Temple Bar, in Dublin, is quite a busy place. The streets are often filled with tourists checking out the area’s attractions as an arts quarter, with area residents stopping in at restaurants, cafes, shops, and grocers, and of an evening, revelers of all sorts spilling out of pubs.
There is a quiet place in the midst of all this, however. A place in the midst of all this where you may learn and reflect on the ever changing face and image of Ireland’s people and its history.
This is the Gallery of the National Photographic Archive of the National Library of Ireland, in Meeting House Square.
If the words archive or library are putting you off, think again.
The location in the heart of Temple Bar might cause you to do that anyway, and it’s a fine place for the archive to be, a place whose history is filled with story and image.
The gallery is a place which, quiet though its ambiance is, resonates with stories and the work of storytellers.
These are stories which are centered and threaded through with image, enhanced by words, and which bring light to history.
The stories the archivists and exhibit designers tell change as differing parts of the archive’s wide holdings form the stories.
I make a point to stop by when I am in Dublin. From Turmoil to Truce: Photographs of the War of Independence, was the exhibit when I visited recently, and at this writing this exhibit is ongoing.
Ireland is in the midst of what is known as the decade of centenaries, as the hundred year points of many events surrounding the creation of life on the island of Ireland today come around. Part of this was what is known as the War of Independence, the Anglo Irish War, the Black and Tan War, and Cogadh na Saoirse. It took place across the island from 1919 to 1921.
It was a bloody time, in more ways than one. The photographs at the gallery bring this home, sharing the violence quietly. That makes it all the more powerful.
The words they choose to emphasize as graphics in the displays are powerful too.
There are still photographs, explanations to go with them, and graphics of words, headlines, and quotations. There is also an area where Pathé newsreels of events are shown. These are four minute long segments of moving images of main events of the times. This is, it is pointed out, the way many people of the day saw the news, in cinemas.
These events were lived out in day to day lives, of course. That is brought home through family images, and stories told through image of public figures who were loved and mourned as the conflicts continued.
During the time I visited, there were several people pointing out to each other images they remembered from being taught about the events in school. There was a small group of overseas tourists learning about the history. There were several folk like myself, quietly reflecting on the stories.
The gallery, which is on two levels and comprises four main exhibition areas, is well suited for all of this. The archivists and and designers make creative use of all the space available to them which is, in fact, rather compact. The use of light and the design of the exhibits make the gallery seem larger than its physical space.
The gallery extends over two floors, and there are both stairs and a lift to get you between them. The gallery areas are wide open and easy to navigate. There is a reading room available by appointment for deeper research. Guided tours of the exhibits may be scheduled, also. If you have children with you who might rather do something other than look at the exhibits, there is an area for them, too, well supplied with books on Irish history suitable for several age ranges to explore, and materials with which to write and color as well.
The gallery of the National Photographic Archive is one of four galleries of the National Library of Ireland. There’s one at the former Bank of Ireland location, which at present has Listen Now Again, a exhibit on the life and work of poet Seamus Heaney, and two galleries at the main library building in Kildare Street, one which at present has material on Ireland in World War I and another on the life and work of writer and politician William Butler Yeats. There is no cost to visit any of the galleries.
If you’d like to learn more about life in Ireland during of the War of Independence referenced in this exhibit, you may want to look into the online course offered by FutureLearn Irish Lives in War and Revoluiton: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923.
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