Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum set to move to Fairfield

HAMDEN — Quinnipiac University will likely need to seek court permission before an outside organization can take on charitable donations from the art collection that once included Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, according to the office of the state attorney general.

But nearly a year after announcing its investigation into the collection’s controversial fate, the agency doesn’t appear to oppose Quinnipiac’s plan to transfer the artwork, and a university spokesperson said Quinnipiac was satisfied with the results of the investigation.

The attorney general’s office will, however, monitor the status of the collection until the transfer is complete, Assistant Attorney General Gary Hawes wrote in an Aug. 16 letter to Quinnipiac’s attorney.

Meanwhile, a Fairfield-based organization and Quinnipiac’s chosen recipient for the collection, prepares to stage its first temporary exhibition using a selection of pieces from the museum.

The fate of the collection has been the subject of controversy since last summer, when Quinnipiac announced the permanent closure of the museum, sparking uproar within the Irish-American community.

A lawyer for the Committee to Save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, a group that fought the university’s decision, has called on state attorney general William Tong to investigate the closure, warning it could involve the sale or disbursement of the collection.

At the time, a Quinnipiac spokesperson said the university had no plans to sell the collection and was committed to ensuring it remains accessible to the public. But Tong opened an investigation into the matter in October.

Hawes’ letter, dated Aug. 16 and shared with Hearst Connecticut Media by the state attorney general’s office, comes 10 months after the agency began its investigation and refers to Quinnipiac’s plan to transfer the collection at the Gaelic-American Club of Fairfield.

Under the plan, which was announced in March, the club would open and operate a new museum in downtown Fairfield while maintaining an educational partnership with Quinnipiac.

The proposed location for the new museum is at 636 Old Post Road in Fairfield, according to Hawes’ letter, which indicates that the potential beneficiaries recently established an organization called Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum of Fairfield Inc.

John Foley, a Gaelic-American Club official who led efforts to create a new museum, is the president of this organization. It was formed in early March, according to the Connecticut Online Business Database.

The group “has a variety of tasks to complete prior to a transfer of the collection, including securing ownership … to house the collection and funding to support all aspects of acquiring the collection and running a museum. “, says the letter from Hawes.

According to the letter, Quinnipiac must also go through a legal process known as an equitable deviation action before the new museum can take over the collection’s charitable assets.

A fair deviation action is “the legal proceeding in which the ‘trustee’ of the donation assets is changed, i.e. where Quinnipiac University will be replaced by an organization that the State Superior Court selects as suitable replacement,” a spokesperson for Tong’s office said. in a report. “Ultimately, it is the court’s decision that will replace an existing trustee.

“In order for the Gift Assets to be legally transferred, QU will likely need to seek a court order for the transfer through an equitable diversion action.”

In the meantime, the Attorney General’s Office has recommended that the art be used in temporary exhibits to “allow the work and story behind the collection to continue to be told while the (Fairfield-based museum ) is preparing to take possession of the collection,” according to another statement from the attorney general’s office.

The opposing camps react

Organizations on different sides of the museum debate have reacted positively to the agency’s findings.

“We are delighted that the AG office has completed its review of the information provided by Quinnipiac and supports our continued work with the Great Hunger Museum of Fairfield in Ireland to ensure the proper legal transfer of the collection,” said the gatekeeper. – Quinnipiac University spokesman John Morgan in a statement. statement.

Although a vocal critic of Quinnipiac’s decision to close the museum, Turlough McConnell also said he was satisfied with the outcome of the investigation.

“We’re really pleased that the Attorney General’s Office really took their time and really investigated all aspects of the case” and decided “to hold Quinnipiac accountable for the successful outcome of the collection,” McConnell said.

McConnell leads the Committee to Save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, which has lobbied to keep the Hamden site open.

Failing that, the group has sought to ensure the collection remains intact, McConnell said, and it appreciates that Hawes’ letter promises continued review of the collection.

McConnell hopes the new museum will not only serve as a space to display the artwork, but that it “will be able to support it with academic rigor.”

When the museum opened in Quinnipiac, McConnell said, it complemented two other university resources dedicated to the Great Hunger. They included a library room containing relevant sources and the Great Hunger Institute of Ireland, run by Christine Kinealy, a leading expert on the Great Hunger.

The Quinnipiac Museum was “the number one place in the world where this history has been properly honored,” McConnell said. “How do you recreate that? … That’s the challenge.

Upcoming exhibition

Foley, the chairman of the Great Hunger Museum of Fairfield in Ireland, said the organization was in “sync” with the attorney general’s office and working to ensure all proper protocols were followed.

Because Quinnipiac has received artwork from donors, Foley said, the new museum will need to ensure it fulfills the same mission as the old one – “to preserve the important story of the Great Hunger.”

Asked when the new museum will open, Foley said he wouldn’t provide a timeline because he didn’t want to put pressure on the museum building’s current tenants, who need to firm up their move plans.

Operation Hope, an organization that works with people struggling with homelessness and food insecurity, currently houses its office and food pantry at 636 Old Post Road, according to its website. In December he received $1.5 million in state assistance to find a new headquarters.

Meanwhile, Quinnipiac University and Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum of Fairfield have partnered with the Fairfield Museum and History Center to hold a temporary exhibition from September 17 to October 16, according to a statement provided by Foley.

The exhibition, titled “An Gorta Mór: Selections from the Collection of the Great Hunger Museum of Ireland,” will feature nearly 30 pieces from the collection, the statement said.

“I’m so excited,” Foley said. “Historians can teach us history, but art can make us feel history, and this collection does just that.”

When he first saw the collection, Foley said, it stopped him dead.

It gives an “emotional sense of the story,” he said, and he’s excited for others to share that experience.

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About Bobby F. Lopez

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