This blog post was written by Kaili Smith and Charlotte Willsmore, Research Support Librarians at IWM London, for History Day 2023 and explores library material relating to the IWM’s current exhibition

In May 2023, the Imperial War Museums (IWM) opened the exhibition Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles. The exhibition was created to inform visitors about the 30-year conflict that took place in Northern Ireland between the 1960s and 1990s. The story of this conflict is complex, and many aspects remain unresolved and highly contested to this day. When visiting this exhibit visitors can engage with numerous oral histories from differing perspectives, photographs, documents, and objects from the larger IWM collection. This blog highlights several items in IWM’s library collection which are valuable for those seeking further knowledge on the conflict explored in this exhibition.

Before our colleagues started work on Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles, the library collection already held a selection of material relating to the Troubles. A great deal of this material was produced and collected contemporaneously to the conflict. Our collections development work ensures the library contains recent publications within the museum’s remit and the exhibition led us to acquire more recent publications relating to Northern Irish history.

We have highlighted some material from the library collection relating to the Troubles, which supplements the work of the exhibition and demonstrates the range of material held in IWM’s Library.

Contextualising the Troubles

The IWM library collection holds a broad selection of monographs and publications which help contemporary audiences to understand the political, social, cultural, and historical dimensions of the conflict.

Making Sense of the Troubles: the story of the conflict in Northern Ireland by David McKittrick and David Mcvea provides context to the Northern Ireland conflict, including a useful chronology, and glossary of terms. In the opening chapter the authors explore the events from 1921-1963 before the descent into the violence known as the Troubles.

Peter Taylor’s trilogy: The Provos: the IRA and Sinn Fein, 1997; Loyalists, 1999; and Brits: the war against the IRA, 2001, documents the Troubles through extensive interviews conducted over decades as the BBC’s Northern Ireland correspondent. Each book looks at a different group involved in the conflict and contains interviews from their perspectives.

The agreement: agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations, 1998, is a booklet that was distributed to all voters in Northern Ireland prior to the vote on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which underpinned Northern Ireland’s peace process, it is constitutional settlement, and its institutions. This copy is currently on display in the Northern Ireland exhibition at IWM London.

The British Army and The Troubles

‘Operation Banner’ was the operation name for the deployment of British Armed forces in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007. The IWM library collection contains a wealth of ephemeral material that documents the experiences of military personnel during the conflict.

A merry Christmas: Belfast 1974 is a Christmas Card sent by a soldier serving in Belfast in 1974. The printed message encapsulates the feelings of the sender as he experienced Christmas away from home in a conflict zone:

British Army Christmas Card

Christmas Day in Belfast; and the soldiers are on guard; VCP’s and duties, life is very hard. We send you Yuletide greetings from Ulster’s troubled shore, and hope that by next Yuletide the Troubles are no more.”

Northern Ireland: what is it like for soldiers is a Ministry of Defence recruitment publication. This booklet explains what day-to-day life is like for the army in Northern Ireland, in a question-and-answer format.

Northern Ireland: what is it like for soldiers publication

Reporting the Troubles

The IWM periodicals collection is a rich resource to explore the complexities of the Northen Ireland conflict and the different voices involved in it.

IWM holds two issues of The United Irishman, covering July 1972 to July 1973. This is an example of a Republican Irish newspaper printed mostly in English with some text in Gaelic.

Produced in August 1973 during the Troubles, The Irish Reporter: International Bulletin of the Socialist Party of Ireland, was a publication created by the Socialist Party of Ireland, which was both active in Ireland and Northern Ireland during the conflict.

Visor was a periodical produced fortnightly for British soldiers in Northern Ireland. The library collection contains a number of these periodicals with dates ranging from 1974 to 1985.

Digital databases and e-resources

Various e-resources are provided through our library service. These include Ancestry, British Newspaper Archive, Illustrated London News, UKPressOnline. Listed below are a few further examples of articles found in our e-resources:

  • The Times Digital Archive: “Ulster Unrest October,” 1968; “Peace for Reform” 1968; “Street Battles Flare Again in Ulster”1968.
  • JSTOR: “The making of the troubles in Northern Ireland,” Journal of Contemporary History, 1992; “Social Conflict Theory in Studying the Conflict in Northern Ireland”, Polish Sociological Review, 2016; “A tale of two unions”, Bordering Two Unions: Brexit and Northern Ireland, 2016
  • British Newspaper Archive: “After dark, Belfast News-letter,” 1969

The selection of material highlighted in this blog post is available to view in our Research Room at IWM London. Appointments are required, and bookings need to be made via our online portal. You can find more of our holdings on the Troubles by using IWM’s online collections search.

Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles is open at IWM London until 7th January 2024 and is free to visit. For more information, please see our website.