Arbour Hill Cemetery

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On Sunday, the ferry arrived in Dublin on time at 10 past noon and after a short drive I arrived at the Collins Barracks before 1 o’clock, over an hour before the museum opened. I was rather perplexed as the large car park was packed (I did manage to find a space) although here didn’t seem to be many people around. I’d decided to visit the Arbour Hill Cemetery, a short walk from the museum, where 14 of the executed leaders of the insurrection of 1916 are buried

A short walk up the hill behind the museum is the rather ominous building of the Arbour Hill Prison.  Just to the right of the prison is Arbour Hill Church, the prison chapel. The cemetery is right behind the church. Arriving outside the gate I noticed that there were a lot of people milling around and even more were coming out of the church. One of the Guards (police officers) standing by the gate told me that there had been a special mass taking place and this was being followed by the annual rally of the Fianna Fail political party. That explained the full car park at the museum!

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I made my way to the back of the cemetery to the tomb of the executed rebels, including  Patrick Pearse and James Connolly . They were executed in Kilmainham Prison (Connolly, who was seriously injured at the GPO during the uprising was shot while strapped to a chair as he wasn’t able to stand up) and their bodies were transported to Arbour Hill for burial in a communal pit

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The graves are located under a low mound on a terrace of Wicklow granite surrounded by a limestone wall on which their names are inscribed in Irish and English.

At the rear of the cemetery there is wall on which the Irish Proclamation of Independence is inscribed in Irish and English.

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The grave was cordoned off and a lectern had been set up, no doubt ready for the political rally. Luckily I managed to take a look before the masses arrived! (they were still coming out of the church) so managed to get some snaps without anyone obstructing the view – rather an achievement given the number of people milling around!

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1916 – Proclaiming a Republic

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Easter Monday 1916. The First World War was raging on mainland Europe. But, believing “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”, in Dublin a small group of rebels occupied strategic buildings around the city. These included the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now known as O’Connell street, the main thoroughfare north of the Liffey in the city centre), where they established their headquarters. The Republican flag was hoisted and at 12:45 p.m., Pádraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Republic.

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Pádraig Pearse (source: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1528408)

The rebels included Catholic Nationalists and Revolutionary Socialists. The majority were Irish Volunteers, the military wing of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse. They were joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly, which had originally been formed to protect strikes from attacks from police and blacklegs. There were also 200 women from Cumann na mBan a women’s paramilitary organisation affiliated to the Irish Volunteers.

James Connolly

James Connolly

There followed several days of fighting between the rebels and British troops. There were casualties on both sides and amongst Dubliners who weren’t involved (“collateral damage”) and buildings were destroyed by British bombardment including shells fired from a gunboat, the Aurora, moored on the Liffey. The rebels didn’t really stand a chance and they eventually surrendered on the following Saturday.

Most historians reckon that there was little support for the rising amongst ordinary Dubliners. In fact, the leadership of the IRB were opposed to it – Pearse went ahead despite being ordered to cancel his plans. The British authorities however ordered the execution of the leaders which turned the tide of opinion. So although the Rising failed to achieve power, it set in motion a series of events that eventually led to Irish independence.

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So this year is the centenary of the Uprising and it’s being celebrated in Ireland with a series of events, activities and exhibitions. These included a parade in Dublin city centre on Easter Monday. This was not the true centenary as Easter was early this year (at the end of March) while in 1916 it was late and the uprising actually took place on 24 April.

As part of the celebrations, a new exhibition, Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising opened on 3rd March at the Museum of Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, in Dublin. I’m working in Ireland this week and, as I often do, I’d travelled over on an early boat on Sunday so I could spend the afternoon doing something. So I decided to take a look.

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The museum’s website tells us

The exhibition explores the background to the 1916 Rising. It introduces the visitor to the nuances of contemporary political events; the rise of the Catholic élite; the push for Home Rule along with the counter-moves of unionism; the increasing ‘Irish-Ireland’ aspects of the arts and cultural movements of the period and the growth of republican nationalism. The visitor will be presented with accounts of the individuals and the organisations which featured in the political arena of 1916, as it became increasingly militaristic in nature. However, Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising also offers visitors the unique experience of physical proximity to the people and events of Easter Week through the everyday, intimate and personal belongings of the participants.

One of the first exhibits I saw was a copy of the Proclamation. 2,500 copies were printed on an old and poorly maintained Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and also of the Irish Citizen Army.

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Exhibits included the Republican flag that was flown from the GPO

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and a flag featuring the Starry Plough, the symbol of James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.

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These exhibits were objects from the GPO

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Examples of weapons used by the rebels.

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They were very much “make do and mend” obtained from a wide variety of sources. The best available guns they had were probably the antiquated  German Mauser rifles brought in to Ireland just before the War broke out in 1914.

This is an example of the uniform worn by members of the Irish Citizen’s Army

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There were documents too, including hand written notes by Padraig Pearse and James Connelly.

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There was certainly plenty to see and although I already knew quite a lot about the history of the uprising, it was interesting to see the items that had belonged to or had been used by the people involved. It brought history to life. However, I do agree with this view expressed in the Irish Times

space is a little cramped, some elements are too text heavy and the dull lighting does none of the displays any great favour.

Kilmainham Gaol

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I finally made it to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin on Sunday. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Dublin, yet despite numerous visits to the city over the past ten years, I’ve never managed to get to it before, even though I stayed in a hotel directly opposite during my last visit just a few weeks ago. So I decided that while I was coming back over on business again (my last trip this year) I’d catch the early boat so I could take a look.

It was a calm crossing and the boat actually docked a little early. I drove over to Kilmainham to visit the gaol, parking up at the IMMA car park and then walked over to the other side of the park to the gaol. It is amazing how much the trees had changed during the three weeks I’ve been away. The leaves were all golden and looked very pretty. But they won’t be on the trees much longer.

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There was a sizeable queue at the gaol but I only had to wait half an hour before my guided tour and was able to spend that time looking round their small museum display.

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When Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796, it was one of the most modern prisons in Ireland, replacing an older gaol a short distance away. It’s popularity as a visitor attraction stems mainly from it’s use to detain political prisoners associated with the struggle for Irish independence over the centuries, including United Irishmen, Fenians, the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, and Republicans held there during the Irish Civil War (including Eamon de Valera, who eventually became President of the Irish Republic)  and that was the main focus of the guided tour. It could have been a real "guilt trip" if my sympathies hadn’t been with the rebels!

Yet political prisoners were only a very small part of the gaol’s story. It was mainly used for more ordinary "criminals" (many people were imprisoned for stealing food during the famine) and as a holding station for thousands of people waiting to be transported to Australia. In the early years, debtors comprised over half the prison population. Others were detained for begging,
stealing, assault, prostitution and drunkenness.

The rectangular west wing is the original prison building and comprises three floors of small, dark, and very cramped cells. There was no glass in the windows – the wind blowing through them was meant to keep the building ventilated. There was no segregation of prisoners; men, women and children were incarcerated up to 5 in each cell, with only a single candle for light and heat.

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The east wing, which opened in 1862, provided an extra 96 cells . According to the Visitor’s Guide leaflet, that can be downloaded from the Heritage Ireland Website (but didn’t seem to be available at the gaol itself, so if you’re planning to visit it’s advisable to download one from here beforehand)

It is typical of the Victorian belief that prison architecture was crucial to the reform of inmates. During this period the gaol was run on the principles of silence and separation. Communication between prisoners was forbidden and they spent much of the time
alone in their cells. The prison authorities hoped that they would use this time to read the Bible, contemplate and repent their crimes.

The east wing looked familiar. Not surprising as it was used in the original version of The Italian Job.

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It was much brighter than the dark and dingy west wing.

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Here it was possible to have a proper look inside a number of the cells

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On the floor of the east wing there was a work by an Australian artist, Christina Henri – Roses from the Heart. It’s a memorial to all the British and Irish women transported to Australia between 1788 and 1853. The work is made up of 25,566 cloth bonnets (taken from an 1860s servants bonnet) each embroidered with a woman’s name and details of the ship on which she was transported.

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The most moving part of the tour was the visit to the Stone Breakers Yard where the leaders of the 1916 were executed between 3 and 12 May.

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Most of the men had been held in the gaol prior to their execution. The last to be shot was James Connolly who was badly injured during the uprising and was brought from Dublin Castle, where he was being held, and faced the firing squad tied to a chair to keep him upright.

The cross marks where the executions took place.

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The Gaol was finally closed in 1924 by the government of the new Irish Free State.

The guided tour lasted an hour but it felt a bit of a rush, little time to look at most of the areas we visited properly or to take photos. I felt like part of a herd of cattle at times. The gaol is a victim of its own success. But I’m glad I made the effort to see a place where ordinary people fwere incarcerated due to nothing else but their poverty and where some important events in Irish history took place

James Connolly

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“The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour.”

This bronze statue of James Connolly, the Irish Labour leader stands outside the east side of the Custom’s House in Dublin on  Beresford Place, opposite Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Services, Industrial, Professional, and Technical Union (SIPTU) . Created by the artist Eamonn O’Doherty, it  was commissioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and erected in 1996.

He became active in the Scottish Socialist Federation and in 1896 moved to Dublin to take up the position of the Dublin Socialist Club which, under his leadership, was transformed into the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He returned to Edinburgh in 1902 and the year later emigrated to the USA where he became active in the socialist movement and the Industrial Workers of the World union (known as the “Wobblies”).

In 1910 he returned to Dublin where he joined the Socialist Party of Ireland. The following year he became organizer of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in Belfast. In 1912 Connolly and fellow ITGWU leader, James Larkin, established the Irish Labour Party. He was also involved in setting up the Irish Citizen’s Army to defend  worker’s demonstrations from the police.

The GPO in O’Connell Street, Dublin – the centre of the fighting during the 1916 Easter Rising (with Jim Larkin’s statue in the foreground)

Although he was initially a committed socialist fighting for workers’ rights, he became increasingly involved in the Republican Movement and was one of the leaders of the ill fated Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916.  He was in command of the Republican HQ at the GPO, which was the focus of much of the fighting, and was severely wounded. After the failure of the uprising he was arrested and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol. Sentenced to death with the other surviving leaders, he was carried on a stretcher to a courtyard in the prison, tied to a chair and shot.