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'Behind the masks': New digital archive documents Northern Ireland's history

A library in Belfast has collected tens of thousands of items related to the Troubles and subsequent peace process.

masks The front cover of an edition of the now defunct Fortnight magazine published in 1993, featuring Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and the SDLP's John Hume Source: Linen Hall Library

SINCE 1968 THE Linen Hall Library in Belfast has been collecting material related to the conflict and subsequent peace process in Northern Ireland.

The library’s collection now consists of over 350,000 items including books, posters, manifestos, newspapers and periodicals. Much of this material is currently being digitised and catalogued for a new archive called Divided Society.

The archive will include an introduction by Senator George Mitchell, chair of the peace process talks; a video gallery with clips from Irish and British broadcasters; and an audio gallery featuring interviews with people involved in the conflict.

More than 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles, a 30-year sectarian conflict officially ended by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

fight A 1996 cover of the Revolutionary Communist Group’s newspaper Source: Linen Hall Library

Speaking about the collection, a spokesperson for the library told TheJournal.ie: “As part of the project, interviews were conducted with members of the public with stories and recollections about the conflict.

This revealing oral history archive captures people from all walks of life recounting their memories of difficult, sad, and sometimes humorous times … This digitisation will allow the Linen Hall to share their repository globally and hopefully educate many people about the value and importance of peace and reconciliation.

The spokesperson said many of the items in the collection highlight “the radical nature of political media at the time”.

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They noted that this theme continues in the library’s collection of publications from Sinn Féin, the Democratic Unionist Party, community and pressure groups such as the Vermont Committee for Irish Human Rights, Amnesty International and the Ulster Volunteer Force, among others.

poster Illustrations referring to significant events that took place in Northern Ireland between 1990 and 1998 Source: Linen Hall Library

“The resource will be extremely valuable to students interested in Irish and British history, post-conflict studies, and peace and reconciliation. It also gives unique exposure to a historically significant period in Northern Ireland,” the spokesperson added.

The resource will be available for free to people living in Ireland and the UK, and accessible via subscription to people living elsewhere, from January 2018. More information can be found here.

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Órla Ryan

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