The story of the Irish in the Connecticut Valley is a rich and distinct tale of trial and triumph for one of the many immigrant groups of the area. A new exhibit at the Springfield Museums titled The Irish Legacy: Immigration and Assimilation in the Connecticut Valley during the Industrial Revolution explores the experience of the Irish community in the Connecticut Valley through various artifacts and images including books, musical instruments, religious objects, and photographs. The exhibit will be on view in the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History from June 11 to August 25, 2013. MassMutual is the 2013 Premier Sponsor of the Springfield Museums.
“The story of Irish immigration to America is one of grit and courage,” according to Guy McLain, director of the Wood Museum. In speaking of The Irish Legacy, McLain added, “this exhibit brings to life the development of the Irish community in the Valley over the last two centuries.” Visitors to the exhibit will get a glimpse of many traditional Irish objects of cultural and historical significance on loan from the Irish Cultural Center in Chicopee, including instruments like the bodhrán, religious objects like the St. Brigid Cross, and even a traditional Irish dance costume and shoes.
The exhibit also includes a host of photographs depicting what life was like for the Irish immigrants in the Valley, along with images of individuals and events that have shaped the Irish experience in Western Massachusetts. The bulk of the photographs come from the book titled The Irish Legacy: A History of the Irish in Western Massachusetts, part of the Heritage Book and Travel series by The Republican Newspaper that explores the experiences of the Valley’s many immigrant groups. Anne-Gerard Flynn, lifestyle editor of The Republican and guest curator of the exhibit, explained that “the 60 photographs on view with text give a good introduction to what the Irish arrived with, how they settled and overcame prejudice and went on to elect influential politicians,” adding, “it’s a story that is celebrated every year in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade.” The exhibit also includes a video documentary interview with ninety-three year old Michael Carney, one of the last surviving Blasket Islanders, who immigrated to Springfield in the 1940s. Carney himself has just written a memoir titled From the Great Blasket to America: The Last Memoir by an Islander.
Along with the exhibit itself, the museum will be hosting educational programs including a teacher workshop and drop-in activities in the Wood Museum of Springfield History. On Tuesdays throughout the summer, staff from the Irish Cultural Center will present the Celtic Cart, which will enable visitors to participate in Irish-related activities and games designed to support the exhibit.
The Irish Legacy: Immigration and Assimilation in the Connecticut Valley during the Industrial Revolution is being presented in conjunction with the forthcoming production of The Garden of Martyrs, an opera written by Amherst composer Eric Sawyer. The opera is based on the novel of the same name by Michael C. White, detailing the 1806 murder trial and hanging of Irish immigrants James Halligan and Daniel Daley. The exhibit is presented in partnership with The Republican, WGBY, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, the Irish Cultural Center, New England Public Radio, and Five Colleges, Inc.