Photograph series; making the 1916 Rising anniversary exhibition, National Museum, 1941

 

Collections staff mount exhibition objects.

1941 saw Ireland commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising, an event which saw the largest national marking of the event up to that point. The National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street had already held two exhibitions on the Rising; Nellie Gifford-Donnelly, a founding member of the Irish Citizen Army who had also fought at St Stephen’s Green during Easter Week, curated the first 1916 Exhibition in 1932, timed to coincide with the Eucharistic Congress being held in Ireland that year. The display was installed again in 1935 with the title ‘Relics of the Fight for Freedom’. From that time, there has always been a display on the Rising, and renewed for every significant anniversary.

This series of photographs were taken during the installation of the 1941 exhibition as part of the preparations, with the images of the opening used to publicise the display in newspapers, and were found amongst the Easter Week and Historical Collections. They show the museum staff at work in the days before the anniversary, and the public visiting the displays.

View of The Exhibition to Commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Rising, central court, Kildare Street, 1941.

 

The 1941 exhibition, which was simply named ‘The Exhibition to Commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Rising’, was curated by Dr Gerard Hayes-McCoy, a renowned military historian, who had taken a curatorial post at the National Museum in 1939.

When Hayes McCoy took up this position he immediately began collecting objects which represented the rebellions and wars previous to 1916, which he felt was not only important to include in our national collections but also necessary in order to outline Ireland’s fight for independence during the centuries before 1916 to explain its roots.

Items representing the Fenian Movement, Robert Emmet, Joseph Holt and Charles Stewart Parnell were collected and exhibited for the first time. The exhibition location was moved from a side room into the central gallery space of the Kildare Street museum, normally only used for the archaeological collections such as the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara brooch.

Before it opened on Easter Saturday 12th April, newspapers across the country published the  National Museum’s press release on the exhibition’s content, written by Hayes McCoy.

Relics of 1916  Anniversary Exhibition
The National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin, will be the scene of a striking exhibition of relics connected with the events and personalities of the Rising of Easter Week, 1916, and the succeeding epochs on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary. The special collection is already well known and since its foundation in 1935 has materially increased. The opportunity has been taken to display the Collection on a more extended basis utilising the large courts adjoining the museum entrance at Kildare Street now being prepared. No pains are being spared to make the Commemorative Exhibition worthy of the occasion and it is expected that a large public will find it worthwhile visiting when opened on Easter Saturday next, 12th April. The Museum Rotunda will be occupied with a notable group of exhibits illustrating by personal or other relics the political history of the country from some time after the battle of the Boyne when national thought took an entirely new trend till the beginning of the present century. It is intended to illustrate the historic background of the various movements out of which the Republican Movement arose and into which various lines of political thought were canalised. The exhibition proper will show the uniforms of the various military groups participating in the Rising and the aftermath, arms and other details of equipment, relics of the leaders and will include such varied items as a collection of watercolours of Countess Markievicz, the Childers Memorial Collection and numerous items illustrating the growth of the organisation. A small exhibit illustrative of the Gaelic League will also be included. It is hoped that the exhibition will lead to the inclusion in the Collection of numerous relics still in private hands. There will be no charge for admission.

 

The opening was attended by Thomas Derrig as the Minister for Education, Frank Fahy, Speaker of the Dail, Oscar Traynor as Minister of Defence, and Senator Margaret Pearse, also the sister of Patrick and William Pearse, who were photographed touring the exhibition.

Margaret Pearse and Oscar Traynor view weapons on display.

And inspecting the 1920 experimental mortar, or ‘big gun’, made in the basement of 198 Parnell Street, Dublin, underneath the bicycle shop and covert munitions factory of Archie Heron and Joseph Lawless, which exploded and killed Matt Furlong during testing.

Thomas Derrig, Oscar Traynor and Margaret Pearse view the IRA mortar, 1920.

 

The exhibition proved very popular with the public and the galleries were crowded with people viewing the relics of the period, such as this gentleman viewing (a little too closely for my comfort) an original 1916 Proclamation signed by Christopher Brady (printer), Michael Molloy and Liam O’Brien (compositors).

Viewing the 1916 Proclamation.

 

It was visited by school groups, as seen in this wonderful image of these girls in beautiful traditional Irish costume being shown a display of rifles used during the revolutionary period by a gallery attendant.

Girls in Irish dress view a display of rifles.

 

And this group posing for a photograph underneath the statue of Patrick Pearse and the Proclamation.

School group poses for a photograph at the 1916 Proclamation.

 

The Irish Army attended for special tours and talks.

Visit from an Irish Army Unit.

 

Some of my favourite photographs are those showing the collections and technical staff working to install the exhibition.  They show artefacts being mounted into wall cabinets, the uniforms of both Michael Collins and Liam Lynch being mounted onto mannequins, mounts being built, statues being restored, and large objects set on top of plinths.

Uniforms of Liam Lynch and Michael Collins being mounted onto mannequins.

 

Plinth building in the NMI Workshops.

 

Bust of female in Neo-Celtic style undergoes final restoration before installation.

 

The bust of Patrick Pearse is set onto its plinth.

 

This female collections staff member holds a document up for the camera, while beside her we see what is probably a tricolour flag and the umbrella given to Patrick Pearse by his students at St Enda’s School as a gift in 1910. I just recently photographed and re-housed this umbrella, and seeing photographs like this, with this same artefact 77 years ago, really brings home to me how we are all only temporary custodians of our national collections, which will continue to exist, be cared for, interpreted and displayed beyond our own lives in the museum.

Collections staff member installing exhibition, Patrick Pearse’s umbrella to the left.

 

Sadly I have no names to go with these faces. If you or anyone you know has any information on NMI staff in 1941 I would love to hear from you.

Science and Art Attendant, Kildare Street, 1941

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Bullet pierced picture, 5 Belvedere Place, Easter Week 1916

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As the fighting of Easter Week raged through parts of the city, other areas, even if they did not experience heavy combat, were also affected. The streets around the Volunteers’ garrison posts were dangerous places to be, particularly for the civilian inhabitants. O’Connell Street saw much looting in the first couple of days of the week as people took the opportunity to get new clothes and luxury items such as sweets, normally out of the reach of the poorer city centre residents. In most of these city centre locations it was the tenement dwellers who were caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the British Forces. Some, such as the men and boys in North King Street, were deliberately shot in the belief they were part of that rebel force. It was clear from early on that whether Dubliners took part in the Rising or not, their lives would be changed by it.

3765-(17)

 

This framed print, depicting a glamorous Edwardian lady wearing an elaborate hat, was hanging in the home of Annie Mac Swiney at No. 5 Belvedere Place, located between Mountjoy Square and the North Circular Road. On Thursday 27th April, a bullet entered the room, barely missing Annie, piercing the picture and lodging in the wall behind it. Both picture and bullet were kept as a memento, and it was donated to the National Museum in 1941, on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary.

 

 

Annie lived at 5 Belvedere Place with her sister Mary. The house was owned by Sarah Lowry who ran it as a boarding house, living in 11 rooms with her 5 lodgers. In the 1911 census her tenants included drapers’ assistants William Lane and Kathleen Murphy, Laura McGuire – a stenographer and typist who had been born in India, butcher’s assistant Patrick Sullivan and Christopher O’Conor who listed his occupation as Commissioner of New York – a wide cross-section of Dublin citizens!

5 Belvedere Place

The Mac Swiney sisters lived at 5.2, a self-contained, separate unit in the building. The sisters shared one room, in which all their household activities was carried out, from to preparing food to sleeping. In 1901 they had also been living in a single room in a nearby tenement at 20.8 Temple Street, but sharing the building with 23 other people; their situation was certainly improved in Belvedere Place.

Neither Annie nor Mary had ever married, but both women worked as stationers (sellers of books, paper and writing implements), with Annie also listed as being a relief stamper (who produced engraved or embossed designs on writing paper and envelopes). These were respectable trades for the women and would have provided them with enough to support a modest living together.

William O'Brien

Belvedere Place saw some disturbance due to its position off the North Circular Road, which had military cordons in the area. The street was also home to William O’Brien, living with his family and their boarders at No. 43. O’Brien, a tailor by trade, was also a founding member of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union alongside James Larkin, was highly involved in the 1913 Lockout in Dublin and was a close associate of James Connolly. He was not involved in the 1916 Rising, but his home was used as a safe house for a member of the Connolly family during the week.

O’Brien described what happened on the street, and at his home, in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History.

‘On Wednesday 26th, a number of soldiers appeared near my residence and were, apparently, taking up positions along the North Circular Road down by Russell Street and Portland Row. At about 11.30 two men, whom I did not know came to my residence with Roderick Connolly, son of James Connolly, aged 15 years, who had been in the G.P.O. from Monday, with a request to my sister that she should look after him. At this time the soldiers appeared to be moving up Belvedere Place towards my residence and my sister and I thought that young Connolly might be safer in some other house than ours, I got my sister to cross the road to a friend’s and ask this lady if she would take Roderick Connolly. The lady agreed to do so, but reluctantly, and was apparently alarmed at the situation. In view of that I decided that it would, perhaps, be safer to keep young Connolly with us, and he remained.

While discussing with my sister the position of Roderick Connolly, I decided that if the British military searched the house, it would be undesirable to give the name of Connolly and so I arranged that he would give the name Carney with the Belfast address of Miss Winifred Carney who was in the G.P.O., so that if there was a check up on the address in Belfast it would look alright. I also coached him to say that he had come to Dublin to look for work and that he was lodging in 43 Belvedere Place and did not know me personally. A number of houses in Belvedere Place were searched, including the houses on both sides of mine, and one or two houses opposite. As soon as the soldiers had got into position, all the residents in Belvedere Place, and I presume in adjacent streets also, were told to keep all the windows completely closed and not to open any front doors. The state of affairs continued on Thursday; many of the soldiers sat on the doorsteps and on one occasion, when I opened the door, I was told immediately to keep it closed’.

 

It was on this day, Thursday, that the picture hanging on the Mac Swiney sisters’ wall was shot by the stray bullet coming into their home. Although there was no heavy fighting around this street, there was clearly some gunfire here, whether it was a deliberate shot that missed its target, a stray bullet from a neighbouring street, or if it was the nervous discharge of a weapon by an inexperienced young soldier.

1902.10 blog

The note that came with the picture stated that the bullet narrowly missed Annie, and it must have been a frightening and distressing experience for her. But this bullet pierced picture tells us about more than Annie’s near miss. It shows us how even when the civilians of Dublin stayed in their homes taking cover from the danger on the streets it was still not safe for them – bullets and shrapnel could enter their houses through doors and windows, and many civilians were indeed killed in their own homes, such as 37 year old William Connolly who died of gunshot wound to his chest at his home at 27 Usher’s Quay, and 13 year old Margaret Veale was killed in the bedroom of her home at 103 Haddington Road, off Northumberland Road, the site of the Battle of Mount Street.

We may never know the exact number of deaths that occurred during this week, but it is estimated that about 500 people were killed, the vast majority of these were civilian casualties, numbering just under 300.

There were also about 2500 people injured. From the beginning of the week, the injured and dead were brought to various hospitals around the city. Hundreds streamed into Jervis Street, Mercer’s, Sir Patrick Dun’s, St. Vincent’s, Mater Misericordiae, Holles Street and Dublin Castle hospitals, brought in by the men of the Fire Brigade and the doctors and nurses who ventured onto the dangerous streets to help the wounded, some losing their own lives in their attempts to save others. Some of the stories of these brave men and women were told in the Royal College of Surgeons’ Surgeons and Insurgents – RCSI and the Easter Rising, a fascinating and moving exhibition curated as part of the institution’s 2016/1916 Commemorative Programme.

EW-3122 red cross van at Stephens Green copy

As is the case with conflict that takes place in an urban area, it was the civilians – the citizens of Dublin – who suffered the greatest number of casualties during Easter Week. The loss of life, serious injury, losing family and loved ones, homes and livelihoods destroyed as their city burned; these events were to change their lives forever. Even a brief look at the Military Archives’ recently released files of the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee shows the impact on the ordinary citizens of Dublin.

 

This anniversary has been distinctive in its focus in a number of ways – along with the commemoration of the Rising’s leaders and participants, it has now properly recognised the participation of women in the Rising. It has also examined its effect on the lives of the civilians, especially the children, and their violent deaths. In many cases this wish to commemorate has come from the current citizens of Ireland who want to remember all who went through this traumatic event.

Annie Mac Swiney kept this bullet-pieced picture as a reminder of that event, and donated it to the National Museum with the hope that the people of Ireland would remember how she experienced 1916.

It will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland’s new 1916 exhibition – Proclaiming a Republic, at Collins Barracks, from next week.

The 1913 Lockout Baton Charge – Dublin Metropolitan Police batons

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It was recently announced that €22 million will be made available for a number of heritage and cultural projects as part of Ireland’s Decade of Commemorations. 

I was delighted to hear that the Henrietta Street Tenement Building is to receive funding to be developed into a museum to explore the reality of tenement life in Dublin’s north inner city.  Last year the Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout was a real highlight during the 1913 Lockout centenary, and was hugely successful.  I look forward to seeing this museum in the next few of years.

In the meantime, you can explore life in 1913 North Inner City Dublin in the wonderful Dublin Tenement Experience blog, which covers a range of topics such as personal stories from the tenements, the Church Street Tenement Collapse of September 1913, the effect of World War I on the families of Henrietta Street, and the photographs which highlighted the slum conditions in urban centres.   You can also read about the Dublin Metropolitan Police batons (NMI) which were used in the infamous Bloody Sunday Baton Charge of 31 August 1913.