Dublin emigration museum on road to profit as royals call

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle latest celebrity guests for Neville Isdell’s Epic vision

Neville Isdell with President Michael D Higgins on his visit to the museum. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Neville Isdell with President Michael D Higgins on his visit to the museum. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Neville Isdell’s Dublin museum to the Irish emigrant experience will become profitable next year as visitor numbers edge towards 200,000, the businessman said in advance of a visit by the British duke and duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The former chief executive and chairman of Coca-Cola told The Irish Times that Epic, the Irish Emigration Museum, will become profitable in its third year of business and eventually plans to host about 700,000 visitors a year.

“Others are starting to imitate ... I’ve been in Bhutan talking about doing something very similar. That’s a very small place but there are larger countries that are digging into it,” he said. “I see it as flattering if that happens.”

Mr Isdell invested €15 million in the development of the museum, which forms part of the CHQ building on Custom House Quay, Dublin.

“Epic has to be profitable because it has to be sustainable. I want to be sure this has longevity,” he said. “You start out just wanting to prove a lot of people wrong and make it work. We’re at the stage now where we’re very confident that’s going to happen; in fact, it is happening.

“We’re now almost the ‘place to go’ when visiting dignitaries come. We hosted 27 members of the central committee of Beijing a couple of weeks ago.”

The museum also recently hosted Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and the governor general of Australia.

Royal visit

On the visit by the UK royals, Mr Isdell said it had already provided a boost, with traffic on the company’s website noticeably increasing.

Mr Isdell devised the idea for the museum after coming to the conclusion that the Irish diaspora have punched above their weight, a story he felt was worth telling. He said, having lived in 11 countries on five continents, people have pride in their Irish ancestry.

“I didn’t have a lot of support when I floated the idea. I believed, in this instance, the minority – me – were right. That’s why I did it.”

The “interactive visitor experience” located in the CHQ vaults, which tells the story of the Irish diaspora, was developed by the team behind Titanic Belfast.

“There was a match there in terms of marrying the past with the present and, of course, the present being that we have created the world’s first digital museum. We have no dusty artefacts. It’s all visual, it’s all highly interactive,” Mr Isdell said of the building, which also houses Dogpatch Labs, a start-up hub.

While edging towards profitability, Mr Isdell believes that it’s important that the facility benefits from continued investment.

“If it is not world class it’s not worth doing. If you talk to people working there, that’s the mantra. It’s got to be world class,” he said.

Adult tickets for the museum, which the royal couple will visit next Wednesday, start from €14.