Tuesday 22 October 2019

Retailers resilient in wake of Rising

Dublin stores - including Arnotts, where Pádraig Pearse closed his account before the rebellion - were quick to lure customers back with big adverts and great bargains

A style revolution: Constance Markievicz poses in her rebel attire.
A style revolution: Constance Markievicz poses in her rebel attire.

Bairbre power

In his preparation for the Easter Rising, Pádraig Pearse had a number of chores, not least of which was to go in and close his account at Arnotts of Henry Street. Open since 1843, the store was named after Scottish-Irish entrepreneur Sir John Arnott, who served three times as Lord Mayor of Cork and represented Kinsale in the House of Parliament.

Pearse, like other gentlemen professionals of his time, had an account at the store.

There is correspondence between Pearse and the store in 1915, sent from his school at St Enda's. As headmaster, he made full use of the department store for supplies.

In a letter dated Friday, May 5 - the first day of trade since the Rising began on April 24 - Arnotts company secretary Henry Beater notes: "Pearse, the president of Irish Republic (shot) was in my office above two years ago about his a/c."

Indeed, for the Easter Rising, Constance Markievicz kitted out her Irish Citizen Army colleagues with uniforms bought at the shop, which was one of several leading stores in Dublin at the time.

Other big retail names included Brown Thomas and Switzers on Grafton Street, Clerys on Sackville Street, McBirney's on the quays as well as Todd Burns on Mary Street and Pim Brothers on South Great George's Street.

Clerys was one of the first department stores in Europe and had its origins in the 'Palatial Mart' of McSwiney, Delaney & Company from 1853. Men and women travelled from all over the country to the Sackville Street store and their marketing abilities at the time were impressive.

Their adverts on the front page of the Irish Independent were punchy and dynamic in those first few days and weeks of April 1916 as excitement grew about the upcoming Irish Grand National and the opportunity to get dressed up for the races.

In an advert in the newspaper on April 5, 1916, Clerys were showcasing their all-wool knitted sports coats with sashes from 22/6 shillings to 29/6 shillings.

On April 6, Roberts of Grafton Street were wooing customers, promising "Smart for the Races" wear with "delightful novelties", tailored millinery, gowns, costumes and taffeta frocks.

"Inspection was cordially invited" by O'Reilly's of South Great George's Street, who offered customers hats in fancy silk, plait-trimmed with shaded roses and ribbon bows, for 12/11.

Rowans of the same street advertised "matron's dressy coats in Peau de Soir, moire silk and poplin and fine coating in serge and smart tweeds from two to six guineas".

On the Wednesday before Easter 1916, Clerys ran a big advert for reindeer gloves for 3/11, while around the corner, O'Reilly & Co on North Earl Street, were selling taffeta turbans and Dolly Varden hats - a flat, straw-style hat trimmed with flowers named after Dolly Varden, a character from Charles Dickens's 1839 historical novel Barnaby Rudge.

The store also reached out to fashion-conscious shoppers with the promise of "costumes in serge, whipcords and gabardine".

Eustace Brothers, of Cork Street and Aungier Street, offered mourning dyeing, men wore Tipperary collars available from HE Taaffe at Upper Sackville Street and parents were encouraged to buy Calvert's carbolic tooth powder for their children.

Several family-owned stores we know in Dublin today were in business in 1916, such as the furriers Barnardo, still in the same location opposite the Provost's House at Trinity, at the bottom of Grafton Street. In an advert placed in the Irish Independent on April 11, Barnardo offered flared race coats for 27/6.

Brereton, the jewellers, opened on Capel Street in 1916 and ladies of the time wore Victorian jewellery and styles favoured by the then monarch, who had a soft spot for Whitby Jet pieces.

Some women of the time wore 'Regard' rings, which were made up of stones spelling out the word, so there was a row with a ruby followed by emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and, finally, a diamond.

Others carried a symbol of affection, such as brooch containing their loved one's hair, but as 1916 rolled in, there was a move towards more curved, flowing shapes from the Art Nouveau movement and the jewellery featured gemstones like pearls, moonstones and opals.

Constance Markievicz threw off her grandeur and jewels to be an active leader of the Irish Citizen Army. Indeed, she sold some of her jewellery to fuel her passion and feed Dublin's hungry after the 1913 Lockout.

The rebel Countess was second in command at the College of Surgeons and during her imprisonment in Kilmainham Gaol, she wove a small bag, which used to be on display at the museum at Glasnevin Cemetery. The dainty fringing and needlepoint was apparently made with the help of porridge oats, which she used to stiffen the yarn. Photographs of Countess Markievicz (nee Gore Booth) are striking, not least because they were of such good quality. A 1915 studio shot shows her in her Citizen Army garb posing with a gun. There are earlier portraits of her with her daughter Maeve and her stepson. The most stunningly beautiful is the 1908 portrait of her in a long lace gown taken at her last ball at Dublin Castle.

When asked if she liked attending balls in the castle, she famously replied: "No, I want to blow it up."

One thing ladies of the time would have been happy to see the back of were the 'Hobble' skirts, which had a narrow hem to impede the woman from walking quickly. Luckily, this was a short-lived fad.

Hemlines were certainly going up and the silhouette offered more freedom, which suited the women of the Citizen Army. Higher hems meant you might see a glimpse of their stockings and, interestingly, most of them were made of the finest silk, sea cotton and lisle-polished cotton, too. Stockings worn by many of the women of Europe were made in Balbriggan, north Dublin. Queen Victoria is said to have loved her Balbriggan hose made at Smyth & Co in the town and other fans included the Empress of Austria.

Allison Byrne, costume designer on RTÉ's Rebellion, says the period is really "fascinating" from a fashion point of view "because it is right on the cusp of the liberation". Ladies were waving goodbye to restrictive corsetry and welcoming a looser, more billowing style of clothing.

"Every lady at the time would have a hat and would try and have a pair of gloves. You couldn't really go out properly without that," says Allison.

"In the tenements, there would have been a lot of sharing so if there was someone with a really important occasion, they would have all chipped in. They would have passed around a good blouse, or hat, or feather for the hat."

This was the period of endangered species and there was actually an act passed in the House of Commons to try and protect some of the birds, in particular the ospreys because their plumage was a favourite with ladies wanting to look beautiful, Allison explains.

In Seán O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars, Nora Clitheroe, wife of Jack, a bricklayer and member of the Irish Citizen Army, is accused of having "pretensions of grandeur" by Mrs Gogan when a box arrives with a new hat from Arnotts.

Indeed, some of the letters to the papers after the Easter Rising complained that women were seen out on the street without hats and gloves.

As for Constance Markievicz, her fashion advice to her comrades in the Citizen Army was simple: "Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver."

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