Saturday 25 May 2019

Martina Devlin: 'Moore Street is our Alamo - but its stories are being lost in a squabble over its future'

Living history: Stalls on Dublin’s Moore Street. Photo: Damien Eagers
Living history: Stalls on Dublin’s Moore Street. Photo: Damien Eagers
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Moore Street is so much more than a rundown fruit and vegetable market in the shadow of Dublin's GPO. It is a key Easter Rising battlefield site - here, the leadership made its last stand before reluctantly raising the white flag.

The entire GPO garrison ended up here, evacuated from a burning building that had come under sustained heavy artillery fire. This is an area of immense historic significance - walk these streets and lanes and you encounter the ghosts of our founding fathers and mothers.

Here's the wounded Connolly carried by stretcher; there's The O'Rahilly writing a last letter to his wife as he lies bleeding: "Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street…" Here's the surrender being signed in a butcher's shop to save further loss of civilian life; there's Nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell accompanying Pearse as he formally surrenders his sword to the British.

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Some of the traces of the 1916 Rising can be distinguished on the buildings - gunshot marks, artillery holes, openings to party walls as the Volunteers tunnelled down a row of redbrick houses, hoping to find a way through to join the Four Courts' garrison.

But that's not all that's visible. We see, too, decaying buildings, graffiti-covered walls, garish signs and the remnants of anti-social activity. The fabric of this area is crumbling, its laneways feel unsafe and the main street is a hotchpotch of shops selling everything from fast food to mobile phones, alongside the market stalls.

It is pivotal to our history - to events leading to the State's formation. But would a passerby know it? Not from the 1916 plaque placed so high up on a house that only a giant could read it. What the eye sees here is a blemish on our capital.

Moore Street needs to change. Not everyone is going to like it, but change it must. Currently, it's a battle ground for all the wrong reasons - not because it was Ireland's Alamo, as some say, but due to conflicting views about what to do with it. Save Moore Street, insist some. Certainly. And then what?

It's crying out to be redeveloped as a cultural and historic quarter. Imagination is needed - along with vision, commitment, drive and investment. Naturally, there are many interests to consult. The 1916 Relatives' Association has a legitimate view, as do the Moore Street traders, property owners Hammerson Plc, the Government and Dublin City Council. But it's high time something approaching consensus was reached because such an eyesore is shameful.

The area must be made vibrant, accessible and relevant. For that to happen, people need to accept that nobody will get everything they want, but everyone can get something. Regeneration can happen but the various interest groups need to work together in a constructive fashion.

A row of redbrick houses on Moore Street, some semi-derelict and others used as business premises, has been the source of objections and sit-ins. In the final 24 hours of the Rising, most of the Proclamation signatories punched through party walls from house to house here - "they mouseholed though," as historian Mícheál O Doibhilín of Kilmainham Tales expressed it, giving me a tour a few days ago. But the military had the area sealed too tightly for them to make progress. The Government bought four mid-row houses from Nama to turn into a museum. Numbers 14, 15, 16 and 17 have been designated a national monument. Some relatives of the 1916 combatants want the entire row saved from demolition and preserved because of its last stand resonance - it represents a sum greater than its constituent parts.

In the film 'The Alamo', John Wayne as Davy Crockett tells a woman why he's there. Republic is a beautiful word, he explains. And it is, because it represents an ideal. The Irish Republic was born on these streets.

A High Court judge ruled the entire area was a national monument and the Court of Appeal overturned this judgment last year. What now? Some make a case for the State to take over the street. But that isn't necessarily the best way forward. The State would finance a museum and maybe a cultural centre, but the area would be a ghost ship in the evening.

It needs to be kept vigorous all day long and one way to do that is to develop small shops (not a shopping complex), restaurants, bars and some residential space, along with a cultural element. Business and social elements can be combined with the cultural and historic.

Slow though the pace is, some progress may be happening. The Government set up the Moore Street Advisory Group which is in direct contact with Hammerson, the property owner - the latter says it is not intending to do another Ilac Centre but plans a mixed-use development. A planning application will go in later.

A more attractive streetscape, with a pedestrianised zone, would be a start. A public space is a must. Above all, alongside commercial and social activity, it needs a memorial trail to lead people into the story of 1916. Moore Street has stories to tell. The sword-wielding O'Rahilly leading a suicide charge against British machine guns, trying to prepare the way for the leadership. The GPO garrison evacuating along Henry Place to Moore Street, punching into number 10 through the side door. Nurse O'Farrell leaving from number 15 and walking up the street with a white flag to offer the surrender.

The entire quarter has enormous potential and cannot be left to continue decaying. But it will not be saved by argument and counter-argument. Vision is what will rescue it.

Irish Independent

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