The emergence of the Irish state was marked by conflict. It is remembered in popular culture; for example in the films Michael Collins (Jordan; 1996); about the nationalist leader; and The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Loach; 2006); about the tragedies of the Anglo-Irish War and the Civil War. Each film; successively; broke all box office records in Ireland. They address the 1916 Uprising; the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923); which were pivotal in Irish history. In brief; until the 1920s; the entire island was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; and museums in Ireland were part of that wider context. An Anglo-Irish elite; though largely Protestant (Anglican) and British in outlook; nonetheless contributed to the development of distinctly Irish learned societies and institutions; including early museums. In the north-east; industrialisation in Belfast; and earlier immigration; led to museums more influenced by Dissenters (Protestants who rejected Anglicanism) and commercialism. As British governments began to contribute to funding; they also began to shape and eventually to take control of key Irish museums. The Gaelic Revival of the 1880s; however; celebrating Ireland’s Gaelic past (a ’golden age’); was reflected in museum collections with a growing interest in Irish antiquities. The 1916 rising; attempts by the British to impose conscription (1918); the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War reshaped Irish society.
After independence; national museums were largely ignored by governments faced with harsh economic conditions; despite having provided substance to the emerging; nationalist ‘Gaelic Revival’. Towards the end of the twentieth century government attitudes changed; and with EU 521 help; funding was increased. Expansion enabled new approaches to Ireland’s history and new avenues for art. Pre-historic antiquities began to make room for displays on the Viking and Anglo-Norman contributions to Irish culture. More recently; there is a measure of awareness that the Republic of Ireland; formed on the basis of a distinct cultural identity; now faces the challenge of a more pluralistic; multicultural society; which Bourke reflects on in the context of Irish museums (2011: 423-6).
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