The Treaty 1921:

Records from the Archives

National Archives of Ireland
Interpretative design by EPIC
  • Copy-editing and proofreading the exhibition text and exhibition booklet;
  • Casting and directing voice actors to play the roles of members of the Irish and British delegation
I was proud to work on an exhibition to commemorate the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty in 1921, one of the most prestigious events in the government’s Decade of Centenaries 1912-1923. I am honoured to be an associate of EPIC, an award-winning creative agency specialising in the design and delivery of unique and engaging visitor experiences. They won the tender for the exhibition design and project management of The Treaty 1921: Records from the Archives.
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The background

The National Archives of Ireland wished to stage an exhibition in London and Dublin with the Anglo Irish Treaty document as the centrepiece. The NAI’s objective was to deliver an engaging and entertaining exhibition that would tell the full story of the negotiations in October through December 1921 culminating in the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty on 6th December 1921, and would reflect the significance of the treaty in the story of Ireland.

An historian, Dr John Gibney, Assistant Editor at the Royal Irish Academy, had the challenging job of writing the exhibition text. The difficult part of jobs like this is always what to leave out. The subject matter was particularly tricky in that the treaty divided the population and led ultimately to Civil War. Gibney described the events clearly and objectively, making no value judgements, concentrating instead on the little-known parts of the narrative; the impressions members of the delegations had of each other, where and how the Irish delegation lived while in London for the negotiations, outings to the theatre and a dinner party held.

The role of the copy editor...

Copy editing and proofreading

The role of the copy editor, which I carried out, was to read the exhibition content as a visitor might, with limited knowledge of the subject matter. I looked for concepts, understood by the experts, but about which the casual visitor might require some explanation, or more explanation. I looked for statements that were ambiguous, characters that were mentioned for the first time mid-story, without context - anything that might confuse the lay reader. I looked for more elegant or more efficient ways to say certain things, all the while being careful to preserve the author’s voice and the integrity of the facts. The exhibition text went back and forth between the exhibition team, the author and me as queries were responded to. The final task was a proofread of the entire exhibition text (I did this for the London text, the Dublin text and the exhibition booklet text). Proofreading is about applying rules, or styles, so as to ensure consistency. I applied the house style of the Royal Irish Academy. Contrary to what you might think, many points of grammar or style come down to personal preference, and the role of the proofreader is to get agreement on one approach and apply it consistently. For example, the client and I agreed to use an upper case T when referring to the Treaty at all times. One of the last errors I spotted, which we had missed in the many rounds of checks, was the styling of the make Rolls-Royce. Who knew it was hyphenated?

Casting and Direction of Voice Actors

Great exhibitions are not just words on a panel; they must include different ways in which the visitor may engage with the story. EPIC conceived a design that included audio visual elements. One of these was the dramatization of pieces of contemporary personal correspondence or official records about the period. My role was to cast the ‘characters’, the real people who made up the Irish and British delegations including on the British side David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, and Winston Churchill, member of his cabinet, and on the Irish side, plenipotentiary Michael Collins, and secretary Kathleen McKenna. I directed them in the recording studio as they took the words of their characters off the page and gave them voice. In many cases, there are no existing recordings of the people in question. These tracks may be heard under a number of sound domes dotted around the exhibition, triggered when a visitor walks into the range. They add a moving and poignant note to the experience.

“The documents look wonderful, the info panels are engaging and what takes them to a different level is the audio content. I wasn’t expecting just how moving and poignant it would be, especially Kathleen McK’s account of the early hours of 6 December.”

The Treaty 1921: Records from the Archives runs in the Coach House, Dublin Castle, until 27th March 2022. Admission free, booking required.

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