Easter Monday 1916. The First World War was raging on mainland Europe. But, believing “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”, in Dublin just after midday on Easter Monday 1916, a band of rebels stormed the the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now known as O’Connell street, the main thoroughfare north of the Liffey in the city centre),. They ordered staff and customers to leave and seized control of the building. The Republican flag was hoisted and at 12:45 p.m., Pádraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Republic.
As the Rebels’ headquarters, the GPO came under attack from the British and Sackville Street and the GPO came under heavy bombardment. The building suffered serious damage leaving only the façade intact. It didn’t reopen until 1929.
(Source National Library of Ireland)
Given the GPO’s important role in the events of the Rising, it’s perhaps not surprising that An Post have decided to cash in on the interest created by the Centenary, and earlier this year opened a permanent exhibition within the historic building. I’m back in Ireland with work this week, but came over early on Sunday and decided to take a look.
I’d visited the other main 1916 exhibition in the city, at Collin’s Barracks, back in April, so was interested to see how they compared. I’d also recently seen the exhibition at the IMMA which was inspired by Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan, two women who took part in the events in the GPO.
The exhibition – Witness Revolution – is a mixture of displays of original artefacts (guns, medals, clothing, documents and the like), visual displays and multimedia including interactive touchscreen information panels and games. One of the highlights is an “immersive” widescreen video recreating the fighting inside the GPO and elsewhere around the city.
There were several “walls” with posters from different eras – before, during and after the Rising – which provided some historical and cultural context.
This is a typical display case of artefacts – here relating to the Irish Citizen’s Army, which was formed during the 1913 Lockout. Led by James Connolly, who was seriously wounded while based in the GPO, they were a major component of the Rebel forces.
There’s also a recreation of how part of the GPO would have looked during 1916
The scope of the exhibition went beyond the events of Easter 1916, with some displays and information about the aftermath including the War of Independence and the subsequent civil war. Continuing upstairs there were further displays about the aftermath of Independence and the partition of Ireland – a story that continues today.
The inner courtyard of the GPO has also been developed by artist Barbara Knezevic who has created a special memorial to 40 children who lost their lives in the crossfire. I couldn’t actually get into the courtyard, but was able to look at the memorial through the large windows.
Leaving the exhibition, after passing through the obligatory café and gift shop, I took a look inside the Post Office to see how it looks today
It was an interesting exhibition. To be frank, I didn’t learn anything new (I have an interest in Irish history and the struggle for independence and am reasonably knowledgeable about the subject) but it is always interesting to look at artefacts from the period. I quite enjoyed the short film, even if it it’s version of events was rather simplistic. How did it compare with the exhibition at the Collin’s Barracks? They were similar in many ways and for me there wasn’t much to choose between them. The GPO probably has a slight edge, partly because of the video and other interactive elements, but mainly because there was a real sense of history being inside the building which was the centre of the action. But the Collin’s Barracks is free to visit, while the GPO charge 10 Euros. Take your pick!
(There’s some good resources, including eyewitness accounts, about the events in and around the GPO during the Rising here.)