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Great War

These are the real-life stories of Ireland's World War I fighters

The new NLI exhibition features letters from those who served in the war.

LETTERS FROM THE front and the diaries of a mother whose three children all served in World War I feature in a fascinating new exhibition in Dublin.

World War 1: Exploring the Irish Experience takes place during the centenary of the Great War, and it’s an amazing look and listen to the stories of those who were there.

NO FEE WORLD WAR IRELAND 5 Sir Jack Leslie nephew of Norman Leslie pictured with the sword of his uncle who was shot and killed in October 1914 - Marc O'Sullivan Marc O'Sullivan Marc O'Sullivan

The exhibition opened at the National Library of Ireland today, and looks at the participation of Irish people in the contentious war, as well as the unstable political situation in Ireland at the time.

IMG_7231 Aoife Barry / Aoife Barry / /

What’s key to this exhibition is the four real-life stories it features, which help to contextualise the war.

One story is about Norman Leslie, from the well-known Leslie family of Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan. An experienced soldier, he was shot and killed in October 1914, while charging a German machine gun, armed with a sword.


Remarkably, the sword he was carrying was found over 15 years later in a field in Belgium, and was returned to his family.

Then there was Joseph Mary Plunkett, a poet, journalist and revolutionary. We know him best as a leader of the 1916 Rising, and his signature is on the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.


He represented a small minority of people who wanted German support for an uprising in Ireland, and indeed he travelled with Roger Casement to Germany for this purpose in 1915.

Mary Martin’s story is also told – she was a widow and mother of 12 from Monkstown in Co Dublin. She had three children who served overseas: two sons, one of whom died in the war, and one daughter who was a nurse and survived.


Her daughter, Marie, went on to found the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1937. Mary Martin’s diaries were used for this exhibition, and they include letters she wrote to her son Charlie when he was missing, before she discovered he was dead.

Finally, the story of Michael O’Leary, from Co Cork, is also explored. He served with the Irish Guards on the Western Front, and was awarded the Victoria Cross after single-handedly charging two German barricades in France. He killed eight men and took two prisoner during this incident.


He became internationally famous, and his story even inspired the playwright George Bernard Shaw. O’Leary died in 1961.

One audio section, which features readings of poetry and letters by former winners of Poetry Aloud, is part of a partnership between the British Embassy in Ireland and the NLI.


The exhibition uses photos, video, and interactive sections to really bring the stories alive. It’s free to visit, and is open every day.

Read more about the individuals’ stories in on Saturday.

Read: In pictures: 96 years ago today, peace broke out>

Read: These prints show how artists reacted to World War I>

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