On Easter Monday in 1916, there was a rising in Dublin, an uprising of Irish men and women against the rule of the English crown. In many ways and for many reasons, it was a failure. In many ways and for many reasons, it changed the course of — and certainly the stories about — the history of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world, as well.
The staff at the National Museum of Ireland took the decision to close the museum on that day in 1916, as shots rang out and battles were fought across Dublin. Since that day, the museum has been doing its work as a museum with regard to the events of Easter Monday. There have a number of exhibits about the continuing story over the years. The one marking the hundred year anniversary is at the National Museum of Ireland’s Decorative Arts and History site at the Collins Barracks in Dublin.
Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising is what this exhibit is called.
I found it both uplifting and sorrowful. Uplifting because of the hope, the dreams, the courage, and the risks involved. Sorrowful, because of the loss of lives, the mistakes, the chances for choices that were not taken, and the hard events of the aftermath.
Those could be the sort of stories of any conflict, I suppose. Having heard these names and songs and stories all my life gave this exhibit another dimension.
It is not for me to explain the Rising and its importance in history in a sentence or two, but, if you are not that familiar with these events in Ireland or their aftermath. a short bit of context may be in order.
Ireland — the whole island of Ireland — had been governed by the English crown for centuries. There had been a number of uprisings, none of them successful. By 1914 it seemed that a negotiated agreement allow some decisions to be made in Ireland would finally pass after a number of defeats. By the time this bill worked its way through Parliament in Westminster, though, it was 1916 and Great Britain was deep in World War I. Action on Home Rule for Ireland, as it was known, was suspended.
Was this a time for Ireland to succeed in breaking free of Britain at last? Many of the most politically active leaders felt the time had come for something. The Rising began on Easter Monday in 1916, with a group marching to, and taking over, the General Post Office. Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the steps of the GPO.
Fighting broke out in the city center. British troops were brought from across the island to put down the Rising. By Saturday morning the fighting was over. Lives were lost among the rebels, among the British forces, and among those who had no connection with either side, but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The aftermath was brutal. Signers of the proclamation were executed. Many others were imprisoned, or interned in camps for years. Those decisions brought many who’d not had hope for or interest in independence for Ireland to the cause.
There’s much more to the story. These events, though, and the people who took part in them, both well known and lesser known, are the focus of the Proclaiming a Republic exhibit.
The curators and designers of Proclaiming a Republic have done excellent work in marrying the big story of political events with the day to day human actions through which they were lived out. First aid kits, caps, pens, journals, bicycles, all bring home the human dimension of the lives lived out during this conflict as much as do photographs, uniforms, guns, flags, and well chosen quotes from the time.
As you move from the exhibits to do with the Rising to those explaining what came after, you encounter a wall with the names of those who died in the Rising. A photograph would not do it justice. As you encounter it, however, it is one of the most moving aspects of the story.
Every country has its own origin stories and controversies. Even though I was quite familiar with many of the events and stories concerning the Easter Rising, I found out things that were new to me. I saw many artifacts I had never seen.
Whether you are familiar with the events which led to the creation of the Republic of Ireland or not, Proclaiming a Republic will offer you much food for thought. There is a book to accompany Proclaiming a Republic too.
The National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts and History has large collections of many things, It is certainly one of those places where it is advisable to take my colleague Sheila’s advice on spending focused time on one part of a large museum. The Proclaiming a Republic area is well worth your focused time — and though it has been in place for some time, it is listed as a temporary exhibit. No end date is specified at this writing. Still, spend time with it while you can. I will tell you about other areas of the museum in future stories
The National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts and History is located in the Collins Barracks, which is in Benburb Street in Dublin. That is about a fifteen or twenty minute walk from Christ Church or the west end of Temple Bar. Dublin’s light rail and bus system serve the location as well.
You may also be interested in learning about another division of the museum, which is near Trinity College: The National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology.
Logo image and second photograph from the bottom courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland; other photographs by by Kerry Dexter.
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