'Irish Roots' archive



Irish Roots


September 8 2014

The Monica Roberts Collection

Sometimes the current bout of commemorating feels like the Borges parable about the map the same size as the country it depicts. Living through World War 1 was bad enough. Surely the point of reliving it is that you can skip some bits.

Commemoration fatigue aside, the unprecedented scale of remembering is already producing wonderful micro-history, with intense detail evoking the vivid taste and feel of ordinary life a century ago.

The Monica Roberts Collection, newly online at dublinheritage.ie as part of Dublin City Council's contribution to the commemoration, is full of that intense, evocative, mundane detail. Monica Roberts was a young, upper-class woman living in Stillorgan who set up a "Band of Helpers to the Soldiers" at the start of the war. With the same innocent idealism as the hundreds of thousands of men who volunteered to fight, the "Band" undertook the provision of moral support, writing to the troops, sending parcels of tobacco and sweets and woolly socks. The collection consists of 453 of the letters and postcards written back to her by those soldiers, all transcribed and imaged on the site, freely searchable and browseable by name, place and month.

The careful, best-behaviour politeness of the soldiers is truly poignant, now that we know the horrors they were actually enduring. And the series peters out from the end of 1917 into 1918, as the reality of life at the front filtered into public consciousness and it became common knowledge that the soldiers had been led away to enormous, industrialised slaughter.

The original letters were carefully preserved for many years by Monica's daughter Mary Shackleton, who gave them to Tom Burke MBE, Chairman of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association. The RDFA in turn passed them on to Dublin City Archives, the creators of the website.

So it is absolutely right that the micro-histories on the site are so personal and small- scale: this is the way real memories survive, handed on carefully from individual to individual, decade after decade.

Current column

2016

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
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25

2015

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30

2014

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
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7
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3
1
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22
27
24
22
31
30
29
29


2013

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
31
7
4
4
1
6
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1
5
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4
2
14
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8
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2012

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2011

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2010

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4
1
1
5
3
7
5
2
6
4
1
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11
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8 12
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2009

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6
6 2 2
6
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1
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20 16 16
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27 23
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26
23
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          29
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