The Troubles engulfed Northern Ireland in conflict for nearly 30 years. It was – and remains – a contentious period, with roots going back centuries.

A fragile peace called the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, yet many aspects of the conflict remain unresolved to this day. 

Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles, an exhibition open at IWM North until 29 September 2024, explores the conflict through the multiple perspectives of those who experienced it. 

Find out more about Northern Ireland and the Troubles in our four-part YouTube video series below.

The Troubles video series

Soldier stood in front of a map of Ireland, Northern Ireland covered in a British Union Jack flag
© IWM

This four-part series examines the entire history of the Troubles, from the causes of the conflict to the long and difficult peace negotiations:

  • Episode one: Origins  
  • Episode two: Escalation 
  • Episode three: Division 
  • Episode four: Peace

We have also captured a behind the scenes video exploring how we set up the Troubles exhibition at IWM London, which you can watch below.

Watch episode one: How the Troubles began

More episodes in the series

Watch more episodes in our Northern Ireland and the Troubles series:

Soldier stood in front of a map of Ireland, Northern Ireland covered in a British Union Jack flag
© IWM
Northern Ireland and The Troubles

How the Troubles began

The complicated history of Northern Ireland is hotly contested. 

In the first episode, we take an in depth look at the origin of the Troubles. Though the conflict began in earnest in1969, the divisions that caused it can be traced back centuries.

Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972. Members of the Support Company, 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment pictured in action in the Bogside, Londonderry on Bloody Sunday.
© IWM MH 30538
Northern Ireland and The Troubles

A battled waged on British streets

1972 was the bloodiest year of the Troubles. But as the violence reached the new heights, all sides in the conflict were beginning to change.

We explore the deadliest decade of the Troubles and the events that would change the conflict entirely.

Soldier holding gun stood in front of wall mural that reads 'Prepared for peace, ready for war' in north Belfast during the Troubles
© IWM
Northern Ireland and The Troubles

Why is Northern Ireland divided?

For thirty years, the citizens of Northern Ireland lived through the Troubles. 

In the third episode of our series on the Troubles, we look at what was it like to live through this conflict, and – just as the situation seemed impossible – how the two sides finally came together for negotiations.

Designing the Troubles exhibition

IWM

Craig Murray: "Planning for this exhibition probably started in 2018, so around five years on and off. Because so much of the narrative of the Troubles is contested and people have the right to their own lived experience and how they saw things, I was obviously very aware of the fact that we needed to hear voices coming from many different directions to really convey to the people who are going to come and visit this exhibition that what you're going to see here is highly contested. So you need to hear these different voices whether you agree with them or not. In order to to do this, I had to travel in Northern Ireland quite a lot over the last few years, discussing with people what I wanted to do, what people there thought about the idea of IWM doing an actual exhibition of the Troubles. The reception I had generally across the board was one that was very positive and they were glad we were actually doing it.

One of the crucial aspects of this whole project wasn't just the exhibition itself, it was actually diversifying and increasing the collection that we hold on the Troubles. The objects have fed into the exhibition and will continue to feed into exhibitions and research in the years to come.

During the planning and research for this exhibition over 250 new objects were collected, some of which we've selected as part of the exhibition. This particular object here is the life license letter of a loyalist paramilitary prisoner. It's obviously a very personal object, not many of these still exist because many prisoners once released just threw them away but it states that he is now ready for release on completion of a nine-month rehabilitation course. Prisoner release was a highly contentious thing particularly around the Good Friday Agreement where people were often undecided on whether they wanted to vote for it based on the release of prisoners due to so much death and violence and injury to people being caused by these people.

Jack Gelsthorpe: "So the Troubles spans nearly a 30-year period of history and the exhibition space is approximately 199 meters squared. That may sound large but it really isn't. Therefore, we do not have enough space to do a chronological deep dive into every single event for this specific conflict. Therefore we've chosen to take a thematic approach in this exhibition space; we want to use our objects, our stories, our photography collection to really look at themes and utilise our specific collection items to speak to those themes, to challenge our visitors' understanding around this conflict.

When developing this exhibition we were acutely aware of the location of this exhibition at the heart of the Imperial War Museum in London. We also commissioned some audience research into our visitors' attitudes and understanding around this topic. Through this we identified a slight lack of knowledge and a slight awkwardness around talking about this conflict and engaging with the multiple perspectives that this conflict has. Therefore what this exhibition is trying to do is meet that awkwardness and sense of nervousness around this and really make people feel confident in trying to find out more about this nuanced and challenging topic. This is not a conflict that was fought on some far-flung battlefield, this is a conflict that was fought in roads, in streets, in towns, cities and villages within Northern Ireland. It was an incredibly close conflict and the exhibition design is trying to sort of support that content in, in really bringing out the closeness of it."

Anna Montgomery: "So from very early stages in the design process, we knew that we had two very strong threads; these were the combination of the voices of the contributors, the people that Craig has interviewed recently but also an extensive and powerful collection of photography. These two elements combined really allowed us to create a really strong sense of place as part of the visitors experience. So focusing on the voices, we have these playing out through these Voice Points, the idea being that where these Voice Points are positioned throughout the space, visitors will be able to approach them and listen to the voices as if they're in conversation almost. What this also offers within the experience is this feeling that the voices are occupying the space and that's very much something that's influenced the design on this project. We also have an extremely strong collection of photography and what we were very keen to do was to use certain photography at such a scale that it really takes people to the streets or to a moment in time, so we're using them in that kind of one-to-one scale."

Craig Murray: "The core aim of this exhibition I think was really to bring it home to the visitor that so much of what went on during the Troubles is contested, and people don't agree. What you're going to find in here is not a clean single narrative that will make it easy for you and that in itself is liberating because once you get into your way of thinking that it's very complicated, very difficult and nobody really agrees in a number of things that will give you the tools if you will to go off and do your own research and work out what you think happened for yourself."

Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles has opened at IWM North. Visitors are invited to further their understanding of the Troubles through the multiple perspectives of individuals affected by the conflict.

In this video, we speak to the Lead Curator, the Exhibitions Manager and the Senior Designer about how the teams brought this highly anticipated exhibition together.

 

Related content

Barbed wire fence across a terraced street to mark division between republican and loyalist areas of Belfast during The Troubles.
© Rolls Press/Popperfoto via Getty Images
Exhibitions

Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles

IWM North
22 March to 29 September 2024

What you need to know about The Troubles
© IWM TR 32970-1
Northern Ireland and The Troubles

What You Need to Know About The Troubles

The Troubles was a period of conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Find out more about key moments in this conflict - a conflict with repercussions that are still being felt today. 

This mural showing King William III is painted on the oldest mural site in Belfast. First painted in 1934, it was retouched annually (sometimes completely repainted) in preparation for the 12 July Protestant marches.
© IWM CT 545
Northern Ireland and The Troubles

The origins of mural painting in Northern Ireland

Murals are a striking feature of Northern Ireland’s urban landscape, which often showcase moments in the turbulent history of the region. Found across many towns and cities, especially Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, they frequently illustrate political, religious and historical themes which reflect the ideas of the communities around them.

Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles

Visitors at IWM North's Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles Exhibition
© IWM

Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles has now opened at IWM North.

Explore the Troubles through four key sections, hearing from people with a range of differing perspectives and encountering objects that illuminate their experiences.