Dr Kathleen Lynn: Fascinating 1916 Easter Rising History in the Ulster Museum

Kathleen Lynn

Updated On: April 15, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

The Ulster Museum has a wide range of exhibits including those regarding Irish and Northern Irish history. Within the Ulster Museum collections are artefacts, specimens, and more which can help us understand the past. This includes their exhibit on the modern history of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In this exhibit are objects relating to Kathleen Lynn a doctor and political activist involved in the Easter Rising. 

This article will tell you a bit about the objects from the Ulster Museum collections relating to the Easter Rising and Kathleen Lynn’s involvement in the events. What was the Easter Rising? Who was Kathleen Lynn? Where is the Easter Rising exhibit in the Ulster Museum? What collections does the Ulster Museum have on display? All your answers will be answered below. 

Read on to learn about the Easter Rising objects which are contained in the Ulster Museum collections as well as a bit more about Kathleen Lynn and her life and role in the historic events of the Easter Rising. 

Where is the Ulster Museum?

The Ulster Museum is located in Belfast, the capital; city of Northern Ireland. It finds its home in the city’s botanic gardens giving it idyllic scenery surrounding it. Many people visit the museum every day as it is one of Belfast’s best free attractions. 

The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm and makes for a great day out no matter who you are visiting with. They have plenty of attractions and activities for children and families as well as a range of exhibits meaning there is something for everyone. The Ulster Museum is the perfect idea for a day out as you can not only enjoy the museum itself but also the surrounding area. The botanic gardens and university quarter offer up a wide range of activities from picnic spots to cosy pubs. 

Want some ideas on how to make the most out of your trip to the Ulster Museum? Check out our guide to visiting museums for tips, ideas, and fun activities to add to your visit, linked here

What is in the Ulster Museum Collections? 

Spread over four floors, the Ulster Museum collections contain categories of objects separated into zones. The three main zones which make up the Ulster Museum are the History Zone, the Art Zone, and the Nature Zone. 

The History Zone at the Ulster Museum has sections dedicated to topics on the national curriculum such as The Spanish Armada and Egypotologyl. This helps school groups that visit get the most out of their visit while also being interesting for the average visitor. Within the Egyptology department, the museum has a real mummy on display, a real highlight of the Ulster Museum Collections. 

The Nature zone is also helpful for young children wanting to learn about natural habitats, the food chain, as well as Irish wildlife. They have specimens found only in Ireland such as the Irish Wolfhound and the Giant Irish Elk, a taxidermy of which is found in the Nature Zone. These interesting specimens paint a picture of how nature once was in Ireland as well as how it is today. 

The Art Zone features a range of styles and topics of art including famous Irish artists and those from further afield. John Lavery is one of the Northern Irish artists heavily featured in the art zone and his portraiture is sure to be a treat during your visit. Other aspects of art and design are also featured in the Ulster Museum collections in objects such as beautiful gowns or pieces of furniture. Meaning visitors can learn about the art of making pieces of clothing or interior design. 

What is the 1916 Easter Rising?

The Easter Rising was an armed rebellion against British rule which took place in 1916 in the city of Dublin. The rising took place over the course of 5 days with those involved taking control of key buildings throughout the city and proclaiming an Irish republic. 

The rising was ultimately quashed by British troops who called in heavy backup and 16 of the rebel leaders were executed without trial. The successes and failures of the Easter Rising are still debated by historians today. The rising may not have successfully formed a republic but the execution of its leaders created martyrs for the cause and swayed public opinion greatly. Songs and stories of the Easter Rising are told about those who were executed fighting for their republic.

One such song tells the sad story of Joseph Plunkett and his wife Grace who married the night before his execution in Kilmainham Gaol. The story of Grace and many others were remembered from the Easter Rising as added to rising discontent with British rule in Ireland. 

Learn more about the story and song of ‘Grace’, here.

If you want to learn more about Irish Music we have a guide to Irish traditions and how traditional Irish music has an impact on the culture. If you have fallen in love with Irish music and want to experience it in person, we also have a guide to where you can find the best traditional Irish music performed in Belfast for each night of the week, linked here.

The story of the Easter Rising is not only a story of men as many women, such as Grace Gifford, played a role in the events or how they were remembered. Women such as Constance Markievicz were politically active and involved in the rising. Constance was also later the first woman offered a seat in Westminster (in the British government) but never took her seat. Another key woman from the easter Rising is Kathleen Lynn, whose medal is part of the Ulster Museum collections. 

Who Was Kathleen Lynn? 

Kathleen Lynn was not only a political activist fighting for an Irish republic but she was also a doctor. She was born in 1874 just two years before the ‘Enabling Act’ was passed allowing both men and women to be certified as doctors. (However, exceptions to the rule had been made before). She was part of the first generation of women to become certified doctors, in that part of the world at least. 

Kathleen was inspired to become a doctor due to the sickness and poverty she saw growing up. Dr Lynn was born in County Mayo in Killala which was one of the most impoverished parts of Ireland at the time. She was passionate about helping people and wanted to help those who were suffering. She studied medicine and obtained her degree at the university which is now University College Dublin. This passion ultimately led her to set up her own practice in Rathmines to treat patients as well as her interest in political activism. Lynn was a suffragist as well as several worker’s rights organisations. 

In the years leading up to the Easter Rising, Kathleen Lynn became involved in the Irish Citizens Army following the treatment of Helena Molony. Dr Lynn treated Molony at the request of Constance Markievicz (who was a relative). Molony was an active member who converted Lynn to the nationalist movement over long talks during her recovery. In the weeks leading up to the Easter Rising, Lynn ran guns into the city using her car. 

During the events of the Easter Rising, Dr Kathleen Lynn was chief medical officer operating from the City Hall until it was brought back under British control. Lynn was then arrested and imprisoned. However, within the year she was released and allowed to return to her practice in Rathmines. She later dedicated her life’s work to the creation of Saint Ultan’s Hospital for Infants. 

During these events, Kathleen kept detailed diary entries which give a fascinating look into the daily life of someone involved. She wrote entries during her imprisonment detailing her time there. You can access the transcripts of her 1916 diary entries here, in full. 

Where Can You See The Medal Given To Kathleen Lynn?

Due to her service in the Easter Rising as Chief Medical Officer, Kathleen Lynn was presented with a medal as a reward. This medal was awarded posthumously in 1941 along with those presented to all who fought or served during the rising. The medal is inscribed with the words ‘Easter Week 1916’ on the back in Gaelic as shows a traditional Celtic design. 

Kathleen Lynn
Medal Awarded to Kathleen Lynn in the Ulster Museum Collections

The medal which was awarded to Kathleen Lynn is on display in the Modern History section of the History Zone. Alongside other objects from that time telling the history of the Easter Rising. 

Also featured in the Ulster Museum Collections is a photograph of Dr Kathleen Lynn, shown below. 

Kathleen Lynn
Kathleen Lynn: Picture in the Ulster Museum Collections

Dr Kathleen Lynn was a rebel and doctor working for causes she believed in passionately. She worked to heal the sick, fought for worker’s rights, and women’s suffrage, and took part in the historic Easter Rising. Her photograph and medal make up an interesting part of the Ulster Museum’s telling of events. Highlighting the role of women in this part of Ireland’s history. 

These objects are interesting recent additions to the Ulster Museum collections and well worth looking out for while visiting the History Zone. 

Conclusion: The Ulster Museum and Kathleen Lynn

The Ulster Museum in Belfast is a great spot for a day out with exhibits and collections to interest all visitors. It is truly one of the best free attractions in Belfast and its idyllic location in the botanic gardens adds to its appeal as a day-out spot. Whether you are interested in history, art, or nature you are sure to find a fascinating object or interactive exhibit to enjoy. 

Lots of the exhibits in the Ulsyer Museum are catered to the national curriculum including primary and secondary education subjects. This makes it a great day out for families who want fun and education. One such topic is the Easter Rising, part of the GCSE curriculum and an interesting topic which had a major impact on the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Their modern history exhibit compares the Easter rising with other events happening at the time such as the Battle of the Somme which had drastic political ramifications. 

The exhibit’s section on the Easter rising includes objects of interest such as the medal and photograph of Kathleen Lynn. The life and impact of Dr Lynn are interesting from a range of perspectives including political, medical, and women’s history. When visiting the Ulster Museum you can see how the role played by Kathleen Lynn fits into the overall tableau of the Easter Rising as well as the modern history of Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

The Ulster Museum is well worth a visit for those interested in the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland. When visiting make sure to look out for the story of Kathleen Lynn and how she played her part in history.

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