The National Museum of Ireland has a long history of exhibitions relating to the 1916 Rising and this year, to mark the centenary of the event, they have put together an exhibition of one of the largest collections of materials from the period. The Museum of Decorative Arts and History Collins Barracks is a fitting home for this collection as it was not far from the barracks that some of the fighting took place, in locations such as the Four Court and the GPO. Visitors to Proclaiming A Republic will have a unique opportunity to experience the physical proximity to the people and event of the Rising through everyday intimate and personal belongings, some of which have never been on display before.
The exhibition explores the background to the event that led up to the 1916 Rising. Visitors can delve into the nuances of the political event of the time and learn how the political climate became more militaristic in the lead up to the Rising. The rise of the Catholic elite and the push for Home Rule are explored, as well as the counter moves from unionists. Irish arts and culture movement of the time also played a part in the growing popularity of republican nationalism.
Personal belongings and memorabilia tell the story of the Rising itself. Visitors can follow the rebels as they set up garrisons around Dublin, with the limited action outside of the city also explored. The story is told through artefacts such as the clothing worn by the rebels and the British Army watches used to time rebel dispatches, bullets, homemade bombs and bayonets, and unique items such as the razor used by Thomas Clarke and Padraig Pearse’s spectacles.
The horrors and casualties of war are also explored using artefact from the time. Smelling salt used to revive the wounded and first aid kit used to treat the injured and the dying will be on display giving an insight into the experiences of the soldiers fighting the battles. Civilians were also caught up in the fighting and their personal stories are told through poignant artefacts, such as a crucifix perforated by a stray bullet.
The Rising was a short and brutal affair that led to the destruction of many areas of the city centre. Scenes of that destruction greet the visitor as they move from the battlegrounds to the surrender of the rebels and the subsequent introduction of martial law. It is in this sombre area of the exhibition that visitors can view the last letters of those who had been sentenced to death for their part in the Rising. Written in their own handwriting, these are the last thoughts and emotions of the rebel leaders. Visitors can read these moving words and also listen to dramatic, modern day readings of these touching letters. Many more people were imprisoned for their part in the Rising and their experiences are explored through the arts and crafts of the internment camps, as well as prison badges and caps.
Artefacts and accounts from the time also help the visitor to understand the plight of the families of the rebels, learning how those families coped with courts martial, imprisonment and execution of their loved ones.
Proclaiming A Republic offers a comprehensive and fascinating insight into the 1916 Rising, exploring the event from all sides through the use of a staggering number of artefacts from the era. It reflects on 100 years of collecting and commemorating the last tangible links to the men, women and children of the time and is an essential stop for anyone with an interest in the pivotal event that was the 1916 Rising.