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Yvonne Murphy and others.Linenhall Library, Belfast 2001.
Book: ISBN 1 000921 20 0 £12.95;
CD-Rom for Windows or Apple Macintosh: £25.00.
One of Belfast’s hidden treasures is the Linenhall Library in Donegall Square North, just opposite the City Hall. The library was founded in 1788 as a society to promote knowledge and ‘to excite a spirit of enquiry’. Its first librarian was Thomas Russell, ‘the Man from God Knows Where’ in the celebrated poem by Florence M Wilson. He was hanged for sedition in Downpatrick Gaol in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion.
When the ‘Troubles’ broke out again in 1969, the library began to collect political ephemera - tracts, leaflets, flyers, posters, election literature and the like – on a pretty haphazard basis. This developed into the library’s world renowned Northern Ireland Political Collection which has been used by virtually every writer and researcher who publishes anything on our political affairs. Yvonne Murphy, who is in charge of the collection and her predecessor, Robert Bell, must have more acknowledgements in the forewords of published works than anyone else on the planet!
The collection spent much of its life in a dusty attic at the top of the former linen warehouse that houses the library. Today, however, after comprehensive renovations and an extension to the building, the collection has a purpose-built home where its items are available to any researcher. Some items though are fragile and will not stand too much handling. Posters, in particular, were mostly designed for short campaigns of only a few days’ or weeks’ duration, especially at election time. They were not expected to last for up to thirty-odd years!
The Linenhall Library took the decision to make their collection available on CD-Rom where it would reach a wider audience. This was launched at an exhibition in the library together with a companion book. This exhibition will be travelling throughout Ulster, Ireland and parts of North America—so don’t miss it if it comes near you.
There are some terrific images on this CD and in the book. An early Paisley poster is simply screen-printed on fluorescent orange paper. A republican poster against the strip searching of women printers shows a helpless naked woman. Only by looking closer do we notice that the shadows over her are in fact the peaked caps of male prison officers. Powerful imagery!
This reviewer took some consolation that a few of his own election posters appeared on the CD too, although none of them made the book or the travelling exhibition. The CD loads quite quickly on my low-powered PC and should fairly whiz through today’s ultra-fast systems.
David Kerrhome page
A THIRD WAY FOR ULSTER
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