At Easter 1916, a small group of armed rebels staged an insurrection against British rule and declared an independent republic in Ireland. The insurgents were defeated after six days, but Irish politics was transformed by the Rising. In 1922 an independent Irish state emerged, but it soon had to contend with a bloody civil war.
Our small library, established in 1707 by an Anglican clergyman, was associated in the popular mind with the Union between Britain and Ireland. This exhibition uses artefacts and documents from our collections to trace the experience of religious and political minorities during the Irish revolution.
The library was in the firing line during the 1916 Rising.
A force of rebels under Thomas MacDonagh seized Jacob’s biscuit factory some 200 yards from Marsh’s but there was relatively little fighting in the area, at least compared to the destruction seen in the area around O'Connell Street.
At the end of the week, MacDonagh formally surrendered to the commander of the British forces in the grounds of St Patrick’s Park, an event which would have been clearly visible from the library windows.
Significant damage was inflicted on the library on the morning of Sunday 30 April 1916.
A British machine gun located in the Iveagh Buildings on Bull Alley sprayed the building with bullets, shattering windows and damaging books.
Most of the damaged books had belonged to Élie Bouhéreau (1643–1719), a French refugee who was the 1st librarian of Marsh’s Library.
Roger Casement was a British diplomat and humanitarian who became an Irish republican activist.
He was tried and executed in London after being arrested when attempting to land guns and ammunition from Germany for the Easter Rising. Casement was a figure of international repute, but a campaign for clemency was severely undermined when the British government released his private diaries, which recorded his homosexual relationships.
Casement offers multiple facets of Irish identity: a Protestant, a humanitarian in the colonies, a gay man, a republican revolutionary, and, finally, a Catholic convert before his death. These items are taken from our Benjamin Iveagh Library at Farmleigh House.
In 1916, Jessica Taylor was a middle-class teenager living in north county Dublin. Her diary, here made public for the first time, was kept in a series of school jotters.
At the time, the Easter Rising was deeply unpopular with Dublin citizens of all backgrounds. Jessica Taylor was no exception. She was appalled at the destruction of the city centre, especially O’Connell Street, which was in ‘really pityable’ condition.
Four members of staff at Marsh’s served in the British army during the Great War, of whom one was killed at Suvla Bay. The library’s story was not unusual. More than 200,000 Irishmen fought in the British army during the First World War.
The initial military response to the Easter Rising relied heavily on Irish units stationed in Dublin. Reinforcements arrived from England on Tuesday, but more than a third of the ‘British’ troops who died during Easter Week were Irishmen.
During the Irish Civil War, a young researcher visited Marsh’s Library only to be refused entry by a woman cleaning the front steps. She suspected he had come to burn the library or shoot the librarian.
Marsh’s Library may have felt especially vulnerable during the Civil War, as it was historically associated with the Anglican church. In an atmosphere of widespread destruction, Protestant institutions often perceived themselves to be particularly at risk.
The Irish Civil War forced people to address troubling questions of allegiance and self-definition, as shown by the items associated with William Burd and Dr Newport White.
Marsh’s Library itself was unsure of its relationship with the new state and went so far as to refuse to recognise the Chief Justice of the Irish Free State as a legitimate trustee of the library. This estrangement was not overcome until the early 1970s.
This section considers two Irish revolutionaries from minority backgrounds who were ill-at-ease in post-independence Ireland.
The playwright Sean O’Casey was born in Dublin to a working-class Protestant family. In early life, he was drawn to nationalism, before becoming deeply involved with trade union and socialist causes in Dublin. His critique of nationalism in his plays drew angry protests.
Estella Solomons was an important Irish artist of the early twentieth century. She was from a prominent Jewish family, and was a member of Cumann na mBan during the War of Independence before siding with anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War.
This is an expanded, online version of an exhibition entitled ‘1916: Tales from the Other Side’ which was held in Marsh’s Library to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising. The beautiful printed catalogue of the exhibition contains short, introductory essays by Professor Eugenio Biagini of Cambridge University and Dr Jason McElligott of Marsh’s Library. You can see a digital copy of the catalogue here. If you wish to purchase a copy of the printed catalogue, click here.
The original exhibition was curated by Dr Elaine Doyle and the online version has been curated by Ms Arantxa Meíja del Río, a history student at the University of Oviedo in Spain. Header video by Mr Alan Costello, BCFE. Site coded by Dr Sue Hemmens, Marsh’s Library, based on Omeka. We thank the copyright holders of images shown in this exhbition for their kind permission to use the material shown: for details see here. Marsh’s Library gratefully acknowledges the continuing support of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
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