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Exhibit Highlights

burns library

Troubled Images: Posters and Images of the Northern Ireland Conflict

Traveling Exhibit from Belfast's Linen Hall Library, March 3 to April 15, 2003

This selection of seventy posters created during the late twentieth century conflict in Northern Ireland comes to Boston College from the Linen Hall Library's Northern Ireland Political Collection. All sides of the conflict are documented from the beginning of the Troubles, including loyalist groups, the Republican supporters and even the British Army. Many of the posters in the collection were gathered from the streets during the violent thirty year old conflict. In addition to the posters, the exhibition's stop at the Burns Library features a selection of 97 additional artifacts, including such items as the prison letter which ended the Hunger Strike, a handwritten claim of responsibility by the IRA, political Christmas cards and other documents and sectarian ephemera.

This silkscreen poster was designed by Sean O'Toole and produced in East London by a small People's Democracy group with Derry connections. It probably appeared in 1974 to mark the second anniversary of the killing of thirteen unarmed civil right demonstrators in Derry on 30th January 1972 (a fourteenth victim died a day later). This event became known as 'Bloody Sunday'. While the poster itself accordingly had little immediate impact, it provides a powerful reflection of continuing outrage at what happened. The thirteen skulls representing the thirteen victims, use of the red text to reflect blood and the black background indicating mourning are obvious. The use of the skulls as white on black, and hence complete with hollow eyes, is graphically effective and a leap of the imagination in terms of actual events; after all, the thirteen who died on the day fell at a variety of locations and went to separate graves. Thus Derry became the holocaust, and for many Nationalists it seemed that way. (Source: Troubled Images Catalog p. 54)

An understated 'hearts and minds' poster from the Northern Ireland Office in response to Bloody Friday, and one which was prominently displayed on Army vehicles. The black background suggests mourning, against white type, suggesting the innocence of the nine victims, and red type, suggesting murder by the IRA. The attack followed the failure of negotiations between the British Government and IRA leaders on 7th July, and the ending of a two-week IRA cease-fire on 13th July. The first major offensive of a renewed military campaign was later acknowledged by leading Provisionals to be 'a disaster'. The labeling of the event by a Northern Ireland Office spokesman as 'Bloody Friday' had enduring effect. Thus Republicans lost the moral high ground of Bloody Sunday in January, when the Army killed fourteen in Derry. (Source: Troubled Images Catalog p. 55)

For Further Study: In addition to viewing the exhibit, interested parties may learn more about political posters of Northern Ireland from a special catalog that has been published to accompany the exhibit. In addition, the Burns Library houses materials relating to modern Irish political history. More information on holdings of the Burns Library is available at the library's website. Researchers may also contact library staff with specific questions.

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