Lt Col D. W. F. Twigg MBE JP (Ret’d)
The military galleries of the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks, Dublin constitute the premier and most comprehensive display of military artefacts to be seen anywhere on the island of Ireland today. This permanent exhibition, entitled “Soldiers and Chiefs”, tells the fascinating story of the Irish soldier from the time of the flight of the Wild Geese in the 16th century to serve with the French Army right up to the latest UN deployments. The museum centres on three themes – Irish soldiers at home, Irish soldiers abroad and Irish soldiers in the 20th century. The position of the 14 Irish regiments in the British Army is closely studied, as also are the wars of the 19th century in which they were involved – the Peninsula War, the Crimean War and the South African Wars, with a large section recording the service and sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the horrors of the Great War from 1914-1918. Throughout the exhibition great use is made of the latest display techniques and a wide range of hands-on displays. One of the most impressive of these is the ‘rifle interactive’ which gives the visitor the unique opportunity to hold and handle a real, though deactivated, weapon.
The ‘rifle interactive’ in use in the Soldiers & Chiefs Exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, Dublin.
In the 19th century the type of weapon carried by the soldier determined how he trained and fought, and throughout this period each change in weapon technology improved the accuracy and rate of fire allowing for fewer soldiers to be deployed on the battlefield. The Museum has over 400 rifles and muskets in the collection, but it was decided that an interactive would better explain the different kinds of rifles carried by Irish soldiers in the British Army. From this collection it was decided to focus on three commonly used weapons in use in the British Army in the 19th century. The first of these is the flintlock firing Brown Bess musket which fired a low velocity musket ball every 30 seconds and with an effective range of 100 metres. Secondly the Martini Henry rifle which could fire one round every five seconds and was effective up to 500 metres. It was of .45-inch calibre, had a good stopping power and could be used in wet weather. The third weapon is the .303 Lee-Mitford rifle which had a 10 round magazine and a range of up to 1500 metres. A well trained soldier could fire one round every 3 seconds provided he kept rounds in the magazine. These were the most innovative weapons of the 19th century and each represented a significant advance in weapon technology.
Much thought was given as to how these weapons could be displayed and handled safely by all members of the public, many of whom have little or no experience in handling such weapons. The three weapons are built onto a special frame which enables the visitor to hold and feel the weight of the weapon. As the visitor picks up the weapon he or she triggers a short video teaching a recruit to load, shoulder and fire that particular weapon. The same format is used for each of the three weapons, but highlighting the different capabilities of each. In order to complete the realism, the instructor, in each case an NCO from the Connaught Rangers, is dressed in the appropriate uniform of the period. Beside the display are blocks of soap into which the different weapons have been fired to show the injuries capable of being inflicted on the human body.
This interactive weapon display is just one of a most impressive range of exhibits on display and in use in the military galleries in Collins Barracks. Other unique exhibits include the Stokes Tapestry, a remnant of the Dillon Flag, a huge 12pounder cannon used in the 18th century and much else dealing with later campaigns.