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Exhibition explores many different sides of Great War

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Sir Jack Leslie  who is 98 years old, pictured with  Exhibition Curator Nikki Ralston

Sir Jack Leslie who is 98 years old, pictured with Exhibition Curator Nikki Ralston

Sir Jack Leslie who is 98 years old, pictured with Exhibition Curator Nikki Ralston

A WIDOW'S long-running letter to her missing son is one of the deeply poignant centrepieces of a new exhibition that tells the multi-faceted and complex story of Ireland's involvement in World War I.

Mary Martin - a mother of 12 from Greenback in Monkstown, Co Dublin - wrote her private diary in the form of a letter to her 20-year-old son Charlie, a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who was wounded and missing in Gallipoli.

The first entry is on January 1, 1916 and begins: "Dear Charlie, Since I heard you were missing as well as wounded, it has occurred to me to write the diary in the form of a letter. We hope to hear from you soon. Till then cannot communicate with you." She gives a long and touching description of having called at the jewellers Wiers to buy a Christening present for "Aunt Rita's baby" on a "horribly wet and windy day" in Dublin.

The last entry in the diary is May 25 and shortly afterwards, on July 1, Mary learned that Charlie had died of his wounds soon after his capture the previous December.

The exhibition at the National Library of Ireland on Dublin's Kildare Street features letter, diaries, newspapers and literature from the library's collections.

"Irish people had very diverse and complex reactions to World War I," said curator Nikki Ralston. "We felt one of the best ways to illustrate how Ireland experienced the war was to explore a range of themes through real-life stories," she said.

The exhibition was opened yesterday by Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, who said it "paints a picture, often personal and poignant" of Ireland's part in the conflict.

Sir Jack Leslie of Glaslough, Co Monaghan, attended the launch with a sword brought to war as the only weapon of his uncle, Norman Leslie.

He was shot and killed in October 1914 while charging a German machine gun. It was considered ungentlemanly for officers to carry a gun.

British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott welcomed the 'fair spirit' of the exhibition.

Irish Independent