Currently at the Museum!
Permanent Exhibits: The Irish in America.
For centuries, they left because they couldn’t stay, or because they wanted to go, or a combination of both. Community became very important to the new arrivals, and so Irish immigrants gathered together in slums near the port or traveled further to meet family members or neighbors who had made the journey earlier and could help give them a start.
They experienced prejudice, hardship, trials, and sometimes good fortune. In turn, some of them displayed prejudice, wrestling for position in often-ruthless cities. Many served their new country in the military, some became labor leaders, politicians, teachers, and innovators. Some achieved great fame, others infamy. Most would remain nameless, living ordinary lives, proud of their heritage, working hard, and becoming American. Today, these emigrants and their descendants, some 34 million Americans, are spread across every state in the nation. Here, we tell their stories.
We tell the stories of the Irish in Founding America, Labor, the Military, Education and Religion, Politics, Culture and Sport, and Innovation. We have a replica thatched cottage and a tenement apartment to show you the conditons in which they lived, and a model Workhouse from the Great Hunger. Although this museum tells the story of the Irish in America, with a few changes, it could tell the story of almost any immigrant. It is the story of leaving home and family to build a life in a new place. It is a testament to the courage of those who faced the unknown and conquered fear and discrimination to become Americans.
John Morrissey's Legacy: The Irish & Racing at Saratoga
One of the more dynamic characters of his time, John “Old Smoke” Morrissey made his way from undefeated bare-knuckle boxer to found the Saratoga Race Course and win elections to Congress and the New York State Senate. A poor, uneducated Irish immigrant, Morrissey became a leader in the Dead Rabbits street gang. He won fame as a fighter and fortune as the operator of a string of successful gambling houses. He then took Saratoga Springs by storm. He improbably resurrected thoroughbred racing during the Civil War and opened his famous Club House, the most glamorous casino the country had ever seen. Come look at the exhibit before heading up for a great day at the Track!
The Irish and the Erie Canal
Perhaps no other topic in American history better illustrates Irish America's changing face than that of the Erie Canal. It is impossible to conceive of the Erie Canal without the Irish; for at every stage of the Erie's development they were at the forefront and integral to not only its construction, but also to the culture it created. From politicians to surveyors, engineers to contractors, laborers to boatmen, and from businessmen to recreational canal users, more than any other ethnic group the Irish embodied the Erie Canal. The story of the Erie Canal is the story of Irish America.
The Irish in American Labor
This exhibit explores how Irish immigrants often entered the workforce at the bottom of the occupational ladder and took on the menial and dangerous jobs that were often avoided by other workers. Many Irish American women became servants or domestic workers, while many Irish American men labored in coal mines and built railroads and canals. The exhibit also looks at the involvement of the Irish in the nascent labor movement though the Molly Maguires and the Knights of Labor.
Currachs and Culture on Ireland's Islands
A currach, sometimes anglicised as “curragh,” is a type of Irish boat with a wooden frame, over which animal skins or hides were once stretched, although canvas is more usual today. The construction and design of the currach are unique to the west coasts of Ireland. It is referred to as a naomhóg in Cork, Waterford, and Kerry. The river currach was especially well known for its shallow draft and maneuverability. Its framework was constructed of hazel rods and sally twigs, covered by a single ox hide, which not only insulated the currach, but also helped dictate its shape.
A currach belonging to the Albany Irish Rowing Club is currently on display at the Museum as well as an exhibit about currachs and life on Ireland's islands.
Learn about the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Irish roots of Hallowe'en. Read about some of Ireland's most chilling ghosts and ghouls!
The Irish in the Adirondacks
One of the geographic areas in which thousands of Irish immigrants had a significant influence was indeed the Adirondack Mountains. The Irish and their descendants have a long history of helping to establish and develop the villages and towns and thus the culture and economy within the Adirondack Mountain Region. The vast wilderness region has always benefited economically from its natural resources. In the 1800s, it was home to mining industries, tanneries, lumber mills, and factories, attracting many Irish immigrants to areas like Port Henry, Witherbee, Lyon Mountain, Minerva, Johnsburg, and Mineville. Later the Irish became very involved in the many hotels and tourism industries.
The Evolution of Irish Dance Costumes
The collection spans seventy years of costumes and shows how the dresses evolved over time. It highlights four generations of one family's enjoyment of their Irish heritage. The Kenny/Savage women have been dancing since the 1930's and their story is one of commitment to and love of the old Irish tradition. The exhibit has gorgeous costumes, including the simple kilt and brat (cloak) that Sheila (Kenny) Savage wore in Oldcastle Co. Meath in 1951 and which she brought with her to America when she immigrated in 1962. Her daughter Sheila, and granddaughter Kathleen, have danced here in Albany since their childhoods - with the Kathleen Lynch School, and the Boland and Farrell Schools too. Interestingly, a version of this exhibit was actually the first thing the Irish American Heritage Museum ever displayed, in our original home in East Durham in 1990, so we are delighted to have this newly updated version in our new home in Quackenbush Square.
Celtic Art in Ireland
This exhibit tells the story of Irish art and architecture from the early modern period right up through to the Gaelic Revival of the early twentieth century. Featuring information about megatlithic tombs, early churches, The Book of Kells and the Book or Durrow, as well as artists like Daniel Maclise and collectors like Hugh Lane, theis is the perfect exhibition to celebrate St. Patrick with!
Tragedy and Tribute: Art Illuminates Ireland’s Great Hunger
Using selections of artwork from the collection of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University, Tragedy and Tribute: Art Illuminates Ireland’s Great Hunger, visually tells the story of one of the worst environmental catastrophes in European history. Through the use of artwork from the period, as well as contemporary works by artists reflecting on this time period, this exhibit looks to make this topic accessible to a wider audience like never before.
This exhibition focuses on the famine years from 1845-52, when blight destroyed virtually all of Ireland's potato crops for consecutive years. The crop destruction, coupled with British governmental indifference to the plight of the Irish, who at the time were members of the United Kingdom, resulted in the deaths of more than 1 million Irish men, women and children and the emigration of more than 2 million more to nations around the world. This tragedy occurred even though exports of food and livestock from Ireland continued and, in some cases, actually increased during the years of the Great Hunger.
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum’s collection, the only one of its kind in the world, constitutes an incomparable direct link to the past of almost 6.5 million Irish and 40 million Irish-American people.
This exhibition is made possible through support provided by the Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Emigrant Support Program, and will be on view through November.
De Valera in America.
We are currently displaying our exhibition about Eamon de Valera's campaign in America to secure American recognition for the Irish Republic declared on January 21st, 1919. He spent eighteen months living in the most expensive hotel in the world, the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. From there he traveled across America throughout 1919 and 1920, publicizing his nation’s plight and raising more than $5 million for the cause of Irish independence.
While his compatriots were scrambling desperately in the War of Independence raging back home, de Valera was advancing the cause with packed speaking engagements from Madison Square Garden to San Francisco. His participation in American politics at the highest level had far-reaching effects on Irish-American groups as well as the Irish-American partnership, while his return home to a movement he no longer controlled and possibly resented, resulted in a bloody and tragic Civil War.
There will be a lecture to accompany the exhibit in December.
August / September: Irish Impressions
Photographs by Members of the Schenectady Photographic Society
This exhibit contains thirty images of Irish-Americans in the Capital District as well as various images taken in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is scheduled to run from Friday, August 2 through Sunday, September 29.
Founded in 1931, the Schenectady Photographic Society offers programs and activities for photographers from throughout the Capital District.
July: January in Clare by Neal Warshaw
This show is the result of a 3 week visit to County Clare during January 2019. During his stay, Neal sat in on nightly sessions in pubs throughout the county and in the homes of some of the wonderful local musicians. During the limited daylight hours and January weather conditions he photographed the County Clare land and sea with his own unique vision. For years, Neal has combined his love of traditional music with photography by photographing the traditional music scene, particularly sessions. This dual perspective gives his work insight into the music and the musicians. In recent years he has photographed the Catskill Irish Arts week, a traditional music wedding, festivals, bands as well as frequent sessions in the Capital region during which he alternates between playing Irish flute and making pictures.
June: Fr. Patrick Payton: Albany's Family Rosary Priest
To help celebrate the extraordinary life and work of Fr. Patrick Peyton, CSC, and recognize his intimate connections to Albany and its people, we are sharing the Father Peyton exhibit which resides in Attymas, County Mayo (Father Peyton's birthplace and childhood home) and has been generously loaned to the Museum. In 1942 Father Peyton began his work in Albany and from there his media programs and personal Rosary Crusades grew to reach literally millions of people around the world. His cause for sainthood in the Church is progressing and may be concluded with in the next few years.
April: De Valera in America: The Campaign for American Recognition of the Irish Republic
This exhibit charts Eamon de Valera’s campaign in America to secure American recognition for the Irish Republic declared on January 21st, 1919.
In June 1919, de Valera was broken out of Lincoln Prison by Michael Collins. He stowed away on a liner bound for American and once there he checked into the Waldorf-Astoria using the title ‘President of Ireland.’ He spent eighteen months living in the most expensive hotel in the world. From there he traveled across America throughout 1919 and 1920, publicizing his nation’s plight and raising more than $5 million for the cause of Irish independence.
While his compatriots were scrambling desperately in the War of Independence raging back home, de Valera was supporting the cause with packed speaking engagements from Madison Square Garden to San Francisco. His participation in American politics at the highest level had far-reaching effects on Irish-American groups as well as the Irish-American partnership, while his return home to a movement he no longer controlled and possibly resented, resulted in a bloody and tragic Civil War.
March: Celtic Art
This exhibtion traces Celtic Art from its earliest inception with monuments like Newgrange, then religious art like the Book of Kells, through to the Celtic Revival of the late nineteenth century, which was tied to the movement for independence. A beautiful and informative exhibit.
February: Daniel O' Connell and Frederick Douglass
To celebrate Black History Month, the museum has a new exhibiton about Frederick Douglass in Ireland.
In spring 1845, Douglass published his first book 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.' To avoid physical harm or being forcibly returned (by bounty-hungry "slave-catchers") to his bondage in Maryland, it was decided that, until things cooled down, he would leave the United States for a while, for a hastily and incompletely planned lecture tour of the British Isles.
The journey would transform the young man. Its impact upon him, particularly in Ireland, which was just experiencing the first year of the famine, would be dramatic, lasting and, in the end, liberating. Put another way, in Ireland, Douglass found his own voice. "I can truly say," he wrote home as he completed his travels there, "I have spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this country, I seem to have undergone a transformation. I live a new life." While in Ireland, he met with Daniel O' Connell, the Liberator, who had secured Catholic Emancipation for the Irish at home, and Dr. Theobald Mathew, a temperance reformer. This exhibition traces their relationship.
November/December: Irish and German-Americans During World War I.
This new exhibit describes the experience of the two largest immigrant groups in America, as they struggled with their response to World War I. Deeply committed to America's initial policy of neutrality, as war became more inevitable, they found their hyphenated status was criticized. Irish and German- Americans cooperated in the immigrant press on the campaign for neutrality, and later the IRB contacted German diplomats to begin planning Roger Casement's trip to Germany to raise troops for Ireland. The Committee on Public Information urged loyalty and conformity from all Americans. Following the war, the idea of multiple identities and torn loyalties led to increased efforts to control immigration and American identity. Ethnic Americans would find themselves at the center of that debate as they strove to finally define their citizenship on their own terms. Debates about eugenics, racial hygiene, poverty, education, and suitability coalesced after World War I into a growing movement to restrict immigration.
October: The Irish and Labor
“The Irish & Labor” exhibit examines the contributions of the Irish and the Irish America and in the United States as workers and in the struggle for workers' rights. The Irish played a major role in the industrialization of the United States by providing much of the unskilled labor involved in creating the new American infrastructure. This exhibits explores Irish involvement in canal building, railroads, the domestic field and also examines the Irish and Irish-American experience with child labor, discrimination and prejudice.
August: Thirty Years of Greg Montogmery's Art at Saratoga and The Irish and Horse Racing: John Morrissey and the Founding of Saratoga
The museum commemorated the 149th anniversary of the Saratoga Races with the exhibit "Across the Board: Thirty Years of Greg Montgomery's Art at Saratoga.” Montgomery’s series of Posters for the Travers Stakes race in Saratoga Springs has been the longest running series by a single artist for a single event in racing history. His use of clean colors, dynamic form, and unusual use of white space make his work unparalleled in the field of equestrian, sporting, and poster art. Montgomery also spoke about his work, the process that goes into creating the yearly Saratoga poster, and the evolution of his work at the museum.
The Irish and Horse Racing: John Morrissey exhibition tells the story of Irish American trailblazer John Morrissey (1831-78), who was the architect of the first thoroughbred race meet at Saratoga in 1863. This exhibit shows his growth from ruffin to participant in history. By revealing Morrissey’s aspirations, struggles, and successes the exhibit represents the rise from disenfranchised, marginalized immigrant to powerful and influential citizen.
June - July: Robert Berry: Ulysses Seen!
Ulysses Seen at the Museum is a comic adaptation of the final chapter (Penelope) of the 1922 edition of James Joyce's epic novel, Ulysses. The artist Robert Berry is devoted to using "the visual aid of the graphic novel" to "foster understanding of public domain literary masterworks. "Ulysses Seen” uses the comic narrative to "cut through jungles of unfamiliar references" and to help readers "appreciate the subtlety and artistry" of Joyce's text.
This was complemented by our internationally acclaimed exhibit “Dublin: Then and Now” containing evocative photographs that portray life on the gritty streets of Dublin and in its “docklands” in the 1960s. This stunning exhibit showcased Marvin Koner’s black and white photographs from 1963 which expose a city struggling to modernize and, at the same time, hold on to its culture and traditions. The prints include portraits of dockers at City Quay, a rosary bead seller on the streets of Dublin, a poignant photo of a jarvey driver with pony and carriage used for weddings and funerals, and tenement life. An epilogue of images taken in the summer of 2003 highlights the changes of the last 40 years.
March - April 2018 - Walking with Ireland into the Sun: Women Revolutionaries and the 1916 Rising
In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the Irish American Heritage Museum takes a unique look at this seminal event in Ireland’s history by focusing on the role of women during the Easter Rising. This exhibit profiles thirteen women, a number of different organizations, and the progressive nature of Ireland and the Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic. It also examines the state of women’s rights and equality in Ireland throughout the 20th century.
February 2018 - The Irish Currach
Currachs are heritage, culture, history, and athletics all in one. A Currach, a traditional Irish rowing boat, is one of the most Irish symbols familiar to tourists all over the world. Exhibit and related events were hosted in Febrauary 2018 by The Albany Irish Rowing Club.
Irish and the Erie Canal
This exhibit is available for loan. Please contact the Museum for more information.
The Irish were involved from start to finish, from originally proposing the concept a hundred years before a shovel was even put into the ground, to the routing, to its design, to securing support from elected officials, to the elected officials themselves, to its construction and finally to its navigation and transportation services once it opened
From the early 17th century to the end of the 20th century, approximately seven million Irish men and women came to North America. These immigrants and their descendants made significant changes to the fabric of American life, and like any ethnic group, the experience of the Irish Americans was contingent, not preordained. Therefore the social, religious, and socioeconomic character of Irish America continuously shifted throughout the course of American history. Perhaps no other topic in this interesting history better illustrates Irish America’s changing face than that of the Erie Canal.
In fact, the Erie Canal may be seen as a microcosm of Irish America- the ethnic group’s experiences along its route closely paralleling those of the Irish across the nation. And just as it is impossible to think of American history without the Irish, it is just as hard to think of the Erie Canal withut the Irish and the culture they created. From politicians to surveyors, engineers to contractors, laborers to boatmen, more than any other group the Irish embodied the complete story to the Erie Canal.
Ancient Order of Hibernians Honor Guard Exhibit
Irish Memories: Sixteen on Sixteen
(Interviews and family lore about the 1916 uprising)
Contributed by Dr. Margaret Lasch Carroll
Associate Professor, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
When Sociologist Reginald Byron visited Albany, New York in 1989, he was “struck by its Irishness.” Albany, he wrote, is “one of the most Irish places in America and has been so for a century and a half.” Byron then used Albany as the case study for his book, Irish America, published in 1999.
Pictured at right is Thomas Dongan- 2nd Earl of Limerick.
The Irish have been shaping the Albany area since the days of the Dutch. The British Governor, Thomas Dongan was an Irishman and his Dongan Charter contained unprecedented social freedoms for the colony. The Irish formed St. Mary’s in Albany, the second Catholic Church in the state of New York during the early years of the new American Republic; they played a major role in the construction of the Erie Canal; and they changed the demographics of the region in the years of the famine. Michael Nolan was the first Irish mayor of the city of Albany in 1878 and, Times Union publisher, Martin Glynn, the first Irish Catholic governor in 1913. Through the 20th century, the Irish continued to come to the Capital District forming vibrant AOH Halls in Troy, Schenectady, Watervliet, and Albany. The opening of the Irish American Heritage Museum in 1986 stands as testament to the impact the Irish have had in the Capital District, New York State, and, indeed, to the entire county.
At left, James Connolly- signer of the Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic in 1916. For portions of time between 1902-1905 he lived in Troy, NY. It is not surprising that the connections between the Irish in the tri-city area and Ireland were fluid and active through the 20th century and remain so today. As part of the centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish American Heritage Museum is posting a column of family connections that sixteen Capital District residents have to the Revolutionary years in Ireland, years that charted the course of Ireland for the future. The memories involve not only 1916, but the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.
We will continue to look for more family memory and stories. If you have a story to tell about your own family’s connection to the Easter Rising in 1916 or the revolutionary decade that followed, please contact us at the museum and share your story with us!
- Nuala Cummings
- Jim Flaherty
- Michael Byron
- Joe Gallagher
- Chris McCarthy
- Brian Manley
- Mary Ellen Gallagher Lasch
- Angela Doyle McNerney
- Helen Carswell
- Michael and Patrick Ryan
- Rick Corrigan
Additional Traveling Exhibits Available for Loan
Over the last two decades, the Museum has developed and produced a number of very successful exhibits.
- “The Irish and the Erie Canal” In keeping with its mission, the Irish American Heritage Museum presents its newest exhibit “The Irish and the Erie Canal.” This exhibit reveals the historical contributions of the Irish to the planning, designing, engineering, funding and construction of the Canal. This famed achievement transformed early America, and in particular New York City, into a world economic power by linking the Great Lakes and the interior of the young nation to the Atlantic Ocean and the world.
- “Dublin: Then and Now.” Our internationally acclaimed exhibit of stunning photographs portrays life on the gritty streets of Dublin and in its “docklands” in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It likewise portrays life in Dublin in the same areas during the first decade of the 21st century to reveal the transformation in Irish life over 50 years.
- “Soldiers Are We: The Irish in Military Service” tells the story of centuries-long service of the Irish to their homelands.
- “The Irish in Music” chronicles the contributions of the Irish to music in our culture, including writers, composers, performers and entrepreneurs.
- “Corporate Irish” celebrates the lives of the men and women who rose to powerful positions in the business world and helped shape the economic future of the United States — from the colonial period to many contemporary entrepreneurs.
- “The Irish and Labor” reveals the contributions of the Irish to the American labor movement.
- “An Gorta Mór: The Great Hunger” chronicles the tremendous impact of the Irish famine in the mid-19th century.
- “Fire Upon the Hearth” celebrates the contributions of women of Irish heritage in America.
- “Go and Preach the Kingdom of God” tells about Irish religious and how they clothed, fed, housed and educated the waves of Irish immigrants that flooded America’s shores.
- “Presidents of Irish Descent” is the story of our 20 presidents who claim Irish ancestry.
All of the Irish American Heritage Museum’s exhibits are available for presentation on a loan basis and are in great demand. In 2010, the Museum presented “Dublin: Then and Now” at the Irish Consulate in New York City, the Commodore Barry Irish Center in Philadelphia, the Gaelic-American Club in Fairfield, CT, and the Waterford (NY) Senior Citizens Center. The same exhibit drew international acclaim in 2006 when the Museum became the first American Museum of its kind to exhibit at Ireland’s National Library in Dublin.
The Museum’s various exhibits have been on display in such venues as the Children’s Museum of West Virginia; the Heritage State Park Visitor’s Center, Lawrence, MA; the Kerry County Library, Tralee, Co. Kerry, and the US Embassy in Dublin Ireland; The Margaret Mitchell House, Atlanta, GA; the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee, WI; the Trade Center in St. Paul, MN; the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans; the Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO; the Hatikvah Holocaust Education and Research Center in Springfield, MA; the Arlington Heights Historical Museum, Arlington Heights, IL; and the St. Petersburg International Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.