A new chapter in a global narrative

J. Patrick Greene, 10.06.2020
EPIC museum in Dublin is documenting the efforts of Irish people to support communities during the Covid-19 pandemic
EPIC is The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin. It is located in the atmospheric vaults of the Customs House Quay bonded warehouse which once held whiskey and wine.

Since EPIC opened four years ago the contents of the vaults have been very different. We are a museum of stories about people moving across the globe, delivered primarily through the use of digital technology.

A few days before St Patrick’s Day 2020 (17 March), everything came to a shuddering halt as Ireland adopted strong measures to confront the Covid-19 pandemic as part of an international struggle against the disease. International travel soon disappeared as people were asked to stay at home. EPIC closed its doors and we considered what our role should be. A key decision was to keep staff working, support by government funding. We would provide services for the public and lay the groundwork for reopening on 29 June.

EPIC has launched a campaign to gather the experiences and stories of Irish people who have helped others during the pandemic. As both a storytelling museum and a museum of migration, we are documenting the impact of the Irish worldwide during the crisis. These stories will form a new chapter in the global Irish narrative.

Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation’s calm but consistently brilliant rallying cries, seen on the television news every evening, provided an inspiration. So too did the stories of medical staff travelling thousands of miles to come home to work. The are many other examples of supportive and selfless acts that could be recognised for this project.

We felt that in order to chronicle a global crisis we were compelled to take a global perspective. It was also vital to take a sensitive approach, as so many people have experienced tragic loss.

We are now inviting nominations to help us find the people and organisations that are making a difference in their communities during the pandemic.

EPIC is gathering interviews, memories, stories and videos for a new exhibition that will document the positive impact that Irish people are having worldwide, to preserve and enhance the legacy of hope, kindness and resilience the Irish are renowned for. The EPIC museum team will read and research all stories submitted. We will also work with our colleagues in museums internationally as we collaborate in the face of this terrible pandemic.

Here are some stories we have already received.

Firstly, with much of the Irish community in London being elderly and more likely to live alone, the London Irish Centre responded quickly to serve their needs during the current crisis.

Its activities were adapted to protect and help those most at risk and now include delivering food parcels, hot lunches and library books, as well as a health and wellbeing helpline. Its culture team is also working on a new resource called LDNIrishTV, which will stream Irish culture and community news online.

The second example is from March, when businessman Neil Sands generously tweeted out an offer to fly two doctors home to Ireland so they could fight the pandemic on the frontlines. His tweet quickly went viral and a new movement began. Since then, many people have donated to the initiative’s GoFundMe page and many healthcare workers across the world have returned home to help.

Finally, MyFrontlineHero.org shines a spotlight on Americans who are working through the Covid-19 pandemic. Anyone can nominate their hero, whether they’re frontline staff or supporting others during this difficult time. 

Set up by the Milwaukee Irish Fest and digital agency Northwood, these heroes will appear on the project’s website for now. Then at next year’s Irish Fest, a special ceremony and private concert will recognise the great work they’ve done.

J. Patrick Greene is the director of EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin’s Docklands, an interactive museum that tells the story of how the Irish shaped and influenced the world.

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