Lecture series to explore charity, human rights, and social justice, through centuries of struggle in both the US and Ireland

Famine, Friends, and Fenians lecture series at the New Bedford Whaling Museum starts February

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – This spring, the New Bedford Whaling Museum will host a lecture series that delves into the stories of Ireland’s struggle for freedom. The lectures will explore artistic visual interpretations of the Great Irish Famine and talk about the poignant global philanthropic response to Ireland’s plight. They will also include stories of resistant militants turned historic icons (John Boyle O’Reilly), and will speak to the perpetual motivation of liberty and opportunity – even in the sport of Irish Throwing.

Freedom, equality, civil rights, and hope are timeless themes and yearnings that resonate as powerfully today as they did in the mid-nineteenth century. During that time, New Bedford’s Quaker community played a pivotal role not only in the United States’ struggle for those ideals, but also in Ireland’s tortuous struggle for independence. During the harsh winter of 1846-47, Ireland was in dire straits. The near complete failure of the potato crop, and the British government’s laissez-faire economic approach to the problem only made matters worse. Outrage sparked private donations and charity from around the world for Irish relief efforts and New Bedford’s Quakers were front and center.

Lectures will be held on February 16, February 23, March 16, and April 20. Each evening will begin with a light reception at 6:00 pm and all lectures will begin at 7:00 pm. Each lecture is $10 for museum members ($15 for non-members). To attend all four lectures, a series lecture ticket can be purchased for $35 for museum members ($55 for non-members). Series ticket holders will also receive an invitation to a meet and great with scrimshaw artist Gary Tonkin in May. For more details and ticket information go to www.whalingmuseum.org or call 508-997-0046.


February 16 – Visually Commemorating Ireland’s Great Hunger in America: Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum
By Grace Brady, Executive Director, Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University

Learn about the origins of the Great Hunger Museum and its collection. The Museum tells the long story of Ireland and its diaspora, and investigates the Irish Famine (1845-1852) with the help of visual artists who explore the impact of the loss of life, the leeching of the land, and the erosions of language and culture.

February 23 – John Boyle O’Reilly: Irish and American Patriot and Champion of Social Justice
By Catherine Shannon, Professor Emerita of History at Westfield State University

John Boyle O’Reilly was an Irish-born writer, poet, and journalist, as well as a respected member of an Irish-American militant organization, the Fenians, aimed at freeing Ireland from British rule. He was convicted of treason and sent to Fremantle Prison in Western Australia, but managed to escape aboard a New Bedford whaleship the Gazelle. O’Reilly earned nation-wide renown as a writer, but he could not forget his comrades left behind at Fremantle. He then helped to plan the escape and rescue of six of his military Fenian compatriots using the whaleship Catalpa.

Catherine Shannon will demonstrate that John Boyle O’Reilly’s status as an iconic Irish American leader goes beyond his involvement with the Catalpa rescue. It rests also upon the crucial contributions he made as the editor of Boston’s Pilot, and as a political activist. He contributed to the vibrancy of the Irish nationalist movement, American democracy, and to the causes of racial and social justice.

March 16 – Saving the Famine Irish: Private Charity and the Great Hunger
By Professor Christine Kinealy, Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University; and author of “Charity and the Great Hunger: The Kindness of Strangers”

During the Great Hunger, Ireland lost approximately one quarter of its population through a combination of death and emigration. The imperial government chose not to help. Global news coverage prompted private philanthropy on an unprecedented scale. People throughout the world mobilized to provide money, food, and clothing. Many had no direct connection with Ireland and the generosity cut across religious, ethnic, social, and gender distinctions.

April 20 – Irish Whales – A Favorable Term for Those Big Lads from Ireland
By Philip Conway, Olympian and Father of the Irish Throwing Revival

Irish Olympian, record holder, and multi-event national champion, Philip Conway, will share stories of a time when Irish and Irish-Americans dominated field events in the Olympics, and about how America provided much-needed opportunity. Conway’s career culminated in representing his country at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Since that time, he has successfully coached and counselled student athletes whose dream it was to come to America and compete in the U.S. collegiate system. His coaching has resulted in 10 Olympians and more than 100 Irish athletes being afforded opportunities in America that they may not have otherwise had.


About the New Bedford Whaling Museum
The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the world's most comprehensive museum devoted to the global story of human interaction with whales through time, and the history and culture of the South Coast region. The cornerstone of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, the Museum is located at 18 Johnny Cake Hill in the heart of the city's historic downtown. Museum hours: January through March, Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; April through December, daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Admission is free for Museum members and children aged three and under; adults $16, seniors (65+) $14, students (19+) $9, child and youth $6. For more information visit www.whalingmuseum.org.

Dunluce Castle

Photo caption (above): Dunluce Castle, County of Antrim, Ireland; 1871; by C.H. Gifford


Gorta by Lillian Lucy Davidson

Photo caption (above): Gorta (Irish for “Hunger”; previously known as Burying the Child); 1946; by Lilian Lucy Davidson; Image courtesy of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Quinnipiac University

For high-resolution images contact:
Tina Malott
Communications Manager|
New Bedford Whaling Museum