The history of Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the present day has been dominated by the civil and political conflict known as ‘the Troubles.’ The events that took place here after 1968 have impacted not just the people of Northern Ireland, but people across the world. Our collection covers themes of politics and conflict, and the impact of both on everyday life, people and communities.
Part of our collecting process has involved consultation with communities, encouraging people to share direct testimony and bring in items to ensure multiple perspectives are represented. The objects, photographs, political ephemera and artwork in the Troubles collection represent a wide range of experiences. The Troubles collection includes items directly associated with the conflict – a rubber bullet, improved explosive devices, firearms and a bomb disposal robot. There is a large collection of material associated with the Northern Ireland Prison Service as well as crafts and artwork created by prisoners in Armagh Women’s Gaol, HM Prison Maze and Magilligan. There are many emotive objects in the collection and those that remain contested in terms of significance and meaning amongst those who experienced the conflict. While we have a shared past, we do not have a shared memory and it is through engaging with this collection that we have been able to encourage and open discussion that considers different viewpoints.
As with the Troubles and Beyond exhibition, the Troubles collection is not exclusively focussed on the conflict, but relates to contemporary history and therefore includes objects that represent our wider social, cultural and economic history. The collection is a dynamic one and it continues to be developed and refined. Recently acquired items include George Best’s Northern Ireland football jersey, a puppet of Gerry Adams from the TV series Spitting Image, material relating to the life and career of Belfast-born actor James Ellis and a collection of Pride t-shirts dating from 1991 when the first march was held in Belfast. We are constantly working to build and develop our contemporary collection to show social change, working life, arts and culture, and the ever changing environment around us. The Troubles did not take place in a vacuum. The reality of life is reflected in our personal memories and the photographs and mementoes that underpin our family history.
Do you have objects, photographs or stories that you would like to share with the museum? If so, we would be interested to hear from you. Please contact Rebecca Laverty, Assistant Curator of History, on 028 9039 5164 or Rebecca.Laverty@nmni.com.
Art of the Troubles
The Ulster Museum also has the largest collection of art works that relate to the Troubles. Throughout the 30 year period and up until today artists from Northern Ireland and beyond have responded to the conflict through their artistic practice.
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland Collection (2012) makes up a large proportion of the Troubles Art collection and includes seminal works by artists such as T.P. Flanagan, Joseph McWilliams and Rita Duffy. It also represents Northern Irish performance art, an important artistic practice that developed during the conflict. See here for interviews with the artists.
Some of the earliest responses to the Troubles related specifically to deaths as a result of particular shootings or bombings. Later work reflected on the wider political and social situation and the causes and effects of the conflict. Themes have emerged which resonate through the subsequent decades – the physicality of violence, suffering and loss, dereliction and abandonment, the meaning and power of flags and symbols. The imagery used by artists often makes an obvious and direct connection to these themes. It can also be more subtle in conveying a deep sense of emotion and trauma.
However, with the dominant narrative of violence becoming more distant, artists seem more occupied with the ensuing social, economic, cultural and political changes and challenges. As Northern Ireland faces these issues, art will continue to offer unique avenues for exploring and reflecting upon the manifestations and impact of violence and of division in our society.