Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Doyle, Siobhán (2017) ‘The Bullet in the Brick: Mediating Death in the Museum’. Presented at Objects In and After: The Material Culture of Conflict Conference, Newcastle & Northumbria University, 30/03/2017.


Objects derive their historical weight from the place where they are displayed and the authenticity surrounding them. An object which has received considerable media attention in the ‘Proclaiming a Republic’ exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland is a portion of a brick in which is embedded a bullet, which is said to have passed through the body of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington when he was executed by firing squad during the EasterRising in Dublin in 1916. In an effort to hide evidence that the execution had taken place, Sheehy- Skeffington’s body was hastily buried by the British Army and all bricks from the wall where he was executed whichcontained bullets were removed and replaced. Some years later, the brick and an authenticating letter was sentto Sheehy- Skeffington’s wife who subsequently donated the item to the National Museum of Ireland in 1937.With its display in the National Museum of Ireland’s milestone exhibition which opened in 2016, the brick has become symbolic as a tangible link to the de ath of a principal activist in Ireland’s political history. By examiningthis brick as example of acquisition, donation, preservation and exhibition, my paper demonstrates howordinary objects can make significant contributions to fostering understandings of history when they areauthenticated and mediated within museum environments. This paper investigates the range of actions whichtook place in order to render this ordinary object as valuable material evidence of significant moments inhistory. This paper examines further how objects associated with death are used as mediation devices whichcurators employ due to their historical significance, visual impact and emotional strength.