Constance O'Reilly (right) looks up to a statue of her grandmother, Molly, at the Ambassador. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

The Rising comes to life | Dublin exhibition gives telling glimpses

“Revolution 1916” is a vibrant new exhibition about the Rising, at the Ambassador Theatre in Parnell Square, Dublin.

Visitors are brought through each day of the Rising, and the main players involved. The information is broken down in a straightforward way, which makes understanding the events effortless.

There are many original artefacts from the time – such as a car Michael Collins used, one of the original copies of the Proclamation, as well as many pieces of military paraphernalia. A series of “sets” re-create key sites, including the interior of the GPO and the Stonebreaker’s Yard where the leaders were shot. Visitors can walk through a set of Moore Street, and hear bullets flying overhead. These spaces successfully evoke the conditions in which these men and women fought and died.

The site for the show is fitting. The Ambassador was the location where Irish Volunteers had their initial meeting and recruitment drive. It was within meters of the heart of the battle during Easter Week 1916, and is a short walk from the GPO. It also was near the tunnels which people like Michael Collins used to try to escape from the British Army.

Contemporary art has been incorporated into the exhibition also – which adds a dynamic element. Works by NCAD graduate Brian P. Murray and artist Melissa Moore are showcased. In a nod to “The Marriage of Aoife and Strongbow” [by Daniel Maclise] in the National Gallery, Murray created a frieze depicting the Norman invasion. Such a broad historical scope is essential to understanding a conflict that lasted much longer than one week. Images by prominent artists such as Robert Ballagh and Art O’Murnaghan are also reproduced.

A section is devoted purely to the women of this revolution. This is not done in a tokenistic manner, but with a serious commitment to their involvement and life afterwards. The issue of pensions being withheld from female combatants on the grounds of their gender is raised.


The preamble to and reasons for 1916 are covered. A documentary on view explicitly states that “the militarisation of the UVF led directly to the establishment of the Irish Volunteers.” The aftermath of the rebellion is highlighted in a special section devoted to the Hunger Strikers of 1981. In doing this, this exhibition represents one of the few commemorative efforts to place the Rising within its historical context.

Speaking to Headstuff, curator Bartlett Darcy was asked about the decision to include the wider context – especially the Home Rule movement and the arming of the Ulster Volunteer Force: “[Edward]Carson was the first crack in the British Empire. Prominent people such as Guinness and Rudyard Kipling were massively funding the UVF. The Irish volunteers formed in response to that.”

On the decision to highlight the effort of women, especially Molly O’Reilly, Darcy emphasised her importance: “Molly was there at all the key events. She raised the Irish Citizens’ Army flag at Liberty Hall, she helped organise a soup kitchen in the Lockout of 1913, she was a messenger in 1916 and was even present at the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1920.”

The presentation is highly accessible – text panels contain plenty of information, but in an easy to read and engaging manner. Most panels are in dual language – Irish and English. There is an array of media – from film to sculpture. Quotes from eye witnesses and those involved enrich the experience of learning about this episode in Irish history. Attendants in historic uniforms are on hand, and readings of the proclamation are staged on the street outside. These elements ensure that the exhibition is suitable for all ages and educational levels. Even if you think you have a detailed knowledge of 1916 – you will come away having learned something. For those who do not wish to be overloaded with dates and information – there is a wealth of artefacts and other historical sources.

“Revolution 1916” runs until 15 October 2016 at the Ambassador Theatre.


See also Real Life on the Streets of Dublin, by Stephen Poleon