Complaints at reported omission of Irish from war exhibition

Complaints at reported omission of Irish from war exhibition

The Irish Brigade heading back to a rest area after taking Guillemont on the Fricourt-Maricourt road during World War One, France, September 1916

COMPLAINTS have been made to Birmingham City Council regarding the representation of the Irish contribution to World War I in exhibitions in the city’s museums.

The Irish Post has learned that the Birmingham Irish Heritage Group contacted Birmingham City Councillor Ian Ward this month, with concerns about exhibitions planned by the Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT).

Other members of the public raised similar concerns at a series of talks and lectures which took place over the St Patrick’s Day period.

Jim Ranahan, an archivist at Birmingham City Library, told The Irish Post he became aware of the issue in March, at the city’s St Patrick’s Day festival.

The problem was to do with the ‘representation of ethnic communities’ contribution to the First World War being celebrated by the museum in Birmingham’’ he said, but added that some members of the Irish community understood that this would not include ‘the Irish contribution’.

“I was surprised,” Ranahan explains, “I thought that can’t be right, but the same words kept cropping up.”

As a member of Irish Heritage and of the museum’s community action panel, Ranahan has since been acting as an intermediary to try and resolve the issue.

“The museum wasn’t as tactful or as sensitive to the issue as it could have been” he says. “It got lost in translation and I think there has been a lot of that.”

The BMT has since issued a formal response to the complaint by the Irish community, stating that they have ‘no current plans to develop an exhibition specifically on the theme of ethnic minorities and their role in the First World War’, but hope to ‘draw on this theme’ through their wider programme of events and collecting.

Toby Watley, Director of Collections at Birmingham Museums Trust, acknowledged that there had been a ‘misunderstanding somewhere in the communication’ but said that they were ‘very keen to rectify’’ the issue.

He still hopes there may be an opportunity to ‘work with the Irish community’.

A trustee of the Birmingham Irish Heritage Group, who did not wish to be named, said there was still ‘some ironing out to be done’ on the ‘highly emotive’ issue, which will be addressed at their next meeting, due to be held on June 4.