Belfast Central Library
Thursday 22nd January saw the first Living Legacies public engagement event of 2015, and the third of seven collaborative roadshows with Libraries NI. The format was broadly similar to previous events, with some of our academic specialists giving presentations on the remit and objectives of the Centre, and the Digitisation Unit on-hand to sample and record artefacts brought in by members of the public.
In addition to this, we were delighted to host some special guests as part of our event. Firstly, Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, the Prime's Minister's special representative for the Centenary Commemoration for the First World War, gave some eloquent and encouraging remarks on his experience of how Northern Ireland is beginning to engage with the complex matter of how to remember the Great War. Dr. Murrison's comments reflected how the people of this region are taking the opportunity to explore the nuances of local experiences of the War, and in doing so, dispel some of the myths which were a mark of a deeply divided society. The work which has been carried out so far has begun to lay the foundations for strong, civic participation in the major centenaries which fall in 2016.
There are two research groups who have anticipated the significance of these anniversaries. We were lucky to have the project leads from both groups attend the roadshow and present some of their work to the assembled guests. Sean O'Hare of the 6th Connaught Rangers Research Project, which was formally launched at the Falls Road Library in August 2014, gave an excellent presentation on the group's work. The project has been ongoing since 2006 and aims to tell the hitherto unknown story of the 6th Connaught Rangers regiment, comprised of men who hailed mainly from the Falls Road area of Belfast. The group have collaborated with Centre CI, Professor Richard Grayson, to produce a publication, available for purchase here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-6th-Connaught-Rangers-Nationalists-ebook/dp/B0071A83MO. The Connaught Rangers story is just one of many which are now coming to the fore, as the centenary of the First World War creates space for nationalist communities to engage with their heritage.
The second community-based research project to present their work was East Belfast and the Great War, a group whom we supported in their successful bid for Heritage Lottery Funding early in 2014. Since the project's formal launch at Stormont Buildings in August 2014, project leader Jason Burke and his team of volunteer researchers have been working tirelessly to trace and document every East Belfast connection to the war. Jason gave a lively presentation on the aims and methods of the project. East Belfast and the Great War are co-hosting a workshop with Living Legacies on Saturday 7th February, details of which are available here.
The Ulster Museum facilitated a group of teenagers from East Belfast in their First World War project. The group led by the Ulster Historical Foundation, were brought to the museum to experience an introduction to the First World War. These teenagers had no prior knowledge of the war and it was their first visit to the museum.
The group had a visit to the A Call to War, First World War poster exhibition, and explored themes surrounding recruitment and discussed why many men and women volunteered to have an active role in the war.
They then explored life at war and life at home during the war through a museum object handling session. One the group had an opportunity to dress up as a First World War nurse. This session was followed by a tour of the Home Rule to Partition section of the Ulster Museum’s new Modern History gallery.
The group are encouraged to explore their own family history with regard to the First World War and will produce a booklet representing their journey and discovering their own war legacy.
Image 1 : ‘The Kitchen is the Key to Victory,’ propaganda poster aimed at women. It highlights the need for women to self-ration due to wheat shortages with many farmers at war and fewer ships getting into Britain as this occurred at the height of German U-boat campaign in 1917.
Image 2 : ‘Boys, Come over here, You’re Wanted,’ recruitment poster produced by David Allen & Co., a Belfast-based printing firm with offices in London and Dublin.
Image 3 : The teenagers enjoying an object handling session with Fiona Baird, UM Education