Northern Ireland news

Children of the Troubles' record unearthed by Derry museum

Barricades such as this one, possibly at Creggan Southway, became playgrounds for children in 1972. Picture by Gérard Harlay
Seamus McKinney

A remarkable photographic record of children during some of the darkest days of the Troubles has gone on display at the Museum of Free Derry.

The photographs, taken in April and may 1972, were unexpectedly donated to the Bogside museum by French photographer, Gérard Harlay and cover his time working in Derry. Hundreds of photographs were handed over from his work in Derry and Belfast.

The images go on display as the “Lost Childhood” exhibition from today a the museum while a separate exhibition featuring photographs taken in Belfast is being planned for a later date.

Covering all aspects of life in Troubles-era Bogside, Brandywell and Creggan, the pictures feature some well known figures such as former Sinn Féin councillor, the late Barney McFadden. However, it is the clear depiction of children playing on barricades, around protests and flashpoints that provides the most fascinating aspect of the collection.

Children joined adults for sit-down protests such as this one at Hamilton Street in Derry. Picture by Gérard Harlay

Museum curator, Adrian Kerr hoped that many of those children featured in the photographs will be able to visit the exhibition to identify themselves. He said staff at the museum were shocked when Mr Harlay walked in some months ago and handed over his work.

“It is amazing that this collection of photographs has just emerged. Gérard took over 700 photographs in Derry during that time – April and May 1972 – but most of them have never been seen in public before.

“His portraits of children enduring the conflict and getting on with their young lives are truly stunning and we have used just a small selection of them in this display,” Mr Kerr said.

Children's war games at Creggan Street, oppostite St Eugene's Cathedral reflected the deadly reality of life in Derry in April and May 1972. Picture by Gérard Harlay

Mr Harlay said he was delighted that some of is photographs would now go on display for the first time.

“Children at that time, 1972, were at the centre of the conflict. The army had brutally invaded their universe, their playground; the street.

“After all these years, I wanted to give my images back home, to the community. These aren’t my pictures; these pictures are your life, your history,” he said.

The late Barney McFadden, later to become a Sinn Féin councillor, addresses a street protest at Laburnam Terrace in Derry in 1972. Picture by Gérard Harlay

Mr Harlay said those who lived through the Troubles would be able to show young people what it was like.

The Lost Childhood exhibition slide-show will run at the Museum of Free Derry throughout August.

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