TCD Glucksman Memorial Symposium and Long Room Exhibition on the Great War

Posted on: 14 June 2007

The Great  War of 1914-18 was an event of unimaginable proportions inasmuch as it involved entire peoples who were caught up in a conflict that was ostensibly fought to save civilisation but which unleashed a mass slaughter that set in question the very basis of modernity. The appalling reality of industrial warfare was to present artists, writers, historians and social commentators with profound questions about representation, understanding and commemoration. To this day writers have sought to comprehend in their work the full meaning for individuals and society of that vast trauma while historians, critics and social analysts have considered how collective memory has attempted to come to terms with the Great War as one of the defining events of the twentieth century.

On the occasion of the opening of an exhibition, The Great War Revisited: Ireland and World War 1 in the Long Room, the Old Library, of material related to the Great War,  Trinity’s Long Room Hub¹ mounted the Glucksman Memorial Symposium²: Commemorating the Unthinkable: Europe, Ireland and the Great War on Wednesday,  June 13th last.

The symposium opened with readings by  Sebastian Barry and Michael Longley. Sebastian Barry, poet, novelist and dramatist is the author of the Man Booker-shortlisted novel A Long Long Way (2005), a powerful evocation of an Irishman’s experience as a common soldier in the Great War. Michael Longley poet, who received the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 2001, has engaged in his poetry with his father’s Great War service and with the poignant lives and work of that conflict’s war poets.

The readings were followed by presentations by Professor John Horne (Professor of Modern European History at Trinity College, Dublin), Mr Gerald Dawe ( poet and Director of the Oscar Wilde Center for Irish Writing, Trinity College, Dublin) and Ms Jane Leonard (1997-2006, Community History Outreach Officer at the Ulster Museum, Belfast).

Professor Horne considered why the Great War was unthinkable in advance, and why its two revelations – that entire peoples could be enrolled in a crusade for civilisation and that industrial warfare could bring death on an unimagined scale – required fundamental shifts in how war was thought about and commemorated.  Ireland, far from being at the margins, was at the centre of this process.  Professor Horne is internationally known for his work on the comparative history of the First World War and is currently writing a history of the French experience of the Great War.

Mr Dawe talked about his work on an anthology he is currently preparing for publication, the first of its kind to be devoted to the poetry of war and the experience of war, written by Irish men and women. The work of Irish soldier poets of the Great War such as Francis Ledwidge, Thomas Mac Greevey and Monk Gibbon will feature in the anthology, Earth Voices Whispering, which is due to be published next year.

Ms Leonard considered how Ireland commemorated the unthinkable in the immediate decades after the Great War. Her presentation explored how those directly affected by the war – veterans and bereaved families – mourned. Acknowledging the commonality of loss in the Great War is a development most associated with the recent peace process but it first surfaced in the divided Ireland of the  1920s.

The symposium was followed by the opening of the   Great War Revisited: Ireland and World War 1 exhibition in the Long Room, Old Library.  For the first 50 years after the establishment of  Irish Independence, the part played by Irishmen was largely ignored by the State. In more recent times,  this history has been rediscovered by families and historians. The exhibition looks at aspects of the war as they affected Ireland in terms of recruitment, dissent and loss.  It includes an impressive collection of recruitment posters for Irish soldiers to the Irish Regiment which was donated to the Library by Rupert Magill. It also includes personal letters and accounts from soldiers who fought in the war, propaganda literature as well as anti-conscription literature of the time by Sean O’Casey, Eamonn de Valera among others. The role of many Trinity graduates and members of staff who took part in the war is also remembered in the exhibition which was opened by The O’Morchoe, President of the Royal British Legion in  Ireland. The exhibition will run until August 31st next.

Notes to the Editor:
1. The symposium has been organised by the Long Room Hub, an initiative to develop research in the arts, humanities and social sciences, which was launched in Trinity College in June 2006.  The Long Room Hub aims to cultivate and facilitate a new generation of researchers through the fuller exploitation of the College’s outstanding research collections.  The Hub initiative will enable scholars to access the College’s Library’s rich resources of materials and collections which in many areas remain underexploited.  It will unlock these treasures, through the creation of electronic records and a digitisation programme, for the purpose of exploring arts and humanities research at a strategic level. The Hub will stimulate individual and collaborative research in existing and new disciplines.

2. The Glucksman Series is named after Lewis Glucksman, who died last year. Mr Glucksman was a long-time generous donor to Trinity College Library and his wife, Loretta Brennan Glucksman continues to lend great support to the Long Room Hub.