Wednesday 18 October 2017

Custom House offers up its secrets for 1916 anniversary

Sean Hogan, principal in the Department of Environment at the Custom House. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Sean Hogan, principal in the Department of Environment at the Custom House. Picture: Caroline Quinn
The photograph of Patrick Fetherston taken shortly before he was shot and killed during the 1916 Rising
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Not even allowed a drink of water, food or to have any wounds attended to, up to 200 people were imprisoned in the courtyard at the Custom House in Dublin during the 1916 Rising - in a forgotten chapter in the life of one of the capital's architectural gems.

The James Gandon masterpiece, completed in 1791, served as one of the strongholds of the British Army during the events of that Easter week and was subsequently razed during the War of Independence.

Closed to the public for many years, the Visitor Centre at the landmark will reopen today until April 3 as part of the 1916 Commemorations.

Not on view to the public, however, is one startling and little-known feature of the iconic building - the murky prison cells with heavy iron doors which served a purpose now long forgotten.

John McCarthy, secretary general of the Department, said they were delighted to be able to make the building accessible to the public once again in this centenary year, with an exhibition exploring a number of themes of 1916 - including the weather of Easter Week.

Mairead Treanor, librarian at Met Éireann, revealed that conditions had been unusually warm for the time of year, with temperatures hitting 17.8C.

This gave rise to the term "rebellion weather".

A poignant photograph in the exhibition shows a child, Patrick Fetherston, playing in the rubble of 1916. Subsequently shot and killed in the Rising, his grand-nephew, Larry Fetherston now works at the Department of the Environment at the Custom House.

Further links are also established - such as the keeping of 200 prisoners in the courtyard, whose ordeal improved after the Royal Irish Rifles from Belfast were relieved by an Australian Unit - which "acted in quite a decent fashion".

Another portion of the exhibition deals with the notorious fire of 1921 and the extensive rebuilding programme undertaken by the fledgling State.

Sean Hogan, principal adviser at the Department of the Environment, explained that some of the firefighters sent in to tackle the blaze were members of the IRA and acted covertly in getting men and weapons out of the building as well as actively spreading the fire.

The dome, destroyed in the blaze, was originally built with limestone from Dorset in England was patriotically replaced with slightly darker limestone from Co Meath in order to keep the jobs in Ireland, which explains the marked difference in colour which endures even today.

Irish Independent

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