Tuesday 24 April 2018

Sunshine and gur cake bring era of Rising to life

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

There came a moment when the crowd seemed to stretch out a collective hand and grab history by the tail, alive and wriggling, and finally make sense of it all.

It came as the band struck up 'A Nation Once Again' and practically the whole of O'Connell Street joined in to roar the chorus, unbidden, unrehearsed but wonderfully united in a good auld 'come-all-ye' under glorious sunshine.

These are the kind of uplifting scenes that bypass politics of any description and can never be scripted.

Even President Michael D Higgins seized the opportunity to have a small moment of freedom, taking a brief stroll through the streets - again unscripted - from the Abbey Theatre up to Wynn's Hotel, startling a group of French people who recognised him from photographs.

Maybe the good mood was 80pc weather-related but, regardless, historian Diarmaid Ferriter described the day as the point when the Irish people finally engaged with the 1916 Rising commemorations in a meaningful way.

Certainly this was shown in the sheer numbers who had flocked to the Road to the Rising event, organised by RTÉ and Dublin City Council.

Dancing in front the GPO on O’Connell Street watched by a large crowd
Dancing in front the GPO on O’Connell Street watched by a large crowd
Sarah Daly and Dara Dowling, both from Glasnevin, in period costume
Heather Roche from Dublin and Deirdre DeBurca from Limerick on O’Connell Street for RTÉ’s Road to the Rising

The historic thoroughfare in the capital, pedestrianised for the day, was thronged with easily close to 100,000 people, who came throughout the day to sample life in 1915 Dublin and take in some historical lectures.

For some, this may have been considered the last year of peace for almost a decade, with a country subsequently riven by the Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

But it was also really the final year of an Ireland firmly under the iron shackles of British rule.

So while we could enjoy the sights and sounds of a bumper 'Bloomsday' extravaganza with an Edwardian bride and groom sipping champagne outside the GPO, a hugely enjoyable whirl on the carousel and a rather less enthusiastic sampling of authentic gur cake - made from stale bread and raisins soaked in strong tea - it was all with a touch of guilty consciousness that life certainly wasn't a bed of roses in Ireland before, during or after 1915.

The gur cake reminded Teresa Gallagher (78), from Drumcondra, of the continued hardships of the 1940s.

"Oh, we used to have it," she said.

"My mother was a great cook and would bake up a huge pan of it. There was nothing else."

Young Aidan Licken (10), from Artane, was dressed in period-style tweed shorts, which he enjoyed despite feeling that they would not be appropriate attire for playing football in.

At the tented village, hairdresser Maureen Smith was juggling curlers for a glamorous 'do while lamenting the fact that there wasn't another hairdresser to help her out.

Tourist Giovanna Giovanetti from Uruaguy was blown away by the spectacle. "I was not expecting this," she said.

Inside the GPO, Whytes auctioneers were doing valuations of 1916 memorabilia.

Sheena Bourke from Dublin brought in artefacts of Capuchin priest Fr Albert Bibby, who gave the last rites at Kilmainham Gaol to many 1916 leaders, only to be exiled to the USA by his superiors because of his political beliefs.

The event was a dry-run for the centenary, organisers admitted.

And if that's the case, better plant a deck chair outside the GPO now because it's going to be epic.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News