Exhibition opens on Ireland’s involvement in first World War

National Library of Ireland exhibition to run for duration of centenary until 2018

Sir Jack Leslie (97) whose uncle, Captain Norman Leslie, was killed in the first World War at the launch of the centenary exhibition at the National Library. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Sir Jack Leslie (97) whose uncle, Captain Norman Leslie, was killed in the first World War at the launch of the centenary exhibition at the National Library. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

An exhibition that seeks to portray Ireland and the first World War with all its complexities and contradictions has opened at the National Library.

The exhibition will run for the duration of the centenary of the war until 2018 and will be updated to reflect centenary events as they arise.

It features the lives of four people, each of whom represented a strand of Irish life at the time.

Michael O’Leary became a folk hero and a poster child, figuratively and literally, for the British war effort when he won a Victorian Cross in 1915 after storming a German machine gun nest.

His family were small farmers from Co Cork and he represents the thousands of Irish Catholics who signed up to the British army.

Captain Norman Leslie was of the opposite persuasion. He was from the storied Anglo-Irish family from Co Monaghan and a committed Unionist who said the loss of “say 100,000 men . . . what is all that compared to our name, our credit, our greatness as a nation”.

Sadly, he was to be among the 100,000 men and many millions more who died in the first World War. He was killed by a German sniper on October 19th, 1914 and his sword was later recovered from the battlefield. His relative Sir Jack Leslie, now 97 and himself a veteran of the second World War, was at the opening of the exhibition with the sword.

The Irish Republican tradition was represented by Joseph Plunkett, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation. Among the exhibition is a letter from him to the captured Irish Prisoners of War in German camps urging them to sign up to the German war effort through an Irish brigade.

The relatives of those left behind are represented by the diaries of Mary Martin – three of her 12 children served in the British forces. The exhibition depicts her desperate attempts to find her missing son Charlie, who died.

The exhibition is partially funded by the British Government. British ambassador Dominick Chilcott spoke of his own great-uncle who was from Dublin and fought in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said the exhibition successfully portrayed the enormity of the war through personal stories.

“I was interested to see the Leslie family from Co Monaghan featuring in the exhibition. The story of the tragic death of Norman Leslie in 1914 gives us just one example of the brutal way in which tens of thousands of Irish men lost their lives during the war.”