Commemorations and celebrations… The GPO, 1916 and all that… March 27, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics.
I missed the Easter Sunday parade on O’Connell Street this year. To be honest I didn’t hear about it until too late, and I got the sense that it was fairly unpublicised. This was confirmed, at least slightly, by the report on RTÉ before the event that the Gardai were expecting 5,000 spectators. Considering that the Easter parade, which I remember seeing as a very young child, went AWOL during the Troubles one wonders is it as a response to the continuing issues with the Peace Process that it remains low key. And yet I don’t see why it shouldn’t be seen as an entirely valid part of our history and commemorative traditions.
That said there was a certain degree of pathos about the fly past (which I did catch as the four Air corps – count ’em, four – propeller trainer aircraft looped out towards Fairview after storming across O’Connell Street. Time for a few fast jet squadrons. Or, if not that, how about beefing up the number of our coastguard aircraft. This is after all an island with an extensive shoreline and surrounding territorial waters.
Anyhow, on foot of all this there was an interesting article in the Irish Times about how the GPO may become setting for presidential inaugurations.
Franks McDonald, the IT Environment Editor (and surely one of the few remaining outposts of the ancien regime at the IT) writes that
THE GPO in Dublin may become the setting for future presidential inaugurations, following its transformation to accommodate a museum commemorating the 1916 Rising.
Plans being drawn up by architects in the Office of Public Works (OPW) envisage demolishing part of the building to create a glazed courtyard to the rear, two-thirds the size of the Upper Yard of Dublin Castle.
Apparently its current layout is not appropriate for such usage. And that…
The two existing courtyards within the GPO are “rather mean”, according to a spokesman, so the plan is to demolish the cross-block between them and create a much more impressive civic space.
It get’s better…
Beneath this courtyard, there would be a vast concourse – “something like the Louvre [ in Paris] rather than Clery’s basement” – which would be accessible from the front and sides of the building.
Let’s conjure with that thought a moment or two. “Something like the Louvre”… Okay. Sounds good. I’ve been there. But it is the second comment that I like… “rather than Clery’s basement”. No doubt that had their shareholders sputtering their morning coffee across the table when they read it, but really. Who would seek to compare a ‘vast concourse’ with ‘Clery’s basement’?
The concept being worked on is to retain the existing post office, but reconfigure it to create a processional route from the neoclassical portico on O’Connell Street to the courtyard and concourse.
“This could become the ‘front room of the nation’ within a building that’s central to the foundation of the State,” the OPW spokesman said. “It could even be used for presidential inaugurations.”
I think that may be a bit of a stretch, and one wonders if this is the spokesman talking or has it been thought about a bit more deeply elsewhere? Well perhaps since they seem to be fairly clued up on the matter…
Traditionally, presidents have been inaugurated in St Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle, “with 500 people crammed in, so it would be lovely to have these ceremonies in a space that could accommodate 2,000”.
I think the symbolism might be most interesting. It’s not as if the GPO isn’t even as it stands a bit more contentious than many consider. After all, the iconic site of the rebirth of Irish Republicanism and/or Nationalism (depending on taste) was a very British building indeed. Now I can talk about the mutability of such symbols – go take a look at who introduced the harp as a state emblem – and I have. But if one has even a passing acquaintance with the imagery used by the state in the first fifty odd years of its existence one will know that the GPO became something of a substitute signifier of Republicanism, to the point that Leinster House, the actual site of a sovereign independent Irish parliament was almost never depicted. No surprise there. The revolution was truncated and delayed in the context of partition. The present was less happy than a past which was bright with optimism despite the seeming defeat at the GPO and a future which would see an entirely new dispensation (and arguably no Leinster House).
So in a way this suggestion hearkens back to that. And I suspect quite a few people might find that a somewhat threatening proposition. Nationalist feeling has never been entirely trusted by our indigenous elites, hence the disappearance of our Easter Parade, indeed perhaps too a subtext that has led to a sort of de facto pacifism and dearmanent as regards our military affairs (although in fairness that approach has entirely sincere roots in other places). The idea that a President of the Republic of Ireland will be inaugerated at the GPO seems to me to be hugely unlikely. Still, we’ll see. Meanwhile the GPO redevelopment promises to be eye-catching…
The proposed concourse beneath the courtyard would be a large, column-free exhibition space similar to the central concourse of the Louvre museum, with roof lights above to flood it with natural light.
And we also get, and this makes considerable sense:
…a 1916 museum… it would contain a philately museum and possibly also a museum of Dublin. A working group headed by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is examining the options.
The National Museum is advising on the content of the 1916 museum, which is likely to be broader than the Rising itself and its aftermath, but it is likely that professional exhibition designers will also be involved.
Erm… yes, I’m sure the National Museum could supply some expertise on that front, but anyhow. Although reading the above that does seem like and extraordinary number of museums being located there.
Generally I think the redevelopment of O’Connell Street has been reasonably good. The wider pavements and central island are a significant improvement. I’m one of those who liked the Spire and I think the general aspect of the street is better (and having an interesting effect in aiding the already on-going regeneration of Parnell Street as well). That it still acts as a central hub for traffic is problematic. There’s little as effective as a phalanx of buses to drag the look of a street down, and pedestrianisation would be a good step forward, but that’s presumably an impossible dream. Clearing the relatively low volumes of private cars off it would be no harm.
Nor does it mean that the GPO will lose its original function….
The proposal to demolish the cross-block, which is located halfway between the front of the building and the GPO arcade, means that many of An Post’s 1,000 staff will have to relocate to other offices.
However, the OPW spokesman emphasised that the GPO would continue to house the “headquarters function” of An Post as well as the post office, which dates from 1814 and was rebuilt in the 1920s.
And how soon is this coming on-line?
The sketch scheme they are preparing is expected to be presented to the Cabinet in May, with a view to getting approval to proceed to planning application stage and finish the building work by 2013.
Why just in time for the 1916- 2016 commemorations!