Irish turn out in the force to create best WW1 roadshow ever

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Irish turn out in the force to create best WW1 roadshow ever

More than 600 people from across Ireland travelled to Dublin’s WW1 Family History roadshow eager to finally be allowed to tell the story of their loved one’s involvement in the 1914-18 conflict.

For almost a century families have declined to talk about relatives who fought in the British Army because of the anti-English feeling generated by the founding of the Irish state.

But during the day-long roadshow at the National Library of Ireland, they came with pride, bringing along thousands of items, including early German war helmets, bayonets, war records, cap badges, medals for bravery and trench art to be shared on the Europeana 1914-1918 virtual archive.

Queues started forming an hour before doors opened, and by midday, the library’s large entrance hall was a mass of people, chatting, waiting and joining in sing songs with a WW1 re-enactor giving a rousing rendition of “It’s a long way to Tipperary”.

Katherine McSharry, the library’s head of services, said many of the 300 contributors and their families had set off at dawn to attend the roadshow, with some coming from as far afield as Enniskillen, Limerick and Wexford to share their memories.

“It’s been a wonderful day - and we’re proud to say it’s attracted three times the number of contributors that attended previous events in the UK, Luxembourg and Germany.

“We knew there was a lot of interest from the amount of press coverage we’d had before the event - but we could not have anticipated the crowds of people that arrived,” she said.

“We had 35 library staff working on this, along with colleagues from Oxford University, Europeana and subject experts - it‘s been an enormous effort. People didn’t seem to mind the wait at peak times, and I saw many actually sharing their memorabilia with others in the queue.”

Everett Sharp, a military historian from Oxford University, which leads the digitising and cataloguing part of the project, said: “The Irish people have been very keen to tell us about their family history - something they haven’t been able to talk about until recently.

“Many of them had relations in British Army, but after the war - because of the Troubles - they weren’t able to discuss it with their friends and neighbours. It was a hidden history and remained so until today.”

Les Newman, who with colleagues from the Irish Great War Society dressed as WW1 soldiers, said: “Today has been so important to people because it has opened the windows and shed light on a period of history most were almost forbidden - or were ostracised - from mentioning.

“I believe today was too short and we’d love to have many more events like these.”

The roadshow, which has already received widespread media coverage, attracted even more reporters from the BBC, RTE, radio and broadsheet newspapers who were keen to talk to the contributors.

Jon Purday, senior communications advisor at Europeana, said: “This has been the most amazing event - with the biggest turn out we’ve ever experienced at a roadshow.

“We are so grateful to everyone who turned up, even though for many it has involved a wait of some hours before they were seen.”

By Jackie Storer . 
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