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Modern history: 1900-1923

More ships have been destroyed on Tuskar Rock than on any other Irish coastal feature. This low and featureless outcrop lies 7 miles off the Wexford coast, waiting to ensnare unsuspecting ships. It took three years and 14 lives to build its lighthouse in the early 1800s. It was at this forbidding place that the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) organised the rendezvous between the SS Fanny, carrying 216 tons of guns and ammunition, and the SS Clyde Valley, soon to be renamed the Mountjoy II, in the audacious Larne gun-running of 1914. The Clyde Valley took on its cargo of contraband weapons and sailed to Larne amid an Ulster-wide UVF mobilisation that preoccupied the authorities. UVF volunteers from all over the province lined the roads to Larne harbour in cars and lorries, ready to secret the weapons in anticipation of the passing of the Home Rule Bill.

The Home Rule movement was the dominant force in Irish nationalist politics from the 1870s. Charles Stewart Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) had supplanted the Liberal, Conservative, and Unionist parties that had once dominated the Irish political scene. Liberal governments in Westminster had attempted to pass two Home Rule Bills by 1912, only to be defeated in the House of Lords. The Liberals formed a new government in 1910 with the support of the IPP, on the condition that a fresh Home Rule Bill be introduced. Unionists were alarmed, and were prepared to resist with violence if the need arose. The UVF, formerly unarmed, hatched the Larne gun-running to arm their ranks.

The National Museums NI Home Rule to Partition collection highlights this crisis with examples of propaganda from both the Home Rule and Unionist campaigns, and artefacts and weapons from the Mountjoy II.

The First World War prevented the Home Rule Act 1914 being implemented, and the Easter Rising complicated an already difficult political situation. The collection includes a wide array of First War artefacts, including personal belongings and medals from both sides. We hold a fascinating collection of pieces from Ireland in this period too, illustrating the rapid constitutional and social changes that were occurring. There are items from the Easter Rising and the partition of Ireland, and pieces that demonstrate the rising role of the women’s movement, and labour organisations.