Monday 11 December 2017

Restorations mean centenary will leave a legacy of its own

Key buildings linked to the Rising were renovated as part of the commemorations, writes Paul Melia

Former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrove looks at a picture of his father, WT Cosgrove at the opening of the new GPO Witness history Centre. Photo: Damien Eagers
Former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrove looks at a picture of his father, WT Cosgrove at the opening of the new GPO Witness history Centre. Photo: Damien Eagers
President Michael D Higgins at the Military Archives.
Richmond Barracks.
The Tenement Museum.
At the opening of Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh/ Connemara Visitor Centre, Ros Muc today, Thursday, Cillian de Grás, manager, middle, demonstrates the centre's multimedia aspects to Taoiseach Enda Kenny. On right is Pearse Cottage guide Micheál Ó Meachair. Pic: Seán Ó Mainnín

WHEN the year of commemorations has passed and the events of Easter 1916 fade into memory, what will be left to remind the nation of the struggle for independence?

Central to the year-long Ireland 2016 centenary programme are the "permanent reminders", eight refurbishment projects of historic buildings which were central in the struggle for freedom.

Investment totalling more than €40m was provided. The permanent reminders are designed to leave not just a lasting legacy from the commemorations, but to attract visitors from home and abroad and develop a deeper understanding of life in Ireland 100 years ago, and to illustrate the events of the Rising.

THE TENEMENT MUSEUM

One of the finest Georgian streets in Dublin, Henrietta Street, was developed between 1729 and 1758 and was home to the city's political and social elite. The first known occupant of No 14 was Richard Molesworth, commander-in-chief of the military in Ireland, but by the end of the century the wealthy had fled for the suburbs and the palatial homes were converted to tenements.

In the 1901 and 1911 Census, some 17 families comprising 100 people were recorded as living in Number 14, which will become the Tenement Museum following a €1.5m restoration.

The Stonebreaker's Yard at Kilmainham Gaol.
The Stonebreaker's Yard at Kilmainham Gaol.

Work is currently underway and due for completion in mid-2017, and rooms will be restored as they would have appeared in different periods. First-hand accounts from former residents will be heard, with a dedicated space for temporary exhibitions to provide an insight into the lives of the people of Dublin around the time of 1916.

GPO Witness History

The Witness History centre offers snapshots of life in Dublin, Ireland and the world 100 years ago.

Located on Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street), the GPO was the focal point of the Rising. The first building to be taken over by the rebels, from beneath its portico Pádraig Pearse read the Proclamation which declared Ireland to be an independent sovereign Republic.

The €7m permanent exhibition is designed to appeal to visitors of all ages, who can live through the action with the rebel leaders and the ordinary people of Dublin. There is also a memorial to the 40 children who died during the Rising.

Since it opened at Easter, more than 150,000 people have visited.

Teach an Phiarsaigh/ Pearse's Cottage

The summer residence of Pádraig Pearse, Teach an Phiarsaigh in Connemara has been transformed into a cultural centre.

Pearse first came to Rosmuc in 1903, purchased the plot two years later and the house was completed in 1909. He last visited the three-room cottage in 1915 and the interior was destroyed during the War of Independence. It was handed over to the State in 1943.

Some 10 acres of walks surround the cottage, and the refurbishment was completed in August. The Office of Public Works expected some 7,000 people a year to visit, but numbers are well ahead of projections. To the end of October, some 15,722 had crossed the threshold.

Richmond Barracks

Built between 1810 and 1814 to counter the threat of a French invasion, the refurbished barracks opened on May 2 this year, 100 years after Pádraig Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and Thomas Clarke were court-martialled.

The barracks was home to the Royal Irish Regiment, which engaged in fighting with the Volunteers, and some 3,000 suspected rebels, including 77 women and the seven signatories to the Proclamation, were held there before being incarcerated or sent for execution.

The barracks was handed over to the Free State Army in 1922, with many of the buildings later demolished for housing. Hundreds of tours have been facilitated, and almost 1,400 people visited in October.

The facilities include an audio-visual experience outlining the conditions endured by the imprisoned rebels, and the social history of the area.

Athenaeum, Enniscorthy

Enniscorthy was the only town outside of Dublin to rise during Easter 1916, and on April 27 the Proclamation was read outside the Athenaeum while Cumann na mBan members hoisted the Tricolour above it.

The Volunteers occupied the building, with headquarters established in the billiard room and recruits enrolled in the reading room. Built in 1892, it was also used as a meeting point for the Gaelic League, and both Pádraig Pearse and Seán Mac Diarmada addressed audiences from the stage.

The Wexford Volunteers were the last leaders of any garrison nationwide to surrender.

Military Archives

A much-needed building to host the extensive Military Archives was completed in April at Cathal Brugha Barracks.

The facilities include a new building to store archival material, including the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection, which contains 300,000 files.

An adjoining building, the Old Hospital, was also refurbished to house a conservation laboratory and reading room. The archives contain first-hand witness and Volunteer accounts and are one of the State's most important sources of information on the Rising.

Kilmainham Courthouse and Gaol

Opened in 1796 as a new county gaol for Dublin, the national monument is one of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe and closed in 1924.

Leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867 were detained and executed here. The Easter 1916 leaders were executed by firing squad in the Stonebreakers' Yard.

But it also held thousands of ordinary people over the years, some convicted of offences ranging from stealing food to murder.

Works included developing a new entrance through the adjacent courthouse, and an extensive refurbishment of the gaol. Some 341,000 people visited in the first 10 months of this year.

Kevin Barry Rooms in the National Concert Hall

These rooms were the setting of the treaty ratification debates of the second Dáil, held between December 14, 1921 and January 10, 1922, following the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty in London.

The Kevin Barry Rooms - a series of three interconnecting spaces on the first floor - have undergone an extensive renovation, including soundproofing and installation of new heating systems. They can accommodate 130 concert-goers. An exhibition about Kevin Barry and also the treaty debates is in place.

They form part of the replacement façade built between 1914 and 1919 and designed by RM Butler, who was later Professor of Architecture at UCD. They were originally designed as the council chamber of UCD.

Irish Independent

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