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Irish museum plan jolted by 9/11

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

The plan for a Museum of Irish America in Washington, D.C., has taken a hit from the attack on America.

Still, the museum, which could cost as much as $40 million, will definitely rise in the nation’s capital, according to the man charged with raising the required funds.

“But 9/11 put a crimp in the plan,” John P. Walsh, chairman and CEO of the Morristown, N.J.-based Irish American Cultural Institute, said.

The IACI, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, believes the museum is essential if the story of the Irish in America is to be properly appreciated and recorded for future generations.

“Right now what we need is a national corporate figure, a kind of Jack Welch, who would head up the task of fund-raising much as Lee Iacocca did for the Ellis Island immigration museum,” Walsh said.

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“But 9/11 really did put everything on hold for a while and we’re really only now starting up the project again.”

It was on Ellis Island that the IACI’s work left one of its more significant marks in recent years.

The institute, which functions on a non-profit basis, raised $250,000 in the early 1990s for a statue of Annie Moore, the young Irish woman listed as the first recorded immigrant to land on Ellis Island.

The bronze statue was unveiled by then Irish president Mary Robinson in May 1993.

Walsh said that while there is “an awful lot of interest” in the museum plan, the IACI is not focusing on securing contributions from Irish Americans or the general public.

The focus is more on securing donations from corporations and organizations.

“A year or so down the road we’ll go to Congress in order to get the museum chartered,” Walsh said.

The models for the Museum of Irish America already exist in the nation’s capital. The Holocaust Museum is but one.

According to Walsh, a museum on the scale and of the standard envisioned by the IACI simply has to be in Washington.

“All the museums are in D.C. and the Irish museum should be there too,” he said.

And lest you think that Washington is full to the brim with museums, Congress, according to Walsh, has identified 19 sites that would be suitable as future museum sites.

“There are still sites near the Mall, though not on it. But near it would be good,” Walsh said.

The IACI had already discussed the plan with the Irish government and Dublin has pledged support.

The institute is being advised by a board of six Irish-American historians, an architect and a museum director.

“We envisage a museum not just of artifacts but a living museum, one that would have facilities for conferences, talks and seminars,” Walsh said.

“And it can’t be a Catholic museum or a Protestant museum. It must be an Irish museum.”

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