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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Toffee Axe, Looting in Dublin, 1916 Rising

Just before mid-day on Monday 24 April, Patrick Pearse stood at the front of the GPO and read the Proclamation declaring the Irish Republic. The rebels entered the building and began barricading the doors and windows, and smaller garrisons took their positions in outposts around Sackville Street such as the Metropole and Imperial Hotels, and shops such as Kelly’s and Hopkins. Shortly afterwards, the looting in Dublin’s main street began.

This 7 inch long toffee axe, more than likely taken from a confectioner’s shop, was kept as a souvenir by a Mr Daly after it was thrown at him, hitting his hat, by a looter in Sackville Street during the week of the Rising. It was given to the National Museum in 1980.

At almost the same moment as the Proclamation was being read, DMP Constable James O’Brien was shot dead by the rebels in Dublin Castle Yard, and Constable Michael Lahiff was shot at St. Stephen’s Green. Immediately after these incidents the Dublin Metropolitan Police were withdrawn and ordered to their barracks. Being an unarmed force, they would have been targets for the rebels and, with only their standard issue wooden batons, they would have had no way to defend themselves against the rebels’ rifles. This left the streets without its normal law enforcement at a time when the city was descending into chaos. Still, despite the order for the DMP to return to their barracks, the arrests of at least 27 people were made.

Most of the looting took place in the first three days, amid the crossfire between the rebels and the British Army Regiments, but before the fires took firm hold in the central streets.  Lower Sackville Street was a focal point, with clothes, toy and sports shops proving popular. Noblett’s and Lemon’s confectioners shops were looted for chocolates and sweets; the toffee axe may have come from one of these. The Cable Shoe Company (pictured) had its windows smashed, and The Daily Mail reported that people were seen trying on boots and shoes, and returning for another pair if the first selection failed to fit correctly.

Lawrence’s Photographic and toy emporium was also cleared of its contents. Fireworks were taken, and The Irish Times described the scene – ‘Rockets rushed up in the air and burst with a sound like a cannon, and all the smaller sorts of fireworks were thrown whizzing about among the crowd. Finally the premises were set on fire and burned to the ground’.

 

Efforts were made by other citizens to stop the activity. On Monday Francis Sheehy Skeffington, known to be opposed to the use of physical force, made efforts to prevent the looting in the city by personally appealing to the people. The next evening he called a meeting at Westmoreland Chambers with the same aim. It was after this meeting, as he was returning home, that he was arrested and brought to Portobello Barracks, where he was shot on the orders of Colonel Bowen Colthurst.

Pearse himself issued a proclamation from the Provisional Government to the Citizens of Dublin, at one point condemning the behavior with the lines ‘The Provisional Government hopes that its supporters – which means the vast bulk of the people of Dublin – will preserve order and self-restraint. Such looting as has already occurred has been done by hangers-on of the British Army. Ireland must keep her new honour unsmirched’.

Although the reports focus mainly on the shops in the Sackville Street area which sold luxury items, looting was also happening when the opportunity arose in other areas where the rebels had taken position. For example, it was recorded that after the rebels surrendered their position in Jacob’s Factory, the crowd looted the building on an ‘extensive scale’, taking flour and biscuits.  The citizens of Dublin, many of whom lived in extreme poverty, took not only the luxury items they could never afford, but also the basic foodstuffs they needed. This need was also seen in the aftermath of the Rising; where people, including children, searched the still smoking wreckage of buildings for anything they could use, and took the wood from the rebels’ street barricades for their fires.

In an item titled ‘The Lighter Side of the Dublin Troubles’ by G.H. Mumford (Evening News, London, 6 May 1916), the author describes the atmosphere in the city after the Rising ended –

Now that the trouble is all over it is permissible to forget the deplorable and dwell a moment on the ludicrous. Ireland always smiles through her tears.

If it were not for the Sackville Street holocaust and for the long casualty list one would regard the happenings of last week as a weird and bad extravaganza, with Dublin beating Sir W.S. Gilbert’s Titipu to a frazzle. To tell the truth, a large section of people hardly knows whether to be mirthful or melancholy about it even yet. Some visitors yesterday were becoming lugubrious over the ruins and the losses when one of them directed the attention of his companions to a hoarding opposite. There in a big type they read this: ‘All Easter Week, The Christian’. Condolences dissolved in convulsions.

Every second man one meets has quaint stories of the looting to tell. One relates to a man who, having taken a haul from a hosier’s window, was seen coming back. A second looter expostulated to him, suggesting that surely he had got his share, and it was somebody else’s turn. ‘That’s all right’ said the man addressed. ‘But I’m going to change one of these shirts. I want that one over there with the blue spots’.

A priest, meeting one of his Sunday scholars, said cheerily ‘Well, my little maid, and what do you think of “Ireland A Nation”?

The child paused, as though mentally balancing the family’s gains and losses. ‘I dunno’, she replied slowly. ‘Mother’s got a new fur coat, but father’s got a bullet in the ankle’. 

Bridie O’Mullane, Cumann na mBan, 1918

Cumann na mBan was famously founded in Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin, in 1914, just months after the formation of the Irish Volunteers.  Its members took part in the 1916 Rising alongside the Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, and continued its involvement in the nationalist cause throughout the War of Independence, the Civil War and beyond.

Many women dedicated their lives to the cause. One such woman is Bridie O’Mullane, pictured here at about age 25 or 26.

This photograph shows Bridie in full Cumann na mBan uniform, including a small brooch based on the Tara brooch. She was a member of the Executive Committee, an official organizer during the War of Independence and the Director of Publicity and Propaganda during the Civil War. The photograph was donated to the museum by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1937.

Sinead McCoole, in her book No Ordinary Women, gives a good account of Bridie’s activities during the period.  O’Mullane joined Cumann na mBan in 1918 after meeting Countess Plunkett, who persuaded her to establish a branch in her home town of Sligo. She was made Secretary, and was soon requested by the Cumann na mBan headquarters to set up more branches around the county.  By the end of the year she had been elected onto the Executive Committee, and made an official organizer.

Despite serving a prison sentence in 1919, she continued her recruitment activities and went on to establish branches throughout the country, often with her life in great danger.

She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and was appointed Director of Propaganda for Republican Sinn Fein in Dublin in early 1922.  She founded the Cumann na mBan journal, and probably came to know Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in this context, as she regularly contributed to the paper. She acted as a courier during the Civil War, and in July she was charged with the role of setting up a publicity department.  Bridie, Maire McKee and Nellie Hoyne established an office in Clare Street, publishing a weekly paper called The War Bulletin. In November 1922 she was arrested by Free State Troops and imprisoned. In Kilmainham Jail she continued her political life, and became a member of the Prisoners’ Council and Commanding Officer of A Wing. She was released in late 1923, but arrested again in 1926 while campaigning against the treatment of prisoners in Maryborough Jail.  She resigned her place on the Cumann na mBan Executive in 1927, later dedicating herself to compiling the history of the organization, assisting others in their applications for military pensions, the Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League, and was a founding member of the Irish Red Cross.  She died at the age of 74, and is buried in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Bridie made two witness statements to the Bureau of Military History, which can be read here and here.

For more stories on the role women such as Bridie played in the fight for Irish independence, see the further reading section on this site for a few of the titles available.  There are also a number of biographies available which are well worth reading.