Saturday, September 15, 2018


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Lots of things happened in 1918. Losses on the WWI front had been so high that the UK government was seriously attempting to introduce conscription in Ireland. This was stymied as the whole country rose up in anger. Women played a significant role in this opposition and the effort was abandoned.

Later in the year we had a Westminster election with virtual universal suffrage for men and for the first time votes for women albeit it with some serious limitations. This all led to an enormous increase in the Irish electorate and to the establishment of an alternative Irish parliament.

It was also the first Westminster election in which women could stand and Constance Markievicz pulled off a double by becoming the first woman to be elected to the Westminster parliament and the first woman in cabinet, though the latter was in the new Irish (abstentionist) parliament rather than Westminster.

The "Spanish" Flu swept through Europe killing millions of which thousands were in Ireland. It was an unwelcome addition to the toll of WWI.

In January 1919 the War of Independence kicked off.

So, all in all, the years 1918 and 1919 were transformative in Ireland and this is well captured in the National Library of Ireland's current exhibition in their their National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar.

The exhibition was launched earlier this week (11/9/2018) at the Archive in Meeting House Square in Temple Bar.

I arrived a bit, well very, early & had a sneak peek around.

I have been at a number of exhibitions here, the last one being the Photo Detectives which has just finished to be replaced by Ballots to Bullets. I really like the exhibition space. There is a principal area (above) with two smaller spaces on either side and a small gallery upstairs. Then there are the bits of wall in between and above. It is an intimate and homely space but an enormous challenge to the organisers. It requires a lot of thought to present a coherent exhibition and the NLI team have succeeded magnificently, not only with this exhibition but with the others I've been at.

As I said, I arrived early and took a sneak preview. One of the first things to catch my eye was this certificate. It is a magnificent piece of hyperbole. The fact is that Mr. Hannon has pledged £50 to the anti-conscription fund - no small amount in 1918. The hyperbole is in what the fund is to do: resisting the Tyranny of Conscription and saving the Irish Race and Nation from Slavery, Disaster and Destruction. Well, maybe just a little bit over the top, but a worthy cause nonetheless.

But what really caught my eye was Ballyhaunis. Out of all the towns of Ireland they picked Ballyhaunis.

And the names Grealy, Dillon-Leetch and Waldron had me hearing the cock crow and smelling the turf. A great start to this exhibition.

And the flu. A strong potion of Oxo,

a long gargle with Venos,

and a soup spoon or two of Bovril, and sure the flu didn't stand a chance.

Job Oxo.

Unfortunately there proved to be a little more to it than that, but you'll always find good marketers to capitalise on any tragedy. It took many years for the virus to be understood and isolated, but for some reason the above advertisements put me in great humour.

But it's down to business and it was really nice of them to keep me a seat. I must have the required number of attendances at NLI events and a quota of inoffensive blog posts to qualify me as a VIP.

Unfortunately I had to decline the offer. A good photographer is best on his feet.

NLI Director Sandra Collins started the ball rolling.
"Ireland’s revolutionary past is complex and it’s important that we approach this period with sensitivity and inclusiveness. The National Library’s rich and varied collections offer unique archival insights. We hope the wide range of material on display in ‘From Ballots to Bullets’ will offer visitors a new opportunity to engage with our history, both the big events but also the individuals and their hopes and dreams."

She was followed by Senator Ivana Bacik who launched the exhibition.
"I am honoured to open such a striking and thought-provoking exhibition by the National Library of Ireland. Through its diverse collection of objects and artefacts, the NLI offers nuanced and sensitive insight into an intense moment of struggle in Irish history. As Chair of the Oireachtas Vótáil100 Committee, I am particularly taken by the centring of women’s experience in the exhibition and its focus on the fight for women’s right to vote and participate in all aspects of life, as told through compelling images and profiles of often overlooked female figures."

I really couldn't resist including this shot given the fortuitous positioning.
Her family name is of Czech origin. Her paternal grandfather, Karel Bacik, a Czech factory owner, moved to Ireland with his young family when the Communists began to take over private businesses. He eventually settled in Waterford and in 1947 was involved in the establishment of Waterford Crystal. [Wikipedia]
Echoing the speakers, two things in particular struck me about the exhibition.

There was a lot of material I had not seen before and which reflected the experience of the ordinary people rather than those hitherto in the spotlight. The NLI was in a great position here as it drew on its vast collection of ephemera.

Then there was the extensive role of women, which has only gradually come to light in recent years as more evidence based research has replaced the cardboard ideology of my youth.

Further details on the NLI website.

Speeches aside, there is clearly still lots to engage with at this exhibition.

The exhibition took advantage of the upstairs gallery to treat four individuals in more detail.

I had never heard of Lily Mernin who was a typist in Dublin Castle. She spied for Michael Collins and her information was key to Collins's Squad's operation on the morning of Bloody Sunday in November 1920. She was never unmasked.

I had heard of Tom Johnson, the leader of the Labour Party and President of the Irish Trade Union Congress. I was aware of him from his being caricatured by Gordon Brewster and from passing his grave in St. John's cemetery in Clontarf.

I should also mention the excellent video material in the main exhibition area.

Carol Maddock & Nikki Ralston

In her speech, Sandra Collins paid tribute to the team who organised the exhibition. It was curated by Nikki Ralston, who I had met previously. Carol Maddock is an old friend who is a great asset to NLI.

Maeve Casserly

And I am aware of Maeve Casserly's various talks as well as her role in this exhibition.

Louise Archbold, DHR Communications

Not forgetting Louise who organised the launch and brought along the frame which was a gift to the official photographer in many of his shots.

Ross was on sound. Not too demanding on this occasion you might think, but you should not underestimate the value of a good sound man on these occasions. How many times have you attended functions where you can't hear the speaker or where the feedback would pierce the ears off you. I had the experience of a live sound man myself at a recent talk in Marlay House and it was a great luxury, believe you me.

Elizabeth Kirwan & Felix Larkin

I didn't shoot many of the attendees. Too busy talking to people. But Felix is an old friend and Elizabeth is in charge of the photo archive.

Neville Wiltshire & Esme Lewis

I discussed photography with Neville whose sister in law, I think he said, is the lady of the Wiltshire photographic collection.

As for Esme, I keep running into her at things and she knows everybody, and they her.

Esme Lewis

A small tribute picture to her work in the theatre with among others Louis Elliman.

There is a good RTÉ news report on the launch here.

And before I go, I should add a note on the significance of 1918 in my own family history, or at least that part of it based in James's Street and Thomas Street.

My great-grandfather who had been a shoe/bootmaker at the Fountain in James's Street since 1868 retired and joined two of his spinster daughters at Sally's Bridge on the Grand Canal where they ran Bridge Stores for the following twenty years. He put another spinster daughter into Grangegorman Lunatic Asylum in which system she lived out the rest of her days, dying in Portrane in 1948. His son, who was to have taken over the business at the Fountain, and whom he had disinherited for joining the British army, returned from the WWI front wounded and jobless. And his son in law, my grandfather, was fished out of the Liffey at Eden Quay, dead as a doornail and having been missing for a week.

So yes, 1918 was a very interesting year in our family.

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