Did nationalists in Londonderry turn their backs on the men who risked their lives fighting for ‘the rights of small nations’ during World War One and would the Free State have achieved the level of independence it eventually did without the women who were involved in that struggle?
These are some of the questions that will be addressed over the coming number of weeks as the Tower Museum in Londonderry marks the 1916 centenary year .
The commemorations kick off with a new exhibition on April 14 and the launch of a full programme of fascinating events highlighting some of the most significant historical moments of the era, including a dedicated schools programme.
Education Officer with Derry City and Strabane District Council, Margaret Edwards, said: “1916 was such a significant year in terms of both the conflict taking place at home and abroad, and the programme seeks to give a more in depth insight into local events.
“We are delighted to be working with the Nerve Centre and welcome the many prestigious speakers who are taking part in our event programme, taking a comprehensive look at how these events touched the lives of individuals on both sides of the political divide.
“Drawing on a range of historical sources - from personal accounts to poetry and theatrical production - this series will offer some new perspectives on one of the most momentous years in modern history. There will also be a programme of workshops available for schools to accompany the exhibition.”
The new ‘1916: Untold Stories’ exhibition will launch at the Tower Museum on April 14 at 7pm with guest speakers including historian and author Brian Lacey who will provide an insight into the preparations for the Easter Rising by Londonderry republicans. He will be joined by local historians Trevor Temple and Seamus Breslin speaking about the impact of the Battle of the Somme on the North West. Special guest for the evening is Bríd Ní Dhochartaigh, daughter of leading Londonderry republican Joseph O’Doherty, who features in the exhibition.
The exhibition will be followed on April 21 with a talk by Catherine Morris on the Life of Alice Milligan, and the launch of new graphic novel produced by the Nerve Centre on the influential poets Alice Milligan and Francis Ledwidge.
Following this April 27 sees a special talk by Adrian Grant focusing on Republicanism in Derry and what life was like in the North West in 1916, before, during, and after the Easter Rising.
On May 4 Emmet O’Connor will explore Labour in Derry, 1889 – 1923: Portraits of James McCarron and Peadar O’Donnell, examining the era between 1889 and 1923 when Irish Labour was rocked by three waves of trade union militancy.
The May 11 brings a talk by Seamus Breslin, taking a look at the Easter Rising’s impact on Londonderry soldiers on the Western Front and asking if Derry nationalists turned their backs on the men who risked their lives fighting for ‘the rights of small nations’?
On May 18 culture comes under the spotlight, as Feargal McGarry explores Theatre and Revolution: the Abbey Rebels. He will be asking how theatre shaped the Irish revolution and focusing on the experiences of the seven members of the Abbey Theatre who took part in the Easter Rising.
On June 1 Sinead McCoole turns the spotlight on Women and the Easter Rising. As a curator and historian Sinead has uncovered the hidden stories of many women involved in the struggle for independence, in particular the part played by the women volunteers of Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army in the Easter Rising.
On June 15 find out more about the Battle of the Somme with a special talk by local historian Richard Doherty, placing the 1916 Somme campaign in its overall context as part of an Entente strategy involving all three major theatres of war in Europe.
June 23 sees the author of the Road to the Somme, Philip Orr, explore the experiences of the 36th Ulster Division who faced all the horrors of the conflict.
Finally the series concludes on June 29 with a talk by Trevor Temple focusing on how the people of the North West have chosen to memorialise the First World War, reflecting the shared grief and suffering of so many across the North West at that time as expressed in the Memoriam pages of the local press. There will be further events planned for the autumn.
For more information on the exhibition and details of the full series of events please check out the Tower Museum’s Facebook page, or go to www.derrystrabane.com as well as www.creativecentenaries.org
The exhibition runs at the Tower Museum until the end of November 2016.