‘the Irish republican version of the Imperial War Museum’

There’s an interesting article and audio slideshow by Henry McDonald in today’s Guardian about the republican museum in north Armagh.

In a garden in a quiet cul-de-sac in north Armagh, a nondescript brown shed contains the Irish republican version of the Imperial War Museum.

The private collection contains the toilet-roll holder from the room where IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died in May 1981, letters from supporters to Sands, an original rebel uniform from the 1916 Easter rising, secret communications smuggled out of the Maze prison and a 19th-century cell door from London’s Pentonville jail where Irish republican prisoners were incarcerated. There are piles of original black rubber bullets fired during riots in the early 1970s. There are even Airfix-style models recreating the Maze prison.

All visits are arranged quietly on the “republican grapevine”, but have managed to bring together former republican rivals who were once deadly enemies. Former members of the Provisional and Official IRAs as well as the Irish National Liberation army have met again during private visits to the collection. Earlier this month the surviving “hooded men” – republican suspects used as “torture guinea-pigs” by the British army early in the Troubles in 1971 – gathered together for the first time in a reunion at the museum.

The Guardian was given access last week to the privately owned museum which also hosts visits by foreign tourists and even some Ulster loyalists.

Will the day ever come when the Ulster Museum is able to borrow some of the memorabilia to display as part of a local history exhibition?

(via Guardian)

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  • keano10

    Interesting that Henry mentions The Official IRA bearing in mind that he was a member of The Workers Party in The Markets Area at a time when The Officials were still an active organisation. At least in terms of widespread criminality, extortion and the occasional punishment beating.

    Wonder if there’s a secret Sticky museum anywhere with the odd rusty gun, contraband cigarettes and lost deposit letters…

  • “Will the day ever come when the Ulster Museum is able to borrow some of the memorabilia to display as part of a local history exhibition?”

    I sincerely hope not.
    The great thing about these republican museums (and any loyalist museum) is that they present a story untainted by the bizarre notion that “our” History is shared. And sanitised as in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster-American Folk Park (to name but two).

    Much better to visit a republican museum AND a loyalist museum to get a more genuine picture (love it or loathe it) than the one size fits all “lets get alongerism” that the Ulster Museum would spin..

  • nightrider

    A toilet roll holder is a perfect exhibit for the people who wish to see the reality of ‘the struggle’. Very symbolic. It’s a pity they didn’t find a sheet containing excrement from Saint Bobby. Maybe a scratch’n’ sniff vendor. That would have been an excellent ‘wow’ factor before the gift shop.
    Shit sells.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    They do love themselves, don’t they, these people who destroyed our Province?

  • nightrider

    There are many museums throughout the world which are simply fantastic to see. The Natural History museum, the Imperial War Museum, Yad Vashem and others.
    Parochially, we are scarce, even the Folk and Transport museum is banal.
    But ‘republican’ and ‘loyalist’ iconography is just, a a la Lenny Murphy and Bobby Sands, shite. Utter shite.
    Apart from the mediocre aquarium at Portaferry, we just don’t have the right stuff.
    A backwater pond. But full of pond life.

  • Cynic2

    Sinn Fein / PIRA in a garden shed.

    How are the mighty fallen.

    But I do think this is great. They wont need the Maze Mausoleum then

  • Reader

    “contains the toilet-roll holder from the room where IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died”
    Is the toilet roll holder stolen property; or a holy relic?

  • Cynic2



  • sonofstrongbow

    I’m a bit puzzled. Why is a toilet roll holder there? Surely the ‘hunger strikers’ weren’t producing and if they were would it not have gone on the walls?

    Oh dear perhaps it was used by prison officers? How many years have visitors to the brown shed been genuflecting in front of an icon that got up close and personal with the derriere of a big Prod PO?

  • HeinzGuderian

    No lists of the people they ‘disappeared’ ?

  • northbelfastview

    How long before this republican shrine is moved to the other republican shrine and alleged cultural activity and residential center ‘the house of Culann’???

    Them good auld bhoys there, would love that type of thing.

    They could then boast that they have the authentic toilet roll holder form the sainted Bobby’s H block, in its original unused condition.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Having visited Auschwitz, that’s the only kind of memorial violent ultra-nationalists deserve: a place where the world can feel the horror of what they did.

  • sonofstrongbow,
    I make no reference to the specific museum mentioned but the provenance of many exhibits in similar museums suggests that many exhibits have come from people not necessarily sympathetic to the “cause” itself.
    Its a matter of record that the most enthusiastic local collector of political memorabalia (including loyalist stuff) is a leading Sinn Féiner.
    Whether it is “popular” or not, the simple fact is that people who collect, conserve or maintain artefacts are doing us a favour.

    That these items are outside the official and cosy “official history” of Norn Iron is significant.
    A bowdlerised, sanitised “official” version of History in the hands of the Ulster Museum would not nearly be as effective.
    The point must also be made that many of these museums are very PUBLIC and not accessible thru the republican grapevine.
    At least one is advertised in the Belfast Tourism Centre in Donegall Place, Belfast.
    As I understand it, more are planned.

  • Mike the First

    A pilfered toilet roll holder in a garden shed.

    How…fitting. Apt indeed.

  • Rory Carr

    “They do love themselves, don’t they, these people who destroyed our Province?”

    Gosh! I had no idea that Mainland Ulsterman felt this way. But maybe his chosen pseudonym should have given it away – like me he clearly loves Ulster and feels bitter against those dastardly, selfish rogues who firstly defied their king to whom they had sworn undying loyalty and then defied the democratic will of the country in order to divide not only their country but our (MU’s and mine) beloved province so creating an ugly, unnatural border between Derry and Donegal and between Fermanagh and Cavan and between Armagh and Monaghan.

    You’re right MU ! Carson and Crawford and Churchill and Birkenhead and those UVF fellows destroyed our lovely province and we are even yet working to pick up the pieces.

    But, never mind, old chum, with a bit of good will we can all pull together and get the province and the country back together.

    p.s. Nice little museum by all accounts. Have you been by any chance?

  • slmccni


    Is it beyond your comprehension that the Ulster museum exhibits the shared history of the ordinary people of NI and before 1920, Ireland? Republican and Loyalist Museums are exactly what they are – museums for their ideologies history. Considering the statistics and the reality, there were many more uninvolved than those involved so the Ulster museum is not a sterile attempt to exhibit a “lets get along” view. It is one of the few places in NI that has an opportunity to show our people that we do share so much and that the vast majority of people here who didn’t dick about and cost 3000+ people their lives were right all along. There is a place for museums that focus on both militant traditions and anyone with half a brain would see them for what they are. Suggesting that the prestige of the Ulster museum is built on middle-class wishy washy ideals is rubbish. When I was a child on the Falls I wasn’t brought to Conway Mill or Culturlan to learn about my history I was brought to the Ulster Museum because it tells our story not a brainwashing fairytale.

  • “Suggesting that the prestige of the Ulster museum is built on middle-class wishy washy ideals is rubbish”.

    Perhaps but I didnt even mention the “middle class”

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    You’re not seriously trotting out that old guff about unionists “dividing the country” are you? No country I’ve ever lived in. Northern Ireland, as a province, is a divided place because the people have different national allegiances – it’s no one’s fault. It’s absurdly chauvinistic to blame the other lot for being “different”.

    As to the old nine county Ulster thing, that’s from a few eons before my time. As indeed was the idea of Ireland as a “country”, which didn’t really survive the advent of universal suffrage.

    The charge of narcissism against those fools still stands. The Loyalist ones are as bad. They can’t get enough of themselves. I’m surprised you defend them: if you want to decrease division, defending their legacy isn’t a great way of doing it. Would it be going too far to say some of their actions were a bit unpopular …

  • Emma McKerr

    God almighty this article is rubbish. If you are going to tell a story, don’t tell half of it. I have visited this place several times, it is NOT a republican museum. There is a sizable collection of uniforms and equipment from World War One and Two on display.

    There is one of the finest collections relating to the Royal Irish and Ulster Constabulary. A wonderful collection of items relating to the 36th Ulster Division and the Ulster Volunteer Force. I also saw a large nostalgic display of toys, confectionary and food stuff from the 1960’s.

    Typical sensational journalism, trying to make out it is a republican collection when in fact it covers all traditions and every aspect of British history . Clearly whoever wrote this third rate article walked around it with one eye closed and decided to ignore the true meaning of this collection.

    What amazes me is the fact a quality newspaper such as the Guardian could be so selective. There are displays in this collection relating to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, 36th Ulster Division, Ulster Volunteer Force, Linen industry and 1960’s nostalgia and none of these even got a mention.

    So please explain why you never told the full story of this collection ?

  • Rory Carr

    True enough, Emma.

    Indeed the owner is at pains (at the end of the video) to make clear it is a private collection (as, to be fair, does Henry McDonald at the beginning of his second paragraph quoted above), and a rather good private collection at that. And, as is the way of such things, word gets around and other people seek the privelege of being invited to view the collection.

    However, whatever else it may contain, the collection clearly also holds items of Republican memoribialia and, as is also in the way of things (around this parish at least), it is obligatory that such reminders must attract a certain degree of odium.

    You might even say that it is traditional.

    Indeed it might be a good idea to print off a page containing the type of infantile toilet-roll holder attempts at wit and include that in any display. It would provide a reminder of how little the mind-sets of little minds are capable of change.

  • Rory Carr

    Typo. error: memorabilia.


  • Spud

    The park looks familiar, I think i was at this mans house 20 years ago to buy a racing kart.
    If its the same man then he is a keen diver and he showed us artefacts that he had salvaged from dives he had done over the years.
    At that time he had just a small collection of republican and loyalist flags and uniforms but you could see that time that it was a hobby that was taking over his life and he needed rid of his kids kart out of his shed to make room for more historical artefacts.

  • I’ve also visited the museum on a number of occasions but for McDonald to write “all visits are arranged quietly on the republican grapevine” is just nonsense. I’ve never known the owner to turn anyone away, no matter what time of the day or night they drop in. His collection has grown substantially via donations from individuals in the community precisely because of the respect he affords to everyone and they trust him to care for the items in perpetuity. The last time I was down he was quick to point out some small items my late uncle had made during his time in Belfast Gaol (Crumlin Rd) in the 40’s. Strangely enough I came across the same man’s Internment Order last night, signed by Dawson Bates that I’m going to give him to go along with the other items.

    It should also be said that as well as the inconvenience of being available to every Tom, Dick and Harry and going by by the security around the place now, the owner has gone to considerable personal expense to ensure the collection is available to the wider community.

    One particular item I always find fascinating is the miniature Kodak camera used in the Armagh & Omagh arms raids in the early 50s. Donated by the late Joe B O’Hagan.

  • PaulT

    I’m beginning to get the feeling that Hacks in NI play a mean and lazy game of regularily making up any old load of rubbish with an anti-Irish/ republican/ nationalist agenda in the sure and certain knowledge that it will be lapped up by them’uns (and defended by them)

    O’Mallie with the hachet job on the Irish Rugby team
    Breen on spinning a story on SF and the World Police Games
    And now Dear Henry visits what appears to be a garden shed and does spot half the exhibits

    Good job Slugger would never do that

  • Spud

    Why was there posts deleted??

  • Mark McGregor


    The person involved was caught out using 4 separate accounts to make the same point and endorse themselves.

    Pathetic behaviour and totally pointless as the point was being well made without their underhand intervention.

  • Elizabeth Coote

    Was it Henry McDonald, Mark ?

  • Brian

    ’19th-century cell door from London’s Pentonville jail where Irish republican prisoners were incarcerated.’

    Wow, how the heck did he get his hands on that?

  • pippakin

    This sounds like someone is taking a hobby and making it of use and service to communities, both/all of them.

    Four? Now that’s greedy…

  • Mick Fealty


    sorry about the Yellow, but you have been uncharacrteristically tetchy this evening.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    This all me reminds of my favourite Father Ted episode: the one about the priest with the private WW2 memorabilia collection. There is something deeply funny about these punters with their inappropriate keepsakes.

  • Richard Bridge

    “Mainland Ulsterman” now that is funny, one week you are Ulster Scots, next you are British. Mate, you are a Paddy living in England.

    I was born in England and believe me, we look on you guys over here as Paddy’s. Were you near the Dale Farm site by any chance this week ?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Um, most people of Ulster Scots culture, if that’s what you’re referring to, ARE British. You seem to find the concept of Britishness a bit difficult … you know, it’s the one about the whole UK, not just England?

    If you want to call me a Paddy it says infinitely more about you than it says about me.

    As for your comment about travellers: not sure if you’re BNP, English Defence League or what but you may have stumbled upon the wrong website to post this kind of stuff. You’re a piece of work, “mate”