Museums and Troubles in Northern Ireland – By Kathryn Thomson

Spitting Image Puppet – This puppet of Peter Mandelson was used on the satirical television series Spitting Image which was on air from 1984-1996. Mandelson became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 1999.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

Museums can play a crucial role within society by opening up the conversation on diverse perspectives of contested history.

We believe that especially where the Troubles is concerned, National Museums NI is uniquely placed to do this.

We see the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement as a moment to pause for reflection on the past and how far we have come.  It is also an opportunity for discussion on the challenges we face and how together we build a better future, and National Museums NI has a key role to play and a significant contribution to make.

We are one of the leading museum groups internationally which are exploring how we deal with contested history and the legacy of our past.

The Ulster Museum is a safe and shared space where we encourage discussion and represent many perspectives, to help build a better understanding and mutual respect.

The Troubles and Beyond exhibition opens as part of Northern Ireland’s continuing emergence from years of conflict and violence and in an environment where, despite the challenges, work continues to build peace and democracy.

The redeveloped gallery is a culmination of a major collecting initiative to widen our collection. The project Collecting the Troubles and Beyond was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The gallery is not the end of this project. We will continue to collect objects and stories to tell the wider story of Northern Ireland – going beyond the political narrative and exploring the impact of conflict on everyday life, people and communities. The new gallery is rich in the range of objects and stories it presents. As we seek to move beyond the Good Friday Agreement itself, it includes a section on post conflict Northern Ireland with objects relating to flag protests, the campaign for equal marriage and Brexit.

The project has been all about collaboration and widening engagement – with the public, the Community Relations Council, other museums and universities.

 

RUC `Skulgarde’ Helmet – Dating from the early 1970s, this RUC Constable’s helmet was damaged by a petrol bomb during a street riot in Derry/Londonderry.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

We will continue to enhance the existing Ulster Museum Troubles collection, which dates back to the outbreak of the conflict. This gallery, like many of our exhibitions, will evolve over time. We seek to create a space that is dynamic and offers opportunities for people to respond and contribute their own objects and stories.

The intention is not to present a comprehensive account of every event that took place but to provide context to the Troubles period by examining wider social, economic and cultural activity that demonstrates our resilience and how society adapted in the face of conflict.

 

Bomb Disposal Robot – Prior to 1972, explosive devices could only be disarmed by hand. In 1972 Explosive Ordnance Disposal operators started to use an instrument codenamed ‘Pigstick’ in bomb disposal. The device shot a burst of water into the rigged explosive that caused the circuitry to malfunction.
Later that year retired Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Miller developed a bomb disposal robot that used a similar technique, but which could be operated remotely. His design was based around the chassis of an electrically-powered wheelbarrow. From 1972 to 1978, 400 of these ‘wheelbarrows’ were destroyed while dealing with explosive devices. It is impossible to quantify the number of lives saved by Miller’s innovation which, since its introduction to Northern Ireland, has been used around the world.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

There is no doubt this is a divisive period of our history expressed through multiple views and perspectives. Our aim is not to achieve consensus but to create a safe place to explore difficult questions and to share different experiences.

We know that while we have a shared past, we do not have a shared memory. Working within that context has been a challenge for National Museums NI but one that is central to fulfilling our unique role and purpose in society.

By offering a shared space within which different voices can be heard, we believe that we can make a positive contribution to creatively dealing with the legacy of the past. We owe it to our present and future.

 

Kathryn Thomson

Chief Executive, National Museums NI

 

Gay Pride T-Shirt – The first Gay Pride march in Belfast took place in 1991 and was attended by approximately 100 people. There was little funding, or support from spectators, but the march from the University of Ulster to Botanic Gardens went ahead and began to increase the visibility of the local LGBT community. Since then Belfast Pride has grown into a festival of events attended by thousands.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

Nobel Peace Prize Medal –
Mairéad Corrigan’s Nobel Peace Prize Medal for 1976, which she donated to the Ulster Museum. Mairéad Corrigan and Betty Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 1977 at Oslo City Hall in Norway.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

Belfast/Good Friday – Agreement Memorandum
This Memorandum from the Office of the Independent Chairman was attached to copies of the proposed Final Agreement and has been signed by participants in the talks including John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Senator George Mitchell.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

Ulster American Folk Park Visitors’ Book – On 15 August 1998, a group of Spanish exchange students staying in Buncrana, County Donegal, visited the Ulster American Folk Park before going into Omagh town centre. Many of them signed this visitors’ book, including Fernando Blasco Baselga, a 12 year old boy who was killed by a small piece of shrapnel when a car bomb exploded in Omagh that afternoon. His leader, Rocio Abad Ramos (aged 23), and three local children travelling with the group, James Barker (aged 12), Oran Doherty (aged 8) and Sean McLaughlin (aged 12) were also among the 29 people killed.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster American Folk Park

 

George Cross Commemorative Plate – In 1999, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was awarded the George Cross by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of the courage and dedication shown by officers and their families. This commemorative plate was produced to mark the occasion. In the same year the Patten Report was published with 175 recommendations for police reform. The Police Service of Northern Ireland eventually succeeded the RUC in November 2001.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

African National Congress Greetings Card – This greetings card was sent from Nelson Mandela to Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley. The cover illustration, by Namibian artist John N. Muafangejo, shows people shaking hands and the message ‘hope and optimism in spite of the present difficulties’. Inside the card is printed ‘Let 1993 be a year of peace and progress to democracy’. Nelson Mandela and President FW de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and it was in the following year that Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa.
© 1984 John N. Muatangejo

 

‘Armagh Gaol 1974’ – This Óglaigh na hÉireann (Provisional IRA) board was made by women in Armagh Gaol in 1974. On the reverse the women have listed their names and where they are from in three columns under the headings ‘sentenced, ‘remand’ and ‘interned’. In the case of those sentenced, the duration of their sentence is included. The board was given as a token of thanks to those involved in raising money in support of the prisoners through record sales.
© National Museums NI
Collection Ulster Museum

 

Peace Quilt – Common Loss
In this quilt, Irene MacWilliam expresses her deep concern for the loss of life during the Troubles, which impacted on every county and community in Northern Ireland. Between 1969 and 1994 more than 3,000 people were killed, approximately half of whom were civilians. Each piece of red fabric, deliberately torn to convey a sense of destruction, represents one of those who died. As the work began to take shape, people from Northern Ireland, Japan, the USA and England sent pieces of red fabric to Irene for inclusion. The white birds represent the dove of peace and the teddy bear reminds us of the many children who suffered the loss of loved ones.
Peace Quilt – Common Loss
Quilt, 1996
Irene MacWilliam
Photo Martin Melaugh © Conflict Textiles

 

 

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