1916 was the pivotal year of the war for Ireland because of events at home and abroad.
At Easter, an armed rising was staged in Dublin and an Irish Republic was proclaimed. Although quickly suppressed by the British Army, the subsequent execution of sixteen leaders of the rising would have far reaching consequences. The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July, with the 36th (Ulster) Division sustaining heavy losses. The campaign continued into autumn, with the 16th (Irish) Division joining the battle in September.
Our collection, largely donated to the museum during and immediately after the war, reflects what people believed to be important and worth preserving. As we reflect on the iconic events of 1916 we must consider the impact of war and revolution on society as a whole. By remembering these events in context we can better understand their enduring legacy and their effect on cultural and political identity.
Charlotte McReynolds, Curatorial Assistant.
Belfast mural commemorating the Easter Rising in 1916
Belfast mural commemorating the Battle of the Somme in 1916
Louisa Nolan’s Military Medal for Bravery
Louisa Nolan was only eighteen years old during the Easter Rising in 1916 and was working as a chorus girl in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Her courage and compassion helping those wounded in the midst of terrifying violence meant that she would become one of only a small number of civilian women ever to be awarded the Military Medal for Bravery by the British War Office.
Under heavy gunfire at Mount Street bridge, Louisa along with her friend Kathleen Pierse astounded onlookers by proceeding ‘calmly through a hail of bullets’ to rescue and tend to the wounded, regardless of whether they were soldiers or civilians.
One eye-witness, a Mr S.F. Cronin, wrote ‘I saw a soldier lying on the canal bridge apparently dead. Suddenly a woman came out into the open with what looked like a blue enamel jug. She ran down the canal bank and disappeared from view. Then a poor girl ran out on the bridge while yet the bullets from rifles and revolvers were flying thickly from both sides. She put up both her hands, and almost immediately the firing ceased.’
Later that same year, Louisa’s brother, James Nolan, an Acting Lance Corporal with the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians) fought and died at the Somme in France on 24 August 1916. He was just 23 years old.
Miss Louisa Nolan.was one of two Irish women to be awarded the military medal for acts of bravery during the Easter Rising. BELUM.W2015.397
The Medal for Bravery awarded to Louisa Nolan for her brave services helping both soldiers and civilians during the Easter Rising of 1916. BELUM.W2014.127.
Magazine clipping showing The Harry Lauder Revue; 'The Three Cheers' in pictures. This play was shown in the Shaftesbury Theatre in December 1916. Wrote by Harry Grattan, with music by Herman Darewski and lyrics by Adrian Ross. The clipping features 11 scenes from the play. The top left-hand image features three chorus girls, the woman in the centre is Louisa Nolan. BELUM.W2015.400
Next of Kin Memorial Plaques (Dead Men’s Pennies)
During the First World War over 200,000 men from all corners of Ireland enlisted to serve with the British Armed Forces. Many of them would never return, including 19-year old Patrick Magee from Osman Street, Belfast, and 30-year old James Marron from Old Cross Square, Monaghan. Both served with the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and both died just seven months apart in 1916 in France, on 27 April and 13 December, respectively.
As was the case for all British soldiers who fought on the front, their bodies were never returned home for burial. Instead, Patrick Magee’s gravestone can be found in St Pol Communal Cemetery Extension, whilst James Marron’s lies in Chocques Military Cemetery in northern France, near the border with Belgium.Between 1919 and right up into the 1930s over 1,350,000 bronze memorial plaques were awarded to the families of those who had died serving the British war effort, including Patrick’s parents, Patrick and Mary-Ann Magee, and James’ mother and father, Elizabeth and Thomas Marron.
Because of their shape, colour and the tragic circumstances under which they were manufactured, these plaques became commonly known as ‘dead man’s pennies’, a reference to the Greek myth of Charon, who would ferry the dead across the River Styx into the afterlife provided they were able to pay the toll of a coin or penny.
The plaques themselves depict Britannia, standing facing left. In her right hand she holds a trident and with her left she is proffering a laurel wreath.
They are inscribed ‘He died for freedom and honour’ and in the panels on the right the names of James Marron and Patrick Magee have been stamped.
Next of Kin Memorial Plaque awarded to the family of Patrick Magee. Private Magee 20920, "C" Coy. 8th Bn., Royal Irish Fusiliers who died on 13 December 1916, France, age 19. BELUM.O101.2001
Next of Kin Memorial Plaque, awarded to the family of James Marron. Private James Marron 21381, 8th Bn., Royal Irish Fusiliers died on 27 April 1916, age 30. BELUM.X99.2001
Battle of the Somme, The Attack of the Ulster Division, by J P Beadle
This print by the military artist James Prinsep Beadle depicts troops from the 36th (Ulster) Division being led over the top by Lieutenant Francis Bodenham Thornley during the Battle of the Somme.
Lieutenant Thornley was wounded in battle and during his convalescence was given a job advising the artist on the composition of the painting. The original work was presented to the Belfast Corporation on 1 July 1918 and hangs in Belfast City Hall.
This print is one of 1000 copies produced that were signed by artist. The funds raised from the sale of these copies went towards raising money for the UVF Patriotic Fund, the UVF Hospital for Limbless Soldiers, as well as the Ulster Prisoners of War Fund.
The image itself has a confident, heroic tone that belies the terrible bloodshed incurred during battle (the 36th suffered approximately 5000 casualties on the first two days of fighting alone). As the commemorative event of the hanging of the original painting in Belfast City Hall on 1 July 1918 suggests, as early as the end of the First World War the 36th (Ulster) Division and the Battle of the Somme had become a celebrated part of Unionist cultural memory. This contrasted with the absence of recognition in public space of those Irish Nationalists who served at the Somme and other campaigns during the war.
Scene depicting a charge of a section of the Ulster Division during the Battle of the Somme, 1916. BELUM.P148.1973
Major General Sir Oliver Nugent’s Walking Stick & Belt
This cherry-wood walking stick belonged to Major General Sir Oliver Nugent, best known for commanding the 36th (Ulster) Division during the Somme Campaign.
The silver band mounted near the top bears witness to two of the most significant chapters in Nugent’s military career. The first inscription reads: ‘Pretoria 1900’. It was at this time and place that Nugent was captured and held in a prisoner of war camp after leading his men in forward charge during the Battle of Talana Hill, ‘the first major clash of the second Boer War’. The wounds he received during this battle would pain him for the rest of his life, including a bullet that remained lodged close to the base of his spine.
The second inscription is also deeply significant, reading ‘France, Belgium 1915-1918’. In September 1915 Nugent was appointed General Officer Commanding of the 36th (Ulster) Division. Although Nugent was uncomfortable with the political implications of commanding a division mainly raised from the pre-war Ulster Volunteer Force, he was an experienced military leader who took great pride in his unit’s bravery and professionalism. The day after the first charge of the Somme (2 July 1916), Nugent wrote to his wife, ‘My dearest, the Ulster Division has been too superb for words. The whole Army is talking about the incomparable gallantry shown by officers and men.’
Nugent wrote to his wife Catherine (Kitty) every day during the Battle of the Somme and it was she who donated both her husband’s walking stick and his Sam Browne army belt after his death in 1926.
Walking Stick, cherry wood, crook handle; mounted with silver band. carried by Sir Oliver Nugent, BELUM.O650.1926
Belt "Sam Browne", leather with sword holder attached. Worn by Sir Oliver Nugent, BELUM.O651.1926
The Record of the Irish Rebellion of 1916
The 64-page document, A Record of the Irish Rebellion of 1916, published by a magazine called ‘Irish Life’, was one of the first contemporary records of the Easter Rising to go to press. Although it reads as having a clear anti-rebellion tone it states, with unintentional irony, that its aim is to report ‘free from any partisan spirit…the causes of this most reckless, and most unjustifiable of rebellions.’ This attitude reflects the view of most of the Irish population at the time, which was not initially in favour of the rebellion or its leaders.
As well as containing a civilian eye-witness account of the rebellion, it also contains accounts of military operations from British Army Commanding Officers, copies of documents produced by the rebels (such as the Proclamation of the Irish Republic), and numerous photographs of the destruction caused in Dublin city centre by the events of the rising.
Contemporary advertisements also contained within this booklet offer an additional insight into the wider First World War context in which the rebellion occurred , including (astonishingly to modern eyes) an appeal to raise funds to supply soldiers at the front line with tobacco.
'The Record of the Irish Rebellion of 1916' undated but probably shortly after the Rising. With "PASSED BY THE PRESS CENSOR" imprint on front cover. BELUM.W2011.1329
Sackville Street on Monday morning 1916. BELUM.W2011.1329
‘Demolishing the Ruins’. BELUM.W2011.1329
‘Documents issued by the Rebels’. BELUM.W2011.1329
‘The Sailors & Soldiers’ Tobacco Fund’. BELUM.W2011.1329
Toy Tank and Halma Board Game, 1916
Between 1914 and 1918 nearly every household became involved in the war effort at some level. Children could play war games and re-enact front-line experiences in their living rooms as toy manufacturers responded to the increasingly militarised national atmosphere by creating games and toys themed around war and battle.
Some such toys were strikingly realistic; the design of this tank is based on an armoured car first used in combat in summer 1916. It was replicated and sold by toy manufacturers before the end of that year.
Halma Board Game, 1916
This game originated in the United States of America in the late 1880s. A popular game of strategy and positioning, it was reissued in 1916 along with other military strategy board games such as L'Attaque.
Metal model of World War I tank. BELUM.X45479
Halma Board Game. BELUM.W2014.31
Mackies Munitions Photograph
This photograph was taken in 1916 at James Mackie and Sons, a large engineering firm on the Springfield Road, Belfast. During the First World War the company adapted its production line to create munitions needed for the war effort.
At ‘Mackies’, a predominantly female workforce was employed during the war to produce shells, ammunition and bomb components. The woman on the far left of this image is holding a 4.7 Howitzer shell body made at the factory.
The departure of thousands of young men to fight on the front line meant that it was up to women to fill their shoes on the factory line. This may not have seemed as unusual in Ulster compared to other regions as there was already a relatively high number of women employed in the local linen industry.
Munitions workers in Mackies during World War I