The Great Dublin Lockout


The second exhibition I visited at the National Library of Ireland was about the Great Lockout that took place in 1913 and early 1914,

The lockout was initiated when the Dublin United Tramway Company, owned by industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy, a leading Catholic nationalist businessman and former anti-Parnellite MP, sacked employees he suspected of membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). In response, on 26 August, the tramway workers went on strike. The dispute escalated rapidly with other employers locking out workers who refused to sign a pledge not to join the ITGWU. By late September, 20,000 employees were involved across the city.

The exhibition, which is being shown in the Library annex on Kildare Street, didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know about the events of 1913 and 1914, but they had some interesting documents on show and some interviews with various people.

The exhibition draws upon our extensive historical and literary collections. It combines original documents, such as Jim Larkin’s hastily scribbled advice to union colleagues on the eve of “Bloody Sunday”, with multimedia presentations. Through the exhibition, visitors can share the experiences of those who lived through the Lockout, gaining a greater understanding of the issues facing the people of Dublin in  1913, and hear the opinions of present day commentators through short films and interactive touch screens.

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Documents and video interviews from the exhibition can be seen on line here.

The building, which is on the corner of Kildare Steet and Leinster Street, is interesting in it’s own right. It was originally a gentleman’s club (the Kildare Street Club) and the exhibition area in what was once the club’s Coffee Room.

Italian Gothic in style it has particularly distinctive windows.  The stonework above the windows is in alternate colours and the columns have ornate carved bases and capitals featuring rather eccentric carvings of monkeys playing various sports the members used to participate in. (For a close-up of a pair of monkeys playing billiards and some further information see here)


W B Yeats at the National Library of Ireland


While taking the bus between Heuston station and my hotel near the Grand Canal on the edge of Ballsbridge I spotted that that there were a couple of exhibitions on at the National Library of Ireland – one about the 1913 Lockout and another about WB Yeats. I decided to visit them on my last day in Dublin.

They were both good. The W B Yeats exhibition was in the main building, which was architecturally interesting in it’s own right.


The National Library of Ireland

I don’t know a great deal about Yeats, but like some of his poetry. So I found out quite a lot about him from the exhibition. (There’s also an Online version )

Yeats: visit the Online Exhibition

Yeats was a major figure in Irish Literary history – associated with the Irish Literary Revival, one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre and was awarded In  the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. He had a life-long infatuation with Maud Gonne who inspired many of his poems. A supporter of Irish independence, he served as a Senator for 6 years from 1922, on the foundation of the Irish Free State. Interested in Irish myths and legends he dabbled in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism and astrology. All of these facets of his life were covered by the exhibition.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s he expressed sympathy and support for fascist ideas and regimes. This was discussed by George Orwell in an article published in the literary journal Horizon in 1943. But there was no mention of this in the exhibition. This aspect of his character makes me feel uneasy, especially as I like a number of his poems. Reconciling work you admire with the views or acts of the artist isn’t always easy.

Close to the entrance there was a multimedia area where visitors could sit and listen to recordings of some of his more well known poems read by personalities Seamus Heaney and Sinead O’Connor and one by Yeats himself. The words being spoken were projected onto a screen along with relevant images. It was very well done, I thought.

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I’ll finish with one of his poems which was featured in this display, a favourite of mine.

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.