Molly O’Connell reviews the exhibition, “The Treaty, 1921: Records from the Archives” at Dublin Castle
The Treaty 1921: Records from the Archives launched 100 years to the day of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 2021. The National Archives, in collaboration with a number of heritage agencies, including the Military Archives and UCD Archives, present the exhibition as an insight into the background behind the Treaty including details of its two-month long negotiations, their key players, and its infamous implications.
At the centre of the exhibition is the Irish copy of the Treaty itself, on display for the first time, alongside letters between the Irish delegation and Eamon De Valera, the bills they ran up in London, transcripts of the talks and rare photographs. The exhibition is located in the Coach House on the grounds of Dublin Castle, the stronghold of English and British rule in Ireland for centuries. The exhibition coordinators have endeavoured to bring these documents to life, pairing each display case with a ceiling suspended speaker with motion activated audio. The audio of actors reading letters or negotiation transcripts added depth to the documents and enhanced the experience of the exhibition. Additionally, Pathé news reels and international newspapers contributed to the sense of global investment in the possibility of peace in Ireland.
...Irish independence was not just fought for by spies or soldiers, but by an army of civil service staff and ordinary people.
The exhibition made great use of space using two rooms in the Coach House. Temporary walls direct visitors through the space and chronologically through the Treaty process, culminating in the penultimate room which solely contains the Irish copy of the Treaty, turned to the page of the signatures of the British and Irish plenipotentiaries. The final room allows visitors to peruse full versions of multi-page documents on touch screens, including the Treaty itself.
However, the major take away for the exhibition is the lived experience of the Irish delegation during the two month long negotiations in London. The large team of secretaries, administration staff, advisors, housekeepers, cooks and drivers across two houses, illustrated in grocery bills and accounts by the secretaries of arduous transcribing, drive home the sense that Irish independence was not just fought for by spies or soldiers, but by an army of civil service staff and ordinary people. This allows the visitor to understand the experiences of those living through Treaty negotiations, and the sense of hope in Ireland, and across the world, often overshadowed by the violence of the Civil War. This insight behind the curtain also highlights the role of women in the Treaty negotiations, working behind the scenes drafting early copies of the Treaty. The exhibition holds its own with other Centenary commemorations, while offering an alternate perspective on the Irish Independence movement. While not on display in the more well-known National Museum of Decorative Arts and History, The Treaty 1921: Records from the Archives is well worth a visit to Dublin Castle. The exhibition is open until 27 March 2022, with free admission and online booking. More information is available at https://www.nationalarchives.ie/2021commemorationprogramme/the-treaty-1921-recordsfrom-the-archives/.