Fascinating window into the first World War
Discover Research Night takes place tonight at 17 locations on the Trinity campus Dublin
Pupils (left - right) Aisling Mellon-Whelan, Catie Davies and Geovana Cabral from St Raphaela’s College, Stillorgan, Dublin at a preview of eCloud WW1 in the Exam Hall in TCD yesterday. Photograph: Frank Miller / THE IRISH TIMES
A box of glass eyes, eerily looking out at us from 100 years back. A postcard showing a soldier clasping his girlfriend to his chest as he heads off to war, she staring at him, lost in his eyes.
Sepia pictures of young men, of pals and families and pets. A child’s crayon drawing of destruction; an Alsatian dog cocking its leg and peeing on a helmet. And small souvenirs of conflict – a dented tin hat, the impression made by a lump of high speed shrapnel that did not kill; a cross that stopped a bullet, a battered, well-thumbed bookwith a cross embossed on its cover. – the detritus of war.
Three school children are standing in front of a huge screen, the width of the Exam Hall in Trinity College, Dublin, holding an iPad. On the screen, a tall carousel of images, stacked one on top of the other, turns slowly. The children, three girls from 5th class in St Raphaela’s Primary School in Stillorgan, are completely absorbed by what’s in front of them.
One touch on the iPad and an image bursts open. And with it, a description of what it is, the family or event to whom it is connected, and the person who donated it to the project. Also filling the room are period-appropriate sounds: music mingled with gunfire. A scratchy rendition of It’s A Long Way To Tipperary mingles with gunfire and the dull thud of exploding shells. The children, three girls from 5th class in St Raphaela’s Primary School in Stillorgan, are completely absorbed by what’s in front of them.
Welcome to ECloud WW1, a 3-D virtual collection of eclectic items associated with the first World War, some official, many personal.
What is totally absorbing is to see how the two main protagonists 100 years ago – the British and Germans – represented the conflict to their respective audiences in so very similar terms. And how that conflict engulfed virtually an entire continent, one very, very different to the Europe familiar to the girls from St Raphaela’s.
The soldier hugging his girlfriend is not a Tommy from Monaghan or Manchester, but a young man from Germany. The fresh unbearably young faces staring out are as likely to be from Dortmund, as they are from Derby, or Derry.
The memorabelia comes from Europeana, an online digital archive whose offices are physically located in The Hague. A University of Hong Kong-based researcher in Trinity, Sarah Kenderine, has taken a tiny sample of what Europeana has amassed and strung together the carousel sample to illustrate how things connect – the official with the personal, the tiny family detail from a tumultuous global event, to the event itself, thereby making both accessible.
There are a number of items with Irish connections, including the story of the Rooney family from Clones in Monaghan, given to Europeana by a grandson, Kevin Maguire. Big Paddy Rooney, apparently a Catholic, was walking along the road towards the barracks to sign up for the war when Protestant Billy Lee saw him.
Where are you going, asked Billy. Big Paddy told him. “I’m going to join the British Army to go to the War,” he said.
“Hold on till I get my coat,” answered Billy, “and I’ll go with you.”
And so they did, just like that, seemingly on the spur of the moment. The pair of them off to war even though, half way to France, they had second thoughts and would have got out of it, had they been able.
The images, stories and sounds of the first war are part of Discover Research Night, which takes place tonight at 17 locations on the Trinity campus in central Dublin and on Dawson Street, in association with the Royal Irish Academy and the European Commissionmostly between 4pm and 11pm. All are open to the public and the overarching aim of the night, with researchers on hand, is to introduce people to research, what it is and how ordinary items, the stuff of own family history, have a value, one that is enhanced when the items are set beside others of a similar nature, as well as in the wider historical context of the events to which they are related.