‘Story of 70 million Irish’ told at new Dublin visitor centre

EPIC Ireland in CHQ building curated by company behind Titanic Belfast

The story of the 70 million people who claim Irish heritage across the globe will be told in a new interactive visitor centre which opens its doors in Dublin on Saturday.

Former president Mary Robinson officially opened the EPIC Ireland centre in the CHQ Building in the docklands.

Designed by Event Communications, the company behind the hugely successful Titanic Belfast exhibition, the centre tells the story of the “global Irish family” in 20 interactive galleries.

Included in the stories of 325 people with Irish heritage, are revolutionary Che Guevara whose ancestors emigrated from Galway to Argentina and actor Grace Kelly whose grandfather was a bricklayer from Mayo.

The centre was funded by former Coca-Cola chief executive Neville Isdell, who emigrated from Co Down with his parents to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in the mid-1950s.

Mr Isdell spent €10 million on the CHQ centre, a former 19th century warehouse, in the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). Converted by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority into a shopping centre just before the economic crash, the CHQ building was only a quarter occupied when Mr Isdell invested.

Visitors will be issued with a personal “passport” before they take their tour through the galleries, which are organised into four themes. The first is migration, offering an introduction to Ireland and the arrivals and departures that have shaped the country.

The second is motivation, exploring why so many people left Ireland over the centuries, for reasons including famine and war.

The third theme is influence, examining what Irish people have done overseas and the impact they have had in their adopted homelands. The fourth theme of connection allows visitors to share their own stories of Irish connections throughout the world.

Visitors may also explore their family backgrounds with the help of genealogists based at the Irish Family History Centre on the site.

Opening the exhibition, Mrs Robinson recalled her decision as president to put a light in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin for all those who had to leave the country. She said that light had taught her the “power of symbols”.

As president, she also had a real sense of representing the 70 million people of the diaspora, such was the interest of those of Irish descent in seeking and cherishing their Irish heritage.

But she also recalled her disappointment at the "lack of enthusiasm" with which members had greeted her second address to the Houses of the Oireachtas as president.

“My address completely lacked humour – there were no jokes at all. And the tone sounded preachy to the Oireachtas members, who responded with rather limp applause at the end. I was quite devastated by the lack of enthusiasm. But almost immediately I got a different reaction from those in the disaspora. Messages came pouring in expressing joy and tears that they had been recognised at last,” she said.

The EPIC Ireland centre opens to the public on Saturday. Entry costs €16 for adults and €8 for children, with discounts available for families, groups, pensioners, students and the unwaged.