Epic Ireland

On Saturday I loaded up on all the scepticism I could muster and headed down for a sneak preview of the Epic Ireland visitor attraction in the CHQ building on Dublin’s Custom House Quay. (Full disclosure: the reason for the invite is that the Family History Centre attached to Epic has licensed some of the software from my site)

Custom-built “visitor attractions” are not generally high on my wish-list: being told what to see, even in velvety PR-speak, gets my hackles up. And after all the fruitless ballyhoo a few years back over a National Diaspora Centre, I was afraid this private-sector version might go for the paddywhackiest of paddywhackery. So I entered the CHQ vaults with a clenched heart and some trepidation.

And two hours later emerged with my heart melted, a lump in my throat and my eyes out on stalks. The place is simply extraordinary. First, and most important, it is honest. The reasons for leaving and the lives left behind, the individual stories, the huge chronological and geographic span of migration from Ireland, are all
presented straight.

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The barrel-vaults in the basement go on and on

But the wonderful use of touch-screens, hi-definition projectors, motion-sensors and especially of the barrel-vaults of the building itself make it possible for a visitor to skim or go deep, to linger over the role of the Irish in Bordeaux wine-making or the battle of Fredericksburg, to whip through Riverdance or be hypnotised by the spectacular animations illustrating the history of Irish science.

In the end, it was one of the most moving museum experiences I’ve ever had. I suspect anyone with Irish blood will find it just as emotional.

Quibbles? Of course: There’s not enough about the awkward Other Irish, Northern Presbyterians, responsible for the winning of the American War of Independence, a fact worth bigging up. I found the passport to be stamped as you go from section to section just a tad on the hokey side. The sheer scale can be a bit overwhelming. And there is some mission creep – it covers aspects of contemporary Ireland with only the most tenuous links to the Diaspora.

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The passport at least gives a sense of the sheer scale of it all – each of these areas could take half-an-hour or more to explore fully

But, all in all, it is breathtaking.

Epic Ireland opens to the public on Saturday next, May 7th. I’ve been to the current top attraction in Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse, and Epic is much better. If there’s any justice, it will be a runaway success. And so will the Family History Centre.

8 thoughts on “Epic Ireland”

  1. Thanks John. Your reaction very moving. I know you chatted with Fiona Ross – for us this is only a start – we will look to improve based on feedback like yours.

    Mervyn Greene
    MD, The chq Building

  2. Interesting read, John; your review is and should be influential! Your comment about the relative paucity of coverage of early Presbyterian emigrants is interesting; perhaps not very surprising, but I am rather disappointed. I would hope that the curatorial team can do something to improve their displays in this regard. Not least because 2018 is the tercentenary of the 1718 migration from the Bann valley in co. Londonderry, to New England, apparently the first successful organized migration from the north. There are plans already in place to mark this anniversary, and it is expected that the associated events and coverage will lead to increased interest in this period and to increased numbers of visitors from New England; perhaps also to increased awareness of the Ulster origins of so many US and Canadian citizens, and of people in Australia and New Zealand too.
    I hope to visit the exhibition soon, and will certainly contact the organizers afterwards; I’ll be happy to be in touch with you or with them, in advance of 2018

  3. Hi John

    Thats a very positive reaction and leave’s me looking forward to visiting.

    I take it you have a personal interest in the Ulster dimension? Mine is the Irish in (20C.) Britain, specifically male migrant labour, and I wonder whether you discerned any coverage of this? The Irish Times piece gave the impression that this was a series of ‘success stories’ but didn’t spell out how the term may have been interpreted here…

    1. Hi Ultan.

      I have no Ulster axe of any description to grind, other than the fact that Ulster Presbyterians have been invisible to many southern nationalists for far too long.

      The Irish in 20th-century Britain are very well covered, I think. Dónal Mac Amlaoigh’s Diallann Deoraí is a big part of the early “Leaving the Island” section and there’s plenty more in the other thematic sections.

  4. Glad to hear it! If Ulster Presbyterians have been invisible to ‘southern nationalists ‘, they may make common cause with the Irish in Britain, whom what Ends Delaney likes to all ‘the nationalist elite’ steadfastly ignore…

  5. Thanks, John. Visiting from Australia next month – I’ll get online and order our tickets then stock up on tissues. Sounds like an epic experience

  6. Sounds like a great experience. Hope this is an ongoing exhibit that will be around we we visit in late 2017.

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