Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Conflict - The Irish at War

THANKS to all those kind folk who expressed interest in my article in the last Kerr’s Corner – Ireland at the Somme. I’d like to direct you up to the Ulster Museum in Stranmillis to see the terrific Conflict – the Irish at War exhibition. Mind you, you’ll have to be quick as the museum is due to close at the end of August for a refurbishment programme that will last for the next two years.

Warfare has been a part of our history from the arrival of the first settlers here some ten thousand years ago right up to the present day. For many it has been the cause of pain and tragedy, but it has also had a huge influence in making our society – for good or ill – what it is today. The Conflict exhibition looks at the history of warfare in Ireland and Irish soldiers abroad from Mesolithic era (7000-4500 BC) to the present day.

Some of the historical snapshots show the military impact of the Vikings and the later Norman invaders, of whom the adventurer, John DeCourcy was typical. Carrickfergus Castle began life as a twelfth century Norman fortification. Later conflicts arose after the plantation of Ulster and the Flight of the Earls in 1607. The 1641 massacres of Protestants and Cromwell’s revenge of 1649, not to mention the great battles of Derry, Aughrim and the Boyne and the abortive United Irishmen’s rebellion of 1798 all receive ample coverage. One prize exhibit is a green uniform coat worn by the hanged rebel leader, Henry Joy McCracken.

Coming into the bloodiest century in history other exhibits chronicle the Home Rule crisis of 1912, the Easter Rising, the Great War, the early troubles and the Irish Civil War. Then comes the Second World War and the presence here of many American GIs, before coming to our own more recent Troubles and the paramilitary armies and peace movements that sprung out of the conflict.

There’s also a fascinating exhibit on the role of Irish soldiers and mercenaries in conflicts all over the globe. Over one third of Wellington’s army at the Battle of Waterloo were said to have been Irish. As late as 2001, RUC officers helped to keep the peace in Nato-occupied Kosovo as part of a UN mission and the RIR and Irish Guards are still serving abroad today in far-flung outposts of Tony Blair’s new empire.

Be sure to get a talking wand when you walk into the exhibition area – it’s like a massive mobile phone. Clamp it to your ear and it’ll talk you through the exhibition and bring you the real life voices of actual participants in the twentieth century conflicts. Just hurry because there’s not much time left to see it. Ring the Ulster Museum at 028 9038 3000 for more

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