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Exhibition celebrates forgotten Polish hero of the Great Irish Famine

Count Paul Edward Strzelecki; Photograph, c.1870s; Courtesy of State Library of Victoria

The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life at Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, is delighted to host an exhibition about the fascinating life and achievements of Paul Strzelecki – a Polish humanitarian who helped over 200,000 children during the Great Irish Famine.

On loan from the Polish Embassy in Dublin, the exhibition is on display now at the NMI - Country Life as part of a nationwide tour of various venues throughout Ireland.

The content of the exhibition was commissioned from leading experts in the field – Prof. Peter Gray (Queen’s University Belfast) and Assoc. Prof. Emily Mark-FitzGerald (University College Dublin) – and includes several rarely seen images of Famine relief and charity, drawn from collections of major museums and libraries in Ireland, Britain, Australia and the United States.

Count Paul (Paweł) Strzelecki was a world-renowned Polish explorer and scientist, who volunteered to work in Ireland to combat raging Famine over a three-year period (1847-49) as the main agent of the British Relief Association (B.R.A).

In order to alleviate the critical situation of famished Irish families and especially children, Strzelecki developed a visionary and exceptionally effective mode of assistance: feeding starving children directly through the schools.

He extended daily food rations to schoolchildren across the most famine-stricken western part of Ireland, while also distributing clothing and promoting basic hygiene.

At its peak in 1848, around 200,000 children from all denominations were being fed through the efforts of the B.R.A., many of whom would have otherwise perished from hunger and disease.

Despite suffering from the effects of typhoid fever he contracted in Ireland, Strzelecki dedicated himself tirelessly to hunger relief. His commitment was widely recognised and praised by his contemporaries, and this exhibition endeavours to bring his achievements and legacy back into the public eye.

Welcoming the exhibition to the NMI - Country Life, Clodagh Doyle, Keeper of the Irish Folklife Division, said:

We are delighted to host this fascinating exhibition here at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life. It affords us the opportunity to connect with the Polish people who have made Ireland their home and for us to learn about Strzelecki’s work. Over the next few months, we will collaborate with the Polish cultural foundation,, to share cultural connections and learn more about Polish traditions for our visitors to the Museum and online.”

The Ambassador of Poland to Ireland Anna Sochańska said:

I feel truly honored that the exhibition telling the remarkable story of our countryman Paweł Strzelecki and his heroism during the Great Famine will be presented for such an extensive run by the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. On behalf of the entire Polish community in Ireland and also personally, I wish to express my gratitude to the Museum for helping us spread the word on Strzelecki – I have no doubt that thanks to our cooperation so many more people, Irish and other nationalities, will find out about the Polish humanitarian and all the good he did saving Irish children during the Famine. I feel that his story should be an example to follow for us in these challenging times we live in at present.”   

The exhibition was first launched on 8 May 2019 by the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and hosted by the Royal Irish Academy up until the end of August 2019. It has since been on display at various venues throughout Ireland.

A Forgotten Polish Hero of the Great Irish Famine: Paul Strzelecki’s Struggle to Save Thousands is on display at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, until December 2020.

It is presented in English and admission is free.

For further information, visit

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