Exhibit Down

The Museum of Free Derry has temporarily removed its most controversial exhibit and Linda Nash and Helen Deery have brought their around-the-clock protest inside the museum to a close. All parties will meet again next week with a mediator to negotiate how to proceed when it comes to the exhibit that was created to remember the victims of the Troubles from Derry.

The exhibit included the names of all who died in Derry during the Troubles and was designed to be conciliatory and educational. However, the inclusion of soldiers and police officers on this list made many relatives and friends unhappy, since many of their loved ones had been killed by those forces. When their objections were raised, the Museum handled them poorly and the situation soon boiled over onto various social media platforms where it continued to grow. It grew locally as well resulting in protests and the eventual occupation of the Museum.

The list has been in the Museum for nearly a decade, but when it got a recent face lift, the display brought the controversy around it to the forefront again. Many petitions and inquiries were presented to the Bloody Sunday Trust and the museum employees but nothing was immediately changed. A protest outside the building during its grand reopening led to a survey of the thirty-four families who are related to many on the list, but that moved slowly and the revamped exhibit remained in the interim. Linda Nash and Helen Deery finally decided their feelings were not going to be seemingly ignored anymore and they sat down in the museum refusing to leave until their concerns were addressed or the exhibit was removed. They finally got a respectful response.

To their credit, the Museum invited the women to stay as long as they liked, and to engage with visitors if they wanted to. They staffed the building around the clock for nearly a week and acknowledged that the situation could have been handled better at the beginning. The Bloody Sunday Trust issued statements too and finally completed their survey of family members – the results of which are to be revealed shortly. And most importantly, they removed the exhibit for the time being, while they figure out how best to proceed.

This is great news. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that history should tell the whole story but it rarely does because it is almost always written by the victors. Libraries and museums are some of the only places that can remedy that and they truly are the custodians of heritage and history. I have been to the Museum of Free Derry where I stood in the middle of the room with tears streaming down my face on more than one occasion and I was blessed to meet some of the people involved in the space and the Trust. I understand their position and even support it from an educational and logical standpoint. What I don’t support is making people who are in pain feel silenced or ignored while doggedly charging ahead with a plan that hurts more than expected. I think everyone would have been better off if the exhibit wasn’t displayed until after the families were surveyed and their feelings or objections were properly dealt with, but that’s easy to say with hindsight and distance. I’m just relieved that if it does go up again, it will be after these important community discussions happen. The Bogside has been devastated enough by all the heartbreak and division it has suffered at the hands of others – after all, that’s why the museum exists today. The last thing the community needs is to be torn apart even further….by each other.

For more on the end of the women’s protest, please click here.

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