DePaul’s connection to the Irish and Irish-American community in Chicago runs deep, from our earliest university presidents to today’s collaborations between the Irish Studies Program and the Irish Consulate in Chicago. One clear example of this connection is the Irish Collection of rare books in the DePaul University Library’s Special Collections and Archives. “War | Democracy | Division | Free State: The Struggle for Independence in Ireland, 1919-1921,” the new exhibit on the first floor of the John T. Richardson Library, includes titles from the Irish Collection that highlight aspects of the War of Independence in Ireland, which began a century ago and led to independence from the United Kingdom for much (though not all) of the island of Ireland. Though the guerilla campaign of the IRA, headed by Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera, is probably the better-known part of this period, Irish voters and political leaders collaborated at the same time on a process of state-building – or, more accurately, counter-state building, partly through the establishment in 1919 of the First Dail Eireann, a parliament in Dublin that gave rise to the body that still legislates for Ireland today.
Though not a comprehensive explanation of these years, the exhibit points to the Home Rule question of the late 19th/early 20th century, the Gaelic Revival of the native Irish language and culture of the same period, and the Easter Rising of 1916 as part of the buildup to these crucial years in Irish history. DePaul holds fascinating texts for such an exhibit. The exhibit also makes connections between both Collins and de Valera and Chicago and points toward the effects of the Partition of Ireland, through which the northeastern part of the island remained part of the United Kingdom. The complex role and contributions of the Irish in 20th-century Chicago bears further scrutiny, to be sure, but — especially in this era of Brexit and its potential impacts on the islands of Britain and Ireland — understanding the origins of modern Irish independence through these texts will shed light on layers of history. Programs and events related to the exhibit will be coordinated by Dr. Mary McCain, Director of DePaul’s Irish Studies Program in winter and spring quarters. For more information, please contact Dr. McCain, at email@example.com.
Thanks to Dr. Mary McCain, who curated this exhibit in collaboration with Special Collections and Archives staff, for contributing this piece.