Visitors arrived from the hometown yesterday, so an itinerary was required. It was just a day-trip so this was not too taxing a proposition. With my explorations of Dublin to date this year, I had a bank of options to choose from.
However with my dull cunning, I realised that I could pick a place that I had heretofore missed. There’s plenty on in town. Despite my best efforts, I have only scratched the surface of the cultural and historical events around the city.
This year being the centenary year of the 1916 Rising, there is a plethora of exhibitions and displays commemorating the initially failed, but ultimately victorious revolt. As it was largely a Dublin event, I thought that my visitors might enjoy seeing some of the places that had been involved.
My best laid plans.
After their early arrival there followed three hours of tea-drinking and catching up. At a certain point, we decided that as they were on the 6pm train back to Limerick, that we needed to haul our bones and hit the streets.
We headed to Le Bon Crubeen on Talbot Street – a restaurant that I have known the name of, for many years. While reading the recommendations for the place, on the menu card, I understood why I recognised it. Idly staring out the window I saw the Independent House building. This is the home to Independent Group newspapers. All the glowing reviews were from Independent journalists. Many a boozy lunch and soiree has been enjoyed by the writers, in this place, I would suspect.
For a change, I agreed with the Sunday Independent writers. It’s a cosy little place. Pleasant lighting, friendly staff. And the food was divine. My plate of sea trout on spinach, with chunky chips to the side was glorious. The portion size was decent – not a tiny island of food with frills, on a plate the size of a satellite dish, but not excessive either. No apres-meal siesta was needed.
We strolled up the street in the direction of the Spire on O’Connell Street. Our destination – the General Post Office. This imposing building was the site where the Rising was initiated. On Easter Monday 1916, the rebels stormed the building, occupied it, and raised the Irish flag, replacing the Union Jack. Other strategic buildings around the city were seized, and for about a week the rebels held the buildings, and declared an independent Irish Republic.
Faced with the might of British artillery, the revolution was doomed to failure. Had the British authorities, not decided to execute the ringleaders, life would have carried on as normal. Ireland had revolted against British rule many times in the past. All occasions were quashed mercilessly. However by executing the young, passionate rebel leaders, they turned the largely apathetic Irish population against the status quo. The stage was now set. Over the next few years, a bitter divorce war was fought. Until in 1922 Ireland was partitioned and the Irish Free State was formed.
The GPO still functions as a post office. And also a tourist destination. There are guided tours every few hours. That seemed like just the ticket.
But as it was so crowded, instead we had a look at the Lego re-enactment of the events one hundred years ago. Fifty thousand pieces assembled over the space of two years, it is an impressive piece of work.
As my plan to do the historical tour of the GPO had been so cruelly thwarted by the tourists, I decided that plan B needed to be called into action.
The ‘Revolution 1916’ exhibition in the old Ambassador Theatre at the top of O’Connell Street is running for eight months this year. I pass it on the way to my bus, each morning. I had no overwhelming desire to see it.
But needs must. We entered, to be greeted by a woman dressed in a Cumann na mBan (The Irishwomen’s Council) uniform. She was engrossed in her iPhone. Looking slightly startled she rearranged herself and greeted us. We paid our tickets – a saucy 12 euro, and she gave us the spiel about the exhibition. Off we went.
The Ambassador is a beautiful building. Built as part of the Rotunda hospital in 1764, it was originally an assembly hall, before being converted into a cinema in 1897. In 1999 it became a live music venue. And from 2008 it has been an event space. It has sweeping arched ceilings, and would seem to be an ideal place for a 1916 commemoration – steeped as it is, in the history of Dublin.
The exhibition itself however, was utterly diabolical. Cheap, nasty, ill thought out, plastic. Clearly it was hastily assembled as a cash-in for this year.
It featured original and replica uniforms worn by the rebel groups, and British soldiers at the time. So what, I thought.
Paintings of the leaders of, and events in, the revolution didn’t actually reveal their names or the backstory. And even to my untrained eye, they lacked any artistic merit.
The family life and origins of the participants covered the walls. In specific detail. I can read that on Wikipedia if I am so inclined.
The video giving the background to Easter Monday, could barely be heard because of the sound effects coming from the room next door.
The information cards were encased in laminated plastic and held in place using sellotape. The statue of the raising of the Irish flag was made from papier mache.
The replica of the cell where Padraig Pearse was held in Kilmainham Gaol, and the yard where he was shot was utterly pointless. What’s the need for this, when you can actually see the original up in Kilmainham?
Most egregious however, were the spelling mistakes in the text. Who was this Sean Hueston, of whom they spoke? Did they mean Sean Heuston – rebel leader for whom Heuston Station was renamed in 1966? Where is Monalena in Limerick? Shouldn’t that be Monaleen?
Distinctly underwhelmed we made our exit. I popped into the Gents, to spend a penny on the way out. The stench was rancid. The toilet was missing a seat. This final insult seemed very simpatico with the entire space.
‘Revolution 1916’ is on in the Ambassador Theatre until October 16th.
Don’t go see it.