Museum’s replica trench designed to capture horrors of war

A replica, walk-through First World War trench which has been installed in Cork’s public museum will allow visitors to experience the dark, cramped, and brutal conditions endured by the millions of soldiers who died in trench warfare.

Dan Breen, assistant curator, and Keith Donnelly, model-maker, working on 'Life in the Trenches' project at Cork Public Museum. Pictures: David Keane
Dan Breen, assistant curator, and Keith Donnelly, model-maker, working on 'Life in the Trenches' project at Cork Public Museum. Pictures: David Keane

“It is a very accurate representation of what a trench on the western front would have been like,” said Gerry White, chairman of the Cork Branch of the Western Front Association.

“It gives a real sense of the claustrophobia and terror of living, fighting, and dying in the trenches. If a soldier from 1914 walked through it, he’d feel very much at home.

“The emphasis here is not to glorify war but to serve as a reminder of the horror of war.”

The trench will open to the public on Saturday — Heritage Open Day — and will become an important addition to the museum’s existing Great War exhibits.

The museum’s assistant curator, Dan Breen, said they hope the trench experience will live in peoples’ minds long afterwards.

“No matter how much you glorify war, or preach about the great sacrifice, it was a nasty piece of business, and trench warfare was the worst aspect of it,” he said.

The trench was designed and built by student model-maker, Keith Donnelly, of the Irish Great War Society.

He has spent months in a room in the museum recreating a 6m-stretch, using wood, sheet metal, sandbags, and plaster.

The 6ft-high structure has a bolt hole, where the teenage soldiers would have spent most of their time, an officers’ dug-out, a firing step from where soldiers fired their weapons, and a range of First World War artefacts including rifles, ammunition boxes, digging tools, cooking stoves, and food kits.

Mr Donnelly’s great grand uncle, Frank Brabazon, a Dublin Fusilier, fought in a trench and died in the Battle of Loos — the largest British offensive mounted in 1915 on the Western Front.

Mr Donnelly said he has always wanted to recreate a large-scale trench.

“It’s the biggest project I’ve worked on on my own and I hope it will shatter any misconceptions that people may have about trench warfare,” he said.

Set in a darkened room, visitors will also experience strobe lighting and gunfire and exploding shell sound-effects.

Mr Breen urged parental guidance, and warned that it may not be suitable for people with epilepsy.

“It is a visual and sensory experience. We are dealing here with themes of death, suffering and heartache,” he said.

“We would ask visitors to respect the exhibition and to remember that it’s serving as both an educational tool and as a memorial to the memory of the millions who fought and died in the trenches.”

The museum is also hosting an exhibition entitled, Life in the Trenches, and an exhibit on Cork’s role in the Great War. Some 4,000 men from the city and county died in the conflict.

-The museum is open Monday to Friday 11am to 1pm, 2.15pm to 5pm, on Saturday from 11am to 1pm and 2.15pm to 4pm, and on Sundays 3pm to 5pm (until September).

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