradation. At night nearly all the adults were generally drunk, and their dismal orgies were a great annoyance and terror to the neighborhood.” In 1859, 55 percent of people arrested in New York City were Irish, indicative of their status and behavior. Notwithstanding condemnation of these buildings, by April 5, 1879, when William Rogers came to Mulberry Street, things were even worse. Harper’s now ran a series of articles on the tenements of New York. In Mulberry Street, rags picked off the streets were hung from the balconies to be washed by the rain and dried by the sun, before being sold for a pittance. The squalor delineated by Rogers in his “Tenement Life in New York—Ragpickers Court, Mulberry Street” makes this illustration a remarkable social document of the age.
A CONTRIBUTION FROM Niamh O’Sullivan Consultant Curator Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum Professor Emeritus of Visual Culture National College of Art and Design Dublin, Ireland

Harper’s Weekly, April 5, 1879 William A. Rogers (1854–1931) “Tenement Life in New York— Ragpickers Court, Mulberry Street”

Ragpickers of New York: Two Illustrations
In the wake of the Great Hunger, up to 3 million Irish rural, Catholic and destitute people—bringing (they said) disease, Popery and intemperance—streamed into America. By 1855, the population of New York was 37 percent foreign-born Irish. The Irish concentrated in slum roosts, such as Five Points, N.Y., where they were synonymous with crime, drunkenness and violence. Immortalized in Herbert Asbury’s (1928) novel and Martin Scorsese’s (2003) movie, “Gangs of New York,” the district was said to average a murder a day. Mulberry Street was the ragpickers’ quarter. From ragpicking in Dublin, to ragpicking in New York, these illustrations show how the lot of poor immigrants was a matter of substituting one destitution for another. The illustration, “A Tenement House in Mulberry Street,” was carried in Harper’s Weekly with the observation that “Not in Rome, nor Paris, nor London can be found worse abodes of foulness and misery.”

About the Museum Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of visual art, artifacts and printed materials relating to the Irish Famine. The collection focuses on the Famine years from 1845–52, when blight destroyed virtually all of Ireland’s potato crops for consecutive years. Museum Hours Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. For more information about the museum, call 203-582-6500, visit www.ighm.org or email ighm@quinnipiac.edu.

Harper’s Weekly, Sept. 13, 1873 Charles A. Vanderhoof (1853–1918) “A Tenement House in Mulberry Street”

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