Captivating, magnificent, thought-provoking, emotional…these are just some of the words to describe my recent visit to Epic Ireland, Dublin’s new interactive visitor attraction. Conveniently located in Dublin city centre in the historic vaults of the CHQ Building, this is a must-see!
Epic Ireland is the world’s first digital-only museum and tells the story of the 10 million Irish men and women who left Ireland to escape war, hunger, poverty or to seek adventure. It celebrates the 70 million Irish diaspora who have influenced the world in politics, science, sport and the arts.
Using state-of-the-art technology, the tour comprises 20 incredible visual galleries under four themes of migration, motivation, influence and connection. If you like multimedia shows and you are Irish or have Irish roots this is definitely one for your list on ‘things to do in Dublin.’
The staff are very warm and welcoming and their enthusiasm is infectious. Visitors enter the exhibition and proceed to ‘emigration’ where a souvenir Epic passport is provided. This can be stamped in each gallery along the tour – such a clever idea! Not only does it add to the experience but it acts as a map too.
The first gallery depicts Irish emigration through remarkable visuals. Large ocean waves are projected on the wall. A massive steel sculpture lies in the centre of the room representing ships crossing seas, while footage of people packing suitcases, leaving the country and saying their goodbyes to loved ones plays on an overhead screen. On the wall, an infographic charts Irish emigration over the centuries.
These visuals are accompanied by subtle sounds associated with travelling through a port, such as a distant fog horn. An emotive start to one of the most captivating, visual tours I have ever experienced. Passports stamped, we continue to the next gallery, which resembles an immigration line. Holograms of people representing different eras tell their stories about why they left Ireland, where they went to and what their lives were like. I felt like I was Saoirse Ronan in a scene from her movie ‘Brooklyn’! Emotional.
The next few galleries explore why so many people left Ireland and where they went to. Stories from the darkest periods of Irish history including, the famine, war and social injustices give visitors a better understanding about why so many people left. Some left to seek adventure but most left to survive and to send money home to their families left behind.
Audiovisual displays and interactive touch screens are dotted around the galleries. It is easy to lose sense of time exploring the stories of migration displayed on the various touch screens. Visitors learn stats and facts on Irish immigration to the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia. I was surprised to learn that 40,000 Irish people emigrated to Argentina in the 19th century, enticed by its great agricultural land that was easy to acquire.
North American visitors in particular may like to read about the many Irish immigrants in New York who were attracted to jobs in law enforcement and firefighting. By the 1960s half of New York’s police officers were Irish or of Irish descent and by the turn of the century they made up 5 out of 6 NYPD officers. It is hard to fathom that in the 1960s five out of six young adults left Ireland.
We also learn about the Irish people who influenced great social change across the world, like St Columbanus who spurred a spiritual revival in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, founding monasteries in France and Italy. Educators like Sister Cyril, Valerie Place and Edel Quinn are also showcased – they believed in the value of education and brought the benefits of education to less privileged parts of the world.
The determination and resilience of Irish people shines through more and more during the tour. The gallery entitled, ‘Leading Change’ is dedicated to the Irish diaspora who gave so much politically to the countries they settled in over the centuries and to those who continue to do so today, like Samantha Power from Dublin. Reading their stories is inspiring and uplifting.
The ‘Discovering and Inventing’ gallery is undoubtedly the most visually impressive. It showcases examples of some of the most famous inventions and discoveries made by Irish people. Dr James Barry, (1789/99 – 1865) a military surgeon in the British army, undertook the first successful cesarean in the world. When Dr. Barry died it was discovered that he was in fact a woman called Margaret Ann Bulkey, who was born in Dublin. Bulkey had hidden the fact that she was a woman so she could study and become a surgeon. What a legend!
Irish sporting and entertainment legends are also celebrated in Epic with some cool wall murals with photos of well-known faces (from all ages). Old video footage includes scenes of the Irish soccer team reaching the 1990 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals in Italy, their best performance in a major championship and Dana Rosemary Scallon winning the 1970 Eurovision with the song ‘All kinds of everything’. A room filled with nostalgia!
Not all the Irish were saints, however! An interactive gallery dedicated to the most ‘notorious rogues’ provides information about the likes of Ned Kelly, Typhoid Mary and Billy the Kid and how they achieved infamy. The kids will love this one!
The influence of Irish music and dance is celebrated too but not just the Riverdance phenomenon and Bono! Visitors learn about how Irish music influenced other countries for example, how it laid the foundations for American folk and country and western music. There’s also a couple of cool interactive dance videos but I don’t want to give too much away. Lots of familiar faces from the music world with Irish roots are showcased too.
A gallery on the influence of Irish food and drink is cleverly themed on a traditional Irish pub with a virtual trad session to boot. Visitors can learn about the origins of Guinness, Hennessy brandy, Irish food and much more. There are also a number of interesting facts and fun, interactive quizzes to test your knowledge.
Towards the end of the tour the ‘Creating and Designing’ gallery tells the story of the Irish diaspora known for their creativity, art and design. Artist, Jack B Yeats; fashion designer, Orla Kiely and architect, James Hoban are just some of those featured. I felt a great sense of pride reading about their influence in the world. In particular Hoban, who was born in Kilkenny in 1758 and who won a competition to design the White House. Reading about his background and where he got the inspiration for the White House design is fascinating.
The influence of Irish arts and literature around the world is also celebrated in a ‘Storytelling’ gallery showcasing some of Ireland’s well-known actors, authors, broadcasters, playwrights and poets. The cute comma-shaped stools are a nice touch and there are words everywhere…writings on the walls, ceilings and floors! The gallery includes a room resembling a library with a giant-sized book that visitors can interact with and turn pages without touching. There’s also a few interactive books that visitors can touch and listen to audio extracts. A pretty cool gallery and one of my favourites.
Nearing the end of the Epic journey, visitors can stamp their passports one last time, to unlock content that allows them to send a digital Epic postcard to anyone in the world. A lovely idea at the end an inspiring journey. Live tweets by visitors using the hashtag #EpicIreland are also projected on a wall towards the exit. It is a great way to join in the conversation and share favourite moments!
The ticket price (adult €16) is well worth it. I spent around two hours on the tour and I could have easily stayed longer. Captivating from start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and highly recommend it. There is so much information, I found it difficult to digest it all in one visit. I guess that’s a good thing and demonstrates great value. See information for opening times and prices here.
Visitors can also research their own family history in the genealogy booth (Eneclann) located beside Epic. Epic Ireland offers a ‘combo ticket’ (entry to Epic and the Genealogy Centre) for €24.
Keen to find out about my mother’s family history, I met with a lovely genealogist named Declan, who helped me get started. I had some information on names and dates. My mum’s father had been killed in a tragic accident in 1948 when she was just five-years-old. He left behind his wife and six kids under the age of 11. My mum was the third youngest. Declan found records relating to my grandfather’s birth, marriage and death. I later discovered that my grandfather had just turned 33-years-old before he died. A fascinating and emotional experience.
I cannot say enough about my Epic Ireland experience, it was truly ‘epic’!