1916 row explodes as An Post claims 'there are no bullet holes in GPO wall'
JEROME REILLY FOR nearly 100 years they have come from all over the world to stand and stare at the bullet holes that scar the GPO.
And even yesterday tourists were trying to focus their digital cameras to photograph those potent symbols of the Irish nation's violent birth.
But now it looks as though every tourist guide, history website and all those bar-stool republicans who pontificate about the 1916 Rising are wrong.
Those perfectly round holes that pockmark the columns of the Rising Headquarters may not be bullet holes at all. It is the first time that doubt has been cast on the veracity of what has been accepted as solid fact for most of the last century.
Every schoolchild was taught that the marks left by bullets fired by the hated British oppressor as they stamped out rebellion were still visible.
Along with St Patrick driving out snakes, the bullet holes at the GPO was an irrefutable truth.
But a simple enquiry sparked by recent scaffolding erected around the Francis Johnston designed building brought an astonishing claim.
Asked if the "bullet holes" were going to be filled by workmen during restoration work the An Post spokeswoman said the holes were not caused by bullets.
And An Post's Anna McHugh presented a convincing argument which has found support from one of Dublin's leading historians.
Now the Office of Public Works (OPW), which controls the GPO, is promising further investigations.
An Post confirmed that the work at the GPO being conducted by Public Works staff was merely a gentle cleaning.
"Anyway, it has always been understood in An Post that they were not bullet holes. Remember, the GPO was effectively destroyed in 1916 and was then rebuilt - not re-opening until 1929.
"Since then there's been climate changes, acid rain, pollution damage and simple weather erosion. There has been substantial renovation and rebuilding work on a number of occasions since 1929. The biggest renovation took place in the Seventies.
"During that renovation it was discovered that the three statues on top of the GPO, Hibernia, representing Ireland, Mercury (the Messenger) and Fidelity were very badly damaged indeed. In fact no discernible features were evident they were so badly eroded."
Ms McHugh said there was bullet damage visible on those statues, but they had to be rebuilt and a mould taken from them before they were put back in place in the Seventies.
During the 1916 Rising the GPO was just half its current size.
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916 the GPO was occupied by the rebellion leaders and Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation.
The Helga, a gunship, arrived in Dublin and field-guns at Trinity College kept up continuous shelling - virtually destroying the GPO and the surrounding areas.
By Friday the GPO was engulfed in flames and Pearse gave the order to surrender. At the heroic end, 450 were
SEE JOHN SMITH
dead and more than 2,500 were wounded.
Ironically the GPO had just been rebuilt before the Rising and some felt that Connolly chose it as a headquarters because he believed the British would not fire on O'Connell Street destroying valuable commercial property. He was wrong.
Leading Dublin historian and Conservationist Pat Liddy, who has written eight books about the capital, says that he always treated the "bullet" holes claims as questionable.
As well as the the extent of the damage to the GPO, mostly caused by artillery and incendiaries, Mr Liddy said that the bullet holes just seemed "too perfect".
"The British were armed with powerful high calibre rifles which I am quite sure would have caused 'splinter' damage rather than perfectly round bullet holes.
"I am sure there is damage caused by bullets still on the GPO, but it's in the form of shatter marks and rough-edged blasts, rather than neat holes, I believe."
Mr Liddy said he was aware of genuine bullet holes at two locations around the city - on a statue inside City Hall caused by a musket round in 1798 and the bullet holes on the "winged victories" at the base of the O'Connell Monument from 1916.
A spokesman for the OPW said that further investigations were being conducted. "Basic cleaning of the building is continuing. There is no question of holes being filled - no matter what caused them."
But the claims have angered Lorcan Collins, who runs daily 1916 Walking Tours and is co-author, with Conor Kostick, of The Easter Rising (O'Brien Press).
Collins was adamant that there are genuine marks from the Rising which are still visible in the walls of the post office.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the GPO is riddled with bullet holes from the 1916 Rising. Not only that, there are also much larger scars on the columns and on the walls which are the result of constant British artillery fire.
"I have been showing people around the sites of the Easter Rising for the past 10 years as a guide on the 1916 Walking Tour. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the British Army were positioned directly across the road from the GPO. In fact they were positioned just over O'Connell Bridge on the south-side of the Liffey.
"They had two 18-pounders which shelled the Metropole Hotel, next door to the GPO, into a pile of rubble. There was also a British sniper in McBirneys on Aston Quay with a height advantage which enabled him to strike well into Sackville Street.
"Coupled with this we must remember that the British also had machine guns which were peppering the area around the GPO with bullets. In fact it is quite laughable to suggest that there is any suspicion that there are no bullet holes in the GPO.
"For those who maintain that the bullets could not have penetrated so far up Sackville Street, perhaps they would like to explain how James Connolly was wounded outside the GPO," Mr Collins said.
One question remains. If the holes were not caused by bullets what did actually cause the damage?