Strangers to Citizens

2/3 Kildare Street

12 December 2007 - 17 October 2009

Following the wars at the end of the 16th century, the Irish began to migrate to continental Europe in a pattern which continued over two hundred years. Soldiers, students, priests, professionals, and merchants, were among the many thousands who emigrated, to Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and Sweden, and elsewhere. Over time migrants formed communities and eventually integrated into their host societies.

This exhibition told their story.

The National Library assembled images, many of them very beautiful, from museums, galleries and archives all over Europe. Original treasures were also on display, among them the precious original manuscript of Tadhg Ó Cianáin’s diary of The Flight of the Earls.

The Library’s Genealogical Office holds one of the world’s richest collections of genealogies and coats of arms relating to the Irish who emigrated to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and visitors could explore a selection, together with some of the earliest Irish language books, also from the National Library’s holdings. Written and printed at Irish institutions on the continent these included 17th century books printed at the Gaelic printing press at the Irish College in Leuven.

People left Ireland for a bewildering number of reasons. Like migrants through time and the world over, they had to call on all their resources to survive and prosper in alien environments. Their achievement was considerable, permitting an ‘outsider’ people to achieve ‘insider’ status on the Continent and in the Spanish, French and Dutch colonies by the mid-eighteenth century. Their example indicates that migration, far from being an exceptional, temporary phenomenon is actually a permanent part of the human condition. Migration is ceaseless and continues today as foreign migrants, pushed and pulled by a variety of forces, make the journey to Ireland.

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of The Flight of the Earls, the exhibition told a little-known and fascinating story.

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