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Northern Ireland Political Ephemera Material - An Introduction

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Northern Ireland Political Ephemera Material - An Introduction

ephemera1, n. (pl. ephemeras or ephemerae)
1 a an insect living only a day or a few days. b any insect of the order Ephemeroptera, e.g. the mayfly. 2 = ephemeron 1.
[modern Latin from Greek ephemeros ‘lasting only a day’ (as EPI-, hemera ‘day’)]
ephemera2 pl. of ephemeron 1.
ephemeral, adj.
1 lasting or of use for only a short time; transitory. 2 lasting only a day. 3 (of an insect, flower, etc.) lasting a day or a few days.
            (Source: Concise Oxford English Dictionary)



During the course of the Northern Ireland conflict various political groupings and individuals have produced a wide range of political material that was transitory in nature. Items such as posters, leaflets, lapel stickers, postcards, badges, etc., were produced for a specific event, or for a short period of time, and were then discarded. Other items which were intended be longer-lived also proved to be ephemeral in nature including booklets, and a range of 'periodical' jounals that only achieved one edition, or a few editions, before disappearing.

Although the material was transient in its nature the information it contained was nevertheless important. It often provides insights that are perhaps not available in the more formal materials produced by political groupings and which are to be found in official archives and records. The importance of these ephemeral items was recognised by librarians at the Linen Hall Library who began a systematic collection. Today the largest physical collection of printed ephemeral material related to 'the Troubles' and Northern Ireland politics is held in The Northern Ireland Political Collection of the Linen Hall Library. Smaller collections are held by other libraries, institutions, and some private collectors in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.


There is no single clear definition of what constitutes ephemera material, nor specifically political emphera. One definition is that it constitutes 'the minor transient documents of everyday life'. Certainly one characteristic is that the material is produced for immediate use (or a short period of time) and was not intended to be stored for posterity.
Material which is not ephemera
Most would agree that books, academic journal articles, manuscripts, and formal art, are not ephemera.
Material that is ephemera
Ephemera includes other print material such as leaflets, pamphlets, and booklets.
Although there is less agreement many would argue that ephemera also includes non-print material with pictorial content and graphic design such as posters, badges, lapel stickers, and greeting cards.
Ephemera or not ephemera?
Other items could be considered as ephemera including material such as press releases, statements, election material, and photographs. It might be argued that the definition could be extended to include newspaper articles, and television programmes.

Political Ephemera Material Contributed to CAIN

When work first began on the CAIN web site it was decided to include a selection of the ephemeral material that has been produced since the 1960s. There are links to this material from the various subsections within CAIN and also from the CAIN bibliography.

During the lifetime of CAIN a number of people have made contributions of material which fall into the category of ephemera. The most obvious example of this is the photographs and information on murals provided by Dr Jonathan McCormick in his Mural Directory. Other examples include the section on posters and the pamphlets produced by groups such as the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ).

More recently CAIN has documented a small collection of leaflets, pamphlets, periodicals, and other items which CAIN holds on the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster. It is possible to locate this material, or produce lists of different types of items, by using the ephemera search facility. Further items and information will be added to this section in the future.

The Peter Moloney Collection

In 2004 CAIN was contacted by Peter Moloney who holds a large collection of ephemera material both physical items and photographs of other items such as murals. At that time Peter Moloney was seeking to make information about his collection more widely available and it was decided to create a database of the information he had compiled and make this, together with a selection of photographs, available at the CAIN web site.

The information provided by Peter Moloney can be found at this page:
Users can search the database by type of item or perform a text seach. Matching items are returned either as a complete list or users can select to view only those items for which there is a photograph.

Currenty Peter Moloney's ephemera database contains brief information on 7,080 items and there are approximately 400 photographs. In addition there are two other databases detailing his collection of periodicals (2,438 entries) and books (1,646 entries).

Other Sources

The Northern Ireland Political Collection, Linen Hall Library. {external_link}
Users may also wish to consult The Linen Hall Library in Belfast which holds the largest physical collection of political ephemera material related to politics and the conflict in Northern Ireland.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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