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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The Hollywood Star and Pearse’s Missing Cap Badge, 1916

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In the late 1940s the Irish Volunteer hat and Browning 7.65mm automatic pistol used by Patrick Pearse during Easter Week 1916 were donated to the National Museum of Ireland. The distinctive Australian style hat was missing something vital – its cap badge, with no information on its loss and no indication of its whereabouts. The mystery was solved in 1977 with the publication of Hollywood Hussar by actor John Loder, famous for his roles in The Doctor’s Secret – one of the first ‘talkies’, and King Solomon’s Mines.

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Loder was born John Lowe, the son of Brigadier General Arthur Lowe, the commander of the British troops in Ireland from the beginning of the rising, and the officer who took Pearse’s surrender on Saturday 29th April. Loder had followed his father into the army in the early months of World War I, and had seen service in Gallipoli and Egypt. He arrived in Ireland on the Friday before the outbreak of the rebellion to take up his new appointment as Aid-de-Camp to his father. On the outbreak of the rising, he went with Lowe to set up his headquarters in Dublin Castle.

 

 

His account of the rebellion is brief, but he describes the fighting in the city centre, the destruction of the GPO and the death of civilians. At the end of the week Elizabeth O’Farrell came to Dublin Castle with a message from Pearse proposing the negotiation of a surrender. Loder wrote the message back to Pearse with the instructions to meet at Britain Street and surrender unconditionally, dictated and signed by Lowe. Loder was with his father at 4pm when Pearse and O’Farrell arrived. The famous surrender photograph shows Loder to the fore, his tall frame slouched slightly, cigarette in mouth.

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An example of an Irish Volunteer’s cap badge of the period. There were a number of different designs of badge, but this is likely to have been the type on Pearse’s hat.

 

 

He describes taking Pearse into detention in a staff car, accompanied by a priest, though his memory of Pearse giving the priest his watch and ring to give to his wife must be a mis-interpretation of the events; Pearse was likely passing his possessions on to his mother or sister. Loder had asked the driver of the car to continue driving past the jail’s gates in order to allow Pearse to finish giving his last messages. In gratitude, Pearse took his hat off, removing what Loder described as the Sinn Fein badge and gave it to him. He ends this recollection saying that he would have liked to have given this memento to the National Museum to join the other items belonging to Pearse, but it was destroyed in his parent’s home during the London Blitz in 1940 to 1941.

 

 

 

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After the Dublin rebellion, he was posted to France, fighting at the Battle of the Somme, and was eventually taken prisoner by the German Army in March 1918. After the war he continued his army career at the British Military Mission in Berlin, and on his demobilisation he returned to civilian life, setting up a pickle business in Potsdam, Germany. He turned to acting and moved to America in the 1920s, winning parts in Hollywood and later Broadway, radio and television. Described in his IMDb entry as ‘A tall, debonair, immaculately-groomed British leading man best known for his pipe-smoking chaps’, he lived the Hollywood lifestyle, complete with five marriages, until 1958 when he became a rancher in South America. He returned to London after his last divorce, and died there in 1988.

 

Many thanks to Michael Lee for telling me Loder’s story and providing me with a copy of his book.