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Irish Museum Opens in French Quarter

Walk around the French Quarter. You can read the history of the city in its architecture, hear it from tour guides and experience curatorial renditions at landmark properties. Now, a new cultural center in the French Quarter is telling a different chapter of the city’s history, one its founder says has been neglected for too long.

Last fall, the Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans quietly opened at 933 Conti St. in a newly built structure that, from the street, resembles a historic French Quarter home, but inside houses exhibitions and event space. It is a project of passion for Matthew Ahearn, the local construction contractor who created it.
“I wanted to honor this Irish legacy and heritage in New Orleans,” he says. “I grew up with a sense of history and a sense of ancestral gratitude, but it seemed like you never heard about Irish heritage here unless it’s St. Patrick’s Day.”

The museum joins a groundswell of interest in the history and modern culture of the Irish in New Orleans. Last year saw the formation of a new nonprofit called the Irish Network-New Orleans, a chapter of a national group that combines business networking and cultural education. Last year, New Orleans also hosted for the first time the American Conference for Irish Studies for a week of academic and cultural programming.  

The new Irish Cultural Museum is small by almost any standard, though it’s full of different approaches to telling the story of the Irish in New Orleans.

“It isn’t a traditional museum, but one designed with modern technology and an appreciation for how people learn in different ways,” says Ahearn.

This includes: interactive kiosks; static displays and exhibitions; archival photos, maps and newspaper clippings; a portrait collection; and a library. In a small auditorium, the museum shows “Irish New Orleans,” a documentary produced by Terri Landry for local public TV station WYES, Ch. 12. The museum has also hosted céilís, traditional Celtic dances, in its courtyard and other gatherings.

Ultimately, Ahearn hopes his new museum will help tell a fuller story of the entire city.

“You learn about New Orleans as you piece it together from different perspectives,” he says.

Find details at icmnola.com.

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