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November 20, 2019 Dark days of War of Independence
Dark days of War of Independence the subject of new National Library photographic exhibition

Dublin’s Custom House engulfed in flames, Cork’s Patrick Street reduced to rubble, families ejected from their homes by British forces, and the immediate aftermath of outbreaks of violence and bloodshed are among the scenes displayed in the National Library of Ireland (NLI)’s new exhibition, ‘From Turmoil to Truce: Photographs of the War of Independence’ at the National Photographic Archive, Temple Bar. The exhibition was launched by academic, historian and writer, Diarmaid Ferriter.

‘From Turmoil to Truce’ draws on the NLI’s rich and varied holdings of photographs and newspaper cuttings, and explores the key aspects of a dramatic, brutal and extreme period of Irish history, in which Irish republicans fought to win Ireland’s freedom from centuries of British rule. In telling the story of Ireland’s pursuit of independence, the exhibition highlights the increasing normalisation of violence at the time; the impact felt across the country and at all levels of Irish society; and the personal experiences of both individuals and families.

The ground floor exhibition space is rendered in a stark black and white colour scheme, reflecting the subject matter and title of the exhibition, as visitors are taken on the journey from conflict and turmoil to resolution and truce. Multimedia elements include a large display showing a selection of archival Pathé newsreels, putting visitors in the place of cinema-goers of the era; while an interactive screen offers an opportunity to get hands-on with history and browse other ephemera from the period, including theatre programmes.

There is also a focus on the individual stories of the time, including that of the MacSwiney family. Playwright and republican Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison in London, and his wife Muriel played an influential role throughout this terrible time and after his death. Images of Muriel at Brixton, of her husband’s requiem mass, and of the couple with their daughter, Máire, illuminate one family’s poignant story.

Speaking at the launch, Director of the NLI, Dr Sandra Collins, said: “The War of Independence was a challenging time in our history. The Irish Free State was born in violence and involved difficult choices. It is important to the National Library to be part of the national conversation about these dark and complex times. The Library’s unparalleled archives, collected over many years, show us both the national political events and how they affected communities, families and individuals. It is my hope that all those who visit ‘From Turmoil to Truce’ will leave with a fuller understanding of a country at war.’

Chairman of the Board of the National Library, Paul Shovlin added: “The images on display in ‘From Turmoil to Truce’ reflect a harsh reality, but we have also been very conscious of engaging with all our visitors, using material from across the collections including interactive and multimedia elements. The exhibition also aligns closely with the secondary school history curriculum, across both the Junior and Senior cycles. As such, I would like to particularly invite secondary school students to visit our exhibition, and encourage teachers to organise a tour for their class.”

‘From Turmoil to Truce: Photographs of the War of Independence’ is free to visit, and is open seven days weekly: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and 12noon to 5pm on Sundays. The exhibition runs in the NLI’s National Photographic Archive, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar until May 2020. A programme of events complements the exhibition, comprising panel discussions, events and tours.

For more information, visit www.nli.ie.

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