The Northern Ireland troubles engulfed the country in conflict for nearly 30 years. It was – and remains – a contentious period, with roots going back centuries. A cease-fire was signed in 1998, yet many aspects of the conflict remain unresolved to this day and are highly contested by those who experienced and participated in it.
Opening at IWM London, Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles (26 May 2023 – 7 January 2024) will unpack this complex chapter of our shared history through the multiple perspectives of individuals affected by the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Showcasing recently collected objects and new first-hand testimony, this free exhibition is Imperial War Museums (IWM)’s first on the subject and will shine a light on the different narratives that have allowed people who lived through the conflict to share their version of events.
While there are key events and defining moments that make up the history of the Troubles, there is often no single story that everyone involved can agree on. People have different perspectives on what took place. Rather than offer a narrative history of the conflict, this exhibition will introduce four themes – the night of 27-28 June 1970; the heightened violence of the 1970s and 1980s; the everyday experience for those affected by the Troubles; and the legacy of the conflict within Northern Ireland today – to explore the events, communities and paramilitary factions that underpin this difficult and complex 30-year period.
Visitors will hear from individuals on all sides of the conflict, from republican and loyalist paramilitaries to British soldiers, local police, and ordinary civilians. These first-hand testimonies – recorded in 2022 for IWM’s oral history collection – highlight what it was like to live through the Troubles.
Recounting everyday scenes of violence and the reality of living among deeply divided communities, these different perspectives help us understand the nuances and challenges of this conflict and the motivations, attitudes, anxieties, hopes and fears felt by those closest to it.
The exhibition will also present new objects, never-before-displayed in the museum. Acquired as part of an initiative to grow IWM’s Northern Ireland collection, they cover the familiar – rubber bullets, propaganda posters and a Good Friday Agreement booklet – as well as rarer items, for instance, a screen-printed handkerchief made by prisoners of war in the Long Kesh internment camp.
Alongside these, archival photography depicting hunger strike riots, streets lined with Army checkpoints and wreckages of bombings paint a vivid picture of a country shaped by restrictions and torn apart by violence.
Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles is curated by Craig Murray (Curator, Cold War and Late 20th Century) and has been developed in close collaboration with a broad range of individuals with lived experience of the conflict as well as an advisory panel of experts and historians. Craig Murray, Curator of Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles, says:
So much of what took place during the Troubles is contested. This complex conflict, which happened on our very own doorstep, is remembered differently by those who lived through it and little understood by many of those who didn’t. In this exhibition, we hear from individuals who experienced the conflict first-hand. Sharing their stories is crucial to deepening understanding of this difficult period which is still felt in life and UK politics today.
Craig Murray, Curator of Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles
Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles opens at IWM London on 26 May 2023.
- Irish street scene: picryl