The exhibition, World War Ireland: Exploring the Irish Experience, was officially launched by the Minster for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, yesterday.
It features letters, diaries, newspapers, photographs, leaflets and posters from the NLI’s collections.
Nikki Ralston, exhibition curator for the NLI, said: “Irish people had very diverse and complex reactions to World War I. This exhibition captures those sentiments, and also recounts the tense domestic situation in the Ireland of 1914.
“We felt one of the best ways to illustrate how Ireland experienced the war was to explore a range of themes through real-life stories. We have chosen to focus on four people who had very different experiences, and we have featured their writings – including personal diaries and letters – in this exhibition. These primary sources are complemented by audio, video and touchscreen installations to create a multi-layered, multimedia experience for all visitors.”
The four real-life stories featured in the new exhibition focus on:
- Norman Leslie, second son of the well-known Leslie family from Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan. He had become heir to the family estate when his elder brother, Shane, converted to Catholicism and became a supporter of Irish Home Rule. An experienced soldier when the war broke out, Norman was shot and killed in October 1914, while charging a German machine gun armed only with a sword (it was considered ungentlemanly for officers to carry guns).
- Joseph Mary Plunkett, the poet, journalist and revolutionary, best known as a leader of the 1916 Rising and a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. In April 1915, he accompanied Roger Casement to Germany to seek German support for an uprising in Ireland. He subsequently fought alongside Pearse and Connolly in the GPO in 1916. Imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, he married Grace Gifford just hours before his execution in May 1916.
- Mary Martin, a widow and mother of 12 from Monkstown, Co. Dublin. Three of her children served overseas during the war, including her son, Charlie, who was reported wounded and missing in late 1915. Believing he had been taken prisoner, Mary began keeping a diary in the form of a letter to Charlie. She subsequently discovered he had died of his wounds soon after his capture. Her other children survived the war. Mary’s wartime diary is included in the NLI exhibition.
- Michael O’Leary, a farmer’s son from Co. Cork, served with the Irish Guards on the Western Front. In February 1915, he single-handedly charged two German barricades in France, killing eight men and taking two prisoner. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, and became internationally famous, with journalists even thronging to the family farm in Cork. The story of his wartime exploits was put to very different uses, inspiring both a recruiting campaign and a satirical play by George Bernard Shaw. He retired from the army in 1921, but re-joined during World War Two. He died in 1961.