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A major exhibition, ‘The Treaty 1921 – Records from the Archives’, completed a successful tour of Wicklow, Tipperary, Donegal, Wexford, Limerick, and Cork between April and July 2022. This followed a four month display at Dublin Castle when the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 went on public display for the first time in the history of the State. The exhibition was also presented in London by the National Archives, in partnership with the Embassy of Ireland in London, the Royal Irish Academy and the British Academy.

Following the exhibition’s success, the National Archives in conjunction with the Royal Irish Academy have launched a commemorative book, The Treaty, 1921: Records from the Archives. A learning resource for schools has also been developed for secondary school teachers and pupils.

Part of the Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 National Programme

As part of the Government of Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 National Programme, the exhibition was presented by the National Archives in association with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, the Royal Irish Academy, the National Library of Ireland, with records from the collections of the Military Archives and University College Dublin Archives.

The signatory page of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty (National Archives, Department of the Taoiseach, 2005/5/1).
Reproduced by kind permission of the Director of the National Archives.

Six Venues Nationwide

The regional tour of Ireland visited Wicklow Library & Archives, the Source in Co. Tipperary, Donegal County Museum, Wexford County Hall, Limerick City and County Council, and St. Peter’s Church, Cork. Admission was free. A virtual tour online at www.nationalarchives.ie  makes these resources available to people across the country and further afield.

The exhibition commemorates the centenary of the Treaty negotiations and the ultimate signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921. The exhibition contributed further to public understanding of this period in our history, including the Irish delegation’s experience of life in London during the negotiations.

In addition to displays relating to well-known figures such as Michael Collins and Lloyd George, those in attendance learned about hitherto unknown Irish people who took part the course of the negotiations, such as the secretaries, cooks, housekeepers and security personnel.

Archival initiatives

A lot of work went in to securing the exhibition in the various venues. The exhibits place the Treaty negotiations in the political context of the time with press cuttings, contemporary documents and other media. Many previously unseen items were on display, as well as some archival material from the Local Archives themselves.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar launched the exhibition at Donegal County Museum, Letterkenny, on 6 June 2022, where the loan was coordinated by Niamh Brennan, Archivist for Donegal County Council. Letterkenny was the only location to host the Treaty exhibition in the northern half of the country.

A series of public talks were held at Wicklow County Buildings in conjunction with the exhibition at Wicklow Library & Archives. These were ‘The Anglo-Irish Treaty’ by Dr Cormac Moore; ‘Robert Barton and the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty’ by Sean Murphy; and ‘Wicklow during the War of Independence and Civil War: a guide to sources in the Military Archives’ by Lisa Dolan.

Tipperary Studies and Tipperary Archives, on behalf of Tipperary County Council, co-operated to host the touring exhibition in The Source, Thurles. Mary Guinan reports that the timing meant that it was an ideal opportunity for Tipperary Studies to showcase their own research and publications, Tipperary 1917–1921 and Tipperary 1921–1923.

At Wexford County Hall, archival material relevant to the period from collections in Wexford County Archive was showcased alongside the main exhibition. In Limerick, documents from the collections of the City and County Council accompanied the exhibition and illustrated the local reaction to the signing of the Treaty. In addition, a lunchtime lecture series in Limerick focused on some novel themes such as Southern Unionism and the Treaty, the treatment of suspected spies during the revolutionary period and an analysis of the local social impact of the War of Independence.

Successful collaboration and hopes for the future

This is the first time that National Archives has hosted an exhibition in conjunction with Local Authorities. The whole event was greatly enjoyed by visitors, including many school groups. People particularly enjoyed seeing the many surrogate copies of documents, including one of the signed Treaty itself. Archivists found it very rewarding to combine the events of at a regional level with those of national significance. It is very much hoped that the experience can be repeated in the future. For further details, see https://www.nationalarchives.ie/2021commemorationprogramme/the-treaty-1921-records-from-the-archives/

Acknowledgements

Niamh Brennan, Archivist, Donegal County Council

Mary Guinan, Librarian, Tipperary County Council Library Service

Jacqui Hayes, Limerick City/County Archivist

Judith McCarthy, Curator, Decade of Centenaries Coordinator, Donegal County Museum

Zoë Reid, Keeper Public Services & Collections, An Chartlann Náisiúnta/National Archives

Catherine Wright, Archivist, Wicklow County Archives & Genealogy Service

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