No one knows exactly how many people died between 1845 and 1852 in Ireland, the period known as the Great Hunger.
It was then that it is estimated that about a million men, women and children starved to death and another two million fled the country to avoid that fate.
On Friday, Quinnipiac University dedicated its new museum that chronicles that time period, and on hand were representatives of Ireland's government, Irish citizens and an array of others celebrating the opening of the largest such museum outside of Ireland's borders.
The museum, located at 3011 Whitney Ave.,is home to the world's largest collection of visual art, artifacts and printed materials relating to the Irish Famine.
"The museum will preserve, build and present its art collection in order to stimulate reflection, inspire imagination and advance awareness of Ireland's Great Hunger and its long aftermath on both sides of the Atlantic," said Quinnipiac University President John L. Lahey.
The collection focuses on the famine years from 1845-52, when blight destroyed virtually all of Ireland's potato crops for consecutive years, said university spokesman John Morgan. The crop destruction, coupled with British governmental indifference to the plight of the Irish, who at the time were part of the United Kingdom, resulted in the deaths of more than 1 million Irish men, women and children and the emigration of more than 2 million to nations around the world, Morgan said.
This tragedy occurred even though there was more than adequate food in the country to feed its starving populace -- exports of food and livestock from Ireland actually increased during the years of the Great Hunger, he said.
"The bottom line is we don't know exactly how many people died," said Irish History professor Christine Kinealy. "It was a slow and painful torture."
Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport Leo Varadkar applauded Quinnipiac's efforts to spotlight what he said was a watershed event for his country.
"It is to us what the Civil War is to the United States, what World War II is to continental Europe," Varadkar said. At the start of the famine, Ireland's population stood at eight million, and today it is only six million, he said.
"We still haven't recovered," he said.
The effects of the famine were felt worldwide, he said, as two million Irish fled the country and "infused a sense of Irishness" worldwide. It also spurred Irish independence, he said, making the country realize it needed to be independent of Britain to survive and cemented the need to own ones own land.
It also brought about a realization that the world cared, he said, as people from all over came to their aid during those years.
"The Irish people still understand that kindness," he said, "and donate to charities overseas more than any other country.
"This story needs to be told over and over," he said, "and I don't think there is any place better for it to be told than in this museum."
The museum will be open to the public on Oct. 11. It will be open Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays from 1-5 p.m.