independent

Monday 19 November 2018

Rising exhibition at Dublin's GPO gets my stamp of approval

Anne Campbell - Dundalk View

It's not often that I get invited anywhere and when I do, more often than not, I'm unable to go because of work or family commitments. So it was fortuitous in the extreme that I happened to be on annual leave last Tuesday when An Post and Shannon Heritage, the operators of the new museum at Dublin's GPO, invited a representative of this parish to come along for a 'press preview' of the €10 million extravaganza.

'Put me down for that', I told the bossman here the week before. 'No better woman for a squizzle around the GPO and 1916'. I was really excited about it and was the first person in the door, much to the surprise of the PR company who had organised the preview of the GPO Witness History visitor attraction. The other journalists arrived on time and after the introductions, we were treated to a short talk from Aline FitzGerald from Shannon Heritage who gave a flavour of what we were about to see.

She said: 'The centrepiece is an immersive, semi-circular, audio visual feature which puts visitors right at the centre of the events of Easter Week, giving them a bird's eye view of events unfolding across the city'.

In addition, the entertaining and plain-speaking Anna McHugh, from An Post's Corporate Communications, revealed some gems including the fact that the GPO is the oldest, fully operational post office in the world. The land was first acquired in 1800, with the magnificent building opening in 1814.

There are 900 people working in the O'Connell Street building dealing with everything from savings accounts to the business of post and parcels. Around seven million euro was secured from government for the major project which included the complete refurbishment of a first floor inner courtyard (more of that later).

The Witness History exhibition is the culmination of more than five years of planning and hard work by a wide variety of experts including historians, architects, construction, design and IT specialists.

Inside the exhibition space, which is downstairs, the room becomes authentic with the sounds of battle raging. It's not too loud, but it's there, reminding you of the context in which the Rising took place. There are interesting display cases with some artefacts and some nice touches that explore the social history of the time. Many of the exhibits are interactive and many would appeal to young minds.

But it is the amazing video that is the star. Usually I can't be bothered with videos at exhibitions, however, this one is worth every single second. Produced by Martell Media, it puts you at the heart of the GPO command centre during Easter Week and gives you an overview of the events around the city as the Rising unfolded. It's part live action, part computer animation and the soundtrack is unbelievable. It's pulsating, exciting, moving and inspiring in the space of less than 20 minutes.

It's the best video about the Rising I have ever seen and is worth the entry fee alone. I'm not ashamed to say I had tears in my eyes. The second part of the exhibition is upstairs and features a stunning memorial to the 40 children who were killed by bullets during Easter Week by artist Barbara Knezevic in the inner courtyard. We were told that when the artist got the commission, she was asked where she would source the stones or rocks to represent the children and, in true artistic style, said the stones would 'come to her'. An acquaintance of hers in Meath got in touch to say he had the perfect things - rocks from the demolished Jacob's Factory he'd been storing for years. The stones did indeed find her.

There is plenty to see this Easter related to 1916. We will never have this time again. GPO Witness History opens on March 29 and costs €10 for adults, €7.50 for kids at booking at gpowitnesshistory.ie.

Irish Independent

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