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Frongoch and 1916

A digital exhibition of Frongoch prison art and craftwork, in partnership with the Digital Repository of Ireland.


Inkstand (N.M.I. Collection - HE:EWL.121)

The history of Irish nationalism in the 1916 to 1922 period is closely linked with the practice of art for the movement’s sake.  Thousands of insurgents were imprisoned in the wake of the Rising, first of all in local jails such as Kilmainham and Mountjoy, and ultimately in internment camps such as the ones at Frongoch in North Wales and Ballykinlar in Co. Down. 

Watercolour showing a sentry post in Frongoch by Cathal Mac Dubhghaill (N.M.I. Collection - HE:EW.370a)

Art served a number of essential purposes in these prisons and camps.  First of all, and most obviously, it passed the long hours, and kept the prisoners’ minds off hunger and despair, and secondly it provided one of the only means of expressing a sense of nationality.  This was achieved through the creation of decorated autograph books, mainly, and also in carvings that show the ingenuity and tenacity of the artists in extremely difficult circumstances.

Bone monstrance (N.M.I. Collection - HE:EW.5013)

Most of the artworks were carved from the bones of prison meat, but were also made from cutlery, lead piping and coins.  Many of the designs drew on the emblematic stalwarts of harp, round tower and high cross.  The decorated pages of the autograph books also draw on these motifs, but generally interweave them with an interesting use of neo-Celtic interlace, inspired, completely from memory, by designs abstracted from the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow.

The National Museum of Ireland’s Easter Week collection contains over 1,500 items of prison and camp art, craft and memorabilia, spanning events from the 1916 Rising to the Civil War.  A selection of artefacts relating to the post-1916 imprisonments and internments is currently on display in the exhibition ‘Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising’ at the National Museum, Collins Barracks.

In collaboration with Inspiring Ireland, the National Library of Ireland and the People’s Collection Wales, the National Museum of Ireland’s Frongoch artefacts are displayed as part of an online exhibition.