The last battlefield of the 1916 Rising’s heroes must be preserved.
Moore Street, Dublin – for years the bustling site of flower markets and fruit sellers, but today the object of a fight to preserve Ireland’s heritage and the genesis of its nationhood.
Sometimes called the “Alamo of Ireland,” the laneways and streets surrounding Moore Street are some of the most historic in the nation. They are among the last remnants of battlefield Dublin from the Easter Rising of 1916. Unfortunately, despite being designated a National Monument, this area where the brave martyrs of 1916 retreated from the burning GPO, and where they made the decision to accept the British terms of unconditional surrender, is facing a new threat from a commercial developer who seeks to build yet another shopping mall.
So much of the original sites relating to the Easter Rising no longer exist. Liberty Hall is gone, the GPO is a reconstruction, and the building where the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was signed by the seven leaders of the Rising – Tom Clarke, Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Sean MacDermott, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh and Eamonn Ceannt – no longer exists and is marked only by a tarnished and easily overlooked plaque on the outside wall of a store on Henry Street.
After having the amazing experience of touring the 1916 GPO Garrison’s battlefield and retreat route with James Connolly Heron, James Connolly’s great grandson, I was struck by the importance of this treasure to Irish and world history. To actually walk on the cobblestones where the leaders of the Rising walked and to be in those laneways where they fought was an incredible experience. I had the opportunity to understand the courage of men like The O’Rahilly and the young Michael Collins as they tried to clear a path for the retreat from the GPO, as the building was consumed by fire. Moore Lane contains buildings and cobblestones original to the period, and old industrial architecture. The battle raged here as the 300 men of the GPO Garrison struggled to get to safety in the buildings on Moore Street, all the while under fire from British guns.
It was chilling to hear of the callous attitude of the British as they left The O’Rahilly bleeding in the street. And his heartfelt last letter to his wife, written as he lay dying in a doorway, is enshrined on a plaque which I’m certain few visitors to Dublin ever see.
I was moved to see the building where the Pearse brothers spent their last night of freedom. Sure, as you look at the take-out restaurant at 10 Moore Street, it looks rundown and in need of repair. But the building and that whole block tell the story of the Volunteers’ passion for freedom and love for Ireland.
And, here too, is the building where the severely injured James Connolly was carried from the burning GPO. And it was from 16 Moore Street that the brave nurse, Elizabeth O’Farrell, left under a white flag of truce to discuss terms for surrender with the British army commander.
The Plunkett butcher shop at 16 Moore Street was the last headquarters of the Provisional Government and is a living reminder of those brave men of the GPO Garrison and their leaders, including Tom Clarke, Padraig Pearse and the badly injured James Connolly as they made the painful decision to surrender, with the leaders knowing that surrender likely meant their own deaths.
If walls could talk they would tell the story of the desperation and heartbreak felt by the five Rising leaders who met there, after a week of shelling and fighting and fire at the GPO. Those walls heard those brave men debate their options, whether to continue the fighting or try to avoid further civilian and patriot bloodshed by surrendering. Here was where they made that fateful decision that seemed to mean they had failed, although, in retrospect, the Rising spurred the nation to an independent future.
The garden in the back must have shook with the pain and anguish of the brave Irish Volunteers as they learned that the Revolution, which had begun with such promise on Easter Monday with the declaration of the Irish Republic by Pearse, would now end with his and their surrender to British forces.
Moore Street is just steps away from the Rotunda Hospital where the Irish Volunteers held their first meeting in 1913. In an ironic twist, that same area saw the British forces round up the brave survivors before marching them off, some to prison and some to court martial and firing squad.
History is alive in these houses and stores, and Ireland has the opportunity to create a living memorial, which will draw Irish citizens and tourists to that area of Dublin. The timing is particularly significant, as Ireland approaches the Centennial of Easter Week 1916.
The entire block may, in fact, be in need of revitalization, but its significance as the last outpost of the GPO Garrison and five of the signatories of the Proclamation cannot be overlooked and must be honored. It is simply not the same to just look at a photograph or examine a stone monument. That block and its surrounding laneways have the potential to be a living memorial to the men and women of 1916 who sounded the clarion call for freedom.
Commercial development of that area will destroy what should be a shrine to Ireland’s history, according to the members of “Save Moore Street Dublin”. That group, which has its own Facebook page, is spearheaded by descendants of those executed following the Rising and others who fought in 1916, and is asking the Irish government to declare the area a battlefield. They seek to restore Moore Street and its surrounding laneways as a monument, and they desire to see the entire area preserved so that future generations can understand the battle that took place, the story of retreat and surrender, on the very ground where it happened.
Historic preservation of the area will ensure that the future may learn from the past. And Ireland’s heroes will not be forgotten.