September 18, 2012
CONTACT: Sam Eskenazi
Irish Americans are Second Largest Ethnic Group;
New National Museum Will Tell Their Story
Nearly 12 percent of Americans have Irish heritage. It is the second largest ancestry group in the United States, with more than 36 million Irish Americans. The Irish migration to this land began in the 1600s. Irish immigrant numbers spiked during the great potato famine in the 1850s and they continued coming in large numbers from the 1860s through the end of the 19th Century.
Irish Americans and their ancestors have a central position in our nation and more than 20 American Presidents are said to have Irish heritage, with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan being the most prominent, and President Obama also included in that number.
The National Museum of the American People, which would sit near the heart of our nation’s capital in Washington, DC, will tell the story of Irish Americans along with the stories of all of the other people that have come to this land and this nation. It has support from national Irish American organizations including The American Ireland Fund, American Irish Historical Society, Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, Irish American Unity Conference and the Irish National Caucus.
They are part of a coalition of more than 150 ethnic and minority organizations that are calling for a bipartisan Presidential commission after the election to study establishment of the museum.
“America’s marvelous ethnic diversity is its crowning glory and its enduring strength,” said Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Irish National Caucus. “The National Museum of the American People would exemplify and expound this fundamental truth.”
The museum will tell the story of the making of the American People from the prehistoric period to the present. It will challenge visitors to reflect upon that history and take pride in that story.
The full story of the making of the American People starts with the first migrations to this land thousands of years ago and extends through waves of migration and immigration to the present. Yet nowhere is there a museum devoted to telling this full story.
For Irish Americans, as well as all the others, the museum will tell who they were, where they came from, why they left their homeland, how they got here, when they arrived, where they first settled, who was already here, what they encountered, where they moved after they arrived, how they became Americans, what they contributed and how they transformed the nation.
“Aside from chronicling Irish America’s tremendous contribution, the proposed National Museum of the American People will be an ongoing source of understanding and unity for all Americans,” said Brendan Moore, National President of The Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Tom Burke, national president of the Irish American Unity Conference, said that “IAUC actively supports the establishment of the National Museum of the American People. This museum would tell the migration and immigration stories of every group that has come to this nation, weaving together the individual narratives that make up the wondrous fabric of our nation.”
The Coalition for the National Museum of the American People is not seeking federal funding to plan, build or operate the museum. A resolution in Congress calling for a presidential commission to study the museum has bipartisan support, including from Rep. Richard Neal, D-MA, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Congressional Committee for Irish Affairs.
“The story of the making of the American People would be presented in a dramatic, interactive documentary format,” said Sam Eskenazi, director of the Coalition. “It would be developed and vetted by teams of eminent scholars and be told with force and clarity.”
Eskenazi said “The Museum’s permanent exhibition could leave an indelible impression of knowledge and understanding on visitors as they engage and come to know the full story of the making of the American people.”
The story will be told in the museum over four chapters:
Chapter 1 – The First Peoples Come: Prehistoric period–1607; Indian migration and settlement, early European explorers and first European settlement.
Chapter 2 – The Nation Takes Form: 1607–1820; the fate of Indians, Western European settlement, the African slave trade, the establishment of the nation and the beginning of its expansion westward taking in new peoples. In this chapter, visitors will learn that Irish immigrants began settling in what became the United States in the 1600s. Most were indentured servants. They fought in the American Revolution in large numbers against the British. Eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Irish descent as were six signers of the Constitution of the United States.
Chapter 3 – The Great In–Gathering: 1820–1924; a century of immigration. The ancestors of most Americans came during this period, and Irish were among the most numerous group to arrive throughout the full period of this chapter. Almost 2 million Irish migrated to the United States between 1820 and 1860. Most came as a result of the Great Irish Famine that devastated the Irish countryside starting in 1840. Many of the men went to work building canals, other construction and lumbering. Another 2 million came after 1860.
Most of the immigrants during this period moved into large cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, New York and other major cities throughout the nation. During this period, the Irish were the only major group that was predominantly female. During the Civil War, more than 38 Union regiments had “Irish” in their title.
Chapter 4 – And Still They Come: 1924–present; the ongoing story of American immigration which includes the story of Irish immigration over recent decades.
“The museum will be the intersection of every American group’s memory and the history of our nation,” Eskenazi said. “The theme of the museum is embodied by our nation’s original national motto: E Pluribus Unum, from many we are one.”
He said that “both U.S. neighbors, Canada and Mexico, have major national museums in their capitals telling the story of their peoples, and they’re the most visited museums in those nations. Our museum will be a destination for every school group visiting Washington and it will foster learning nationwide.”
NOTES FOR MEDIA:
For more information about this project, go to http://www.nmap2015.com.
A 2½ minute video by the Coalition can be found here: E Pluribus Unum.
For more information, to interview Irish American members of the Coalition or key Congressional supporters, contact us at email@example.com or 202-744-1868.