I called in to the State Library of Victoria to see their small free exhibition The Irish Rising: A Terrible Beauty is Born which is on show until 31 July 2016. It is indeed a small exhibition, taking up only one wall and a small number of cases in the small room outside the Manuscript Reading Room in the Cowen Gallery. There’s quite a lot in it, though, with a strong Australian, and particularly Melbourne, focus.
The exhibition starts with a quick chronology of the Uprising, and there is a video presentation of images taken from an Irish book that was rushed off the presses shortly after the Uprising, showing the destruction of central Dublin. The booklet was accessioned by the Library in October 1916, some six months after the events and would have no doubt been of great interest given the large Irish-born population in Melbourne. There is a 1917 reprint of the proclamation of Irish Independence, the only one known in Australia, and copies of newspapers, both Irish and Australian, reporting the news.
I was fascinated by a lengthy film (some 80 minutes) that was thought to be funded by John Wren, the Catholic underworld figure and ‘entrepreneur’ as his ADB entry delicately puts it. The film, which had been abridged by the censors cognizant of the sectarian ill-feeling stirred up by the conscription debates in the War, has been restored to the full version. It shows the 1920 St Patricks Day March, where 100,000 Australians, including returned soldiers, demonstrated their support for Irish independence. Archbishop Mannix, who played such a pivotal role in the conscription debate, plays a large part in the exhibition.
As I say, it’s only a small exhibition that doesn’t take much more than half an hour to view, unless, like me, you become transfixed by the images of the photos and the film and end up spending far longer than you planned.