Irish Wars 1919 – 1923

Irish Wars 1919 – 1923 forms part of the permanent exhibition ‘Soldiers and Chiefs’, but it has been substantially reimagined as part of the Museum’s Decade of Centenaries Commemorations.


E. Coy A.S.U. 3rd Batt. Dublin Brigade IRA patrolling on Grafton Street July 1921

Visitors to the exhibition, which opens on Wednesday 22nd January, 2020, will see more than 50 newly displayed objects, new graphics and AV elements, as well as new theme interpretations such as civil disobedience, imprisonment, hunger strike, propaganda, women in warfare and the effects of the conflict on civilian populations – all of which aims to increase public understanding of this complex period in Ireland’s history.

Dr Audrey Whitty, Head of Collections and Learning at the National Museum of Ireland spoke about the exhibition recently on RTÉ radio 1.

The women of Cumann na mBan played a critical role in smuggling weapons, both into Ireland hidden on their person, and around the country

Items returning to display from the National Museum of Ireland’s collection after 15 years in storage, include the death masks of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha and Terence MacSwiney.

The exhibition features two key artefacts on loan from private family collections, an IRA Intelligence File which has been digitised and shown publically for the first time– and hair shorn from a woman in a ‘bobbing’ or ‘punishment shearing’, found in the possession of Michael Barry when he was arrested in 1920.

Handcuffs worn by Seán Hogan when rescued by the Tipperary Brigade at Knocklong, 1919

Other objects new to the exhibition include the RIC handcuffs worn by Seán Hogan when rescued by the Tipperary Brigade at Knocklong, 1919; experimental weapons made by the IRA; items used in escapes from Lincoln, Mountjoy and Kilmainham prisons; The propeller of the British airplane destroyed at Kilfinane, Co. Tipperary, 1921.          

The exhibition is supported by a wide range of multi-media, including contemporary newsreel film provided by the Irish Film Institute of stop and searches, funerals, and IRA captures and destruction from the period 1919 – 1923.

Brenda Malone, Curator of the Irish Wars 1919 – 1923, explained: “A distinct aspect of the reimagined Irish Wars exhibition is the focus on the personal stories of ordinary people involved in atrocities and tragedies on both sides of the conflict. In developing it, we had the opportunity to expand and develop traditionally underrepresented stories, like the role of women in the conflict.”