Europe, Ireland

Dublin’s historically politicized buildings

No Comments 8 August 2010

Dublin’s historically politicized buildings

Central Dublin is awash with monumental buildings intrinsically linked to Ireland’s independence struggle. In these photos from his 2002 visit, the Monkey explores some of Dublin’s political architecture.


GPO, Dublin, Ireland
The Monkey visits Dublin’s General Post Office (GPO). It was here that on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, the Easter Rising against British control of Ireland was launched. One of the leaders of the rebellion, Padraig Pearse, issued the “Proclamation from the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland” at the GPO, which served as the rebel headquarters. The uprising was doomed from the start, as arms shipments destined for the rebels outside Dublin had been intercepted by the British, and so only Dublin’s volunteers were in any real position to confront the British militarily. The GPO was the site of fierce fighting, and British shelling caused fires that left considerable damage; even today bullet holes are still visible in the facade. In the end, the rebellion was crushed in five days.

While the public’s initial reaction to the rising, whose leaders were mostly semi-obscure intellectuals, was more one of surprise and shock than of support, that situation changed dramatically as the British systematically rounded up and executed the rebel leaders (only one, Eamon de Valera, was spared, as he was a U.S. citizen. He would remain a major figure in Irish national politics for decades). Another, James Connolly, was badly wounded during the rising and had to be tied to a chair to face the firing squad. When news of the executions spread, the Easter Rising’s leaders became martyrs for the cause of Irish nationalism. As Irish writer Sean O’Faolain put it, “The leaders, alive, had very few supporters even among the Irish patriots; dead, they became and have remained their country’s heroes.”

The GPO was restored by 1929 and again serves as a post office.

Bank of Ireland building, Dublin, Ireland
The Monkey poses on a fancy lamp post in central Dublin across from the Bank of Ireland building. Erected from 1729 to 1739 by architect Edward Pearse, the building was not a bank to begin with, but rather the first purpose-built Parliament in the world. Inspired by the U.S. war of independence, some of British-ruled Ireland’s Protestant elites sought to distance themselves from the direct rule of London. In 1782, they gained British acceptance for a Dublin Parliament that, while remaining subservient to the British Crown, would practice a form of self-government in Ireland. This Dublin Parliament met in what is today’s Bank of Ireland building.

During its short existence, the Dublin Parliament began repealing the oppressive Penal Laws that severely disadvantaged the Catholic majority in favor of the Protestant descendants of Oliver Cromwell’s 17th Century colonial campaign in Ireland, which had expelled native Irish (Catholic) farmers from their lands and “planted” Protestant settlers in their place. Before the Dublin Parliament went much further, London decided to cut self-government short following the 1798 uprising of Irish nationalist hero Wolfe Tone. Tone, a Dublin Protestant, drew together Catholics, Protestants and others in a nationalist movement called the United Irishmen. Their uprising was put down by the British, and by 1800 London felt it was prudent to snuff out the new nationalism in Ireland, in part by having the Dublin Parliament vote itself out of existence. This was accomplished through a variety of bribes, pressures, and corruptions, and in 1801 the Act of Union brought Ireland fully back into the fold of the British Empire. Of course, many later uprisings would prove that Irish nationalism was far from finished.

The Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland
By the River Liffey, the Monkey inspects the Georgian elegance of the French Huguenot architect James Gandon’s Four Courts. Built in 1796 to house the four high courts of Ireland, the building was severely damaged during the Irish Civil War of 1921-22 when it was shelled by Michael Collins’ Pro-Treaty forces. Carefully restored, the Four Courts is again the seat of the Irish judiciary and a landmark building in Dublin.

Customs House, Dubline, Ireland
James Gandon, the architect of the Four Courts, also designed the impressive Custom House, another of Dublin’s Georgian masterpieces. Built between 1781 and 1791, despite its architectural beauty the Custom House was, in practical terms, an unpopular symbol of the British colonial apparatus in Ireland. During the Civil War, IRA combatants set a fire in the building that , according to Archeire, “blazed for five days, destroying a huge quantity of public records. The heat was so intense that the dome melted and the stonework was still cracking because of cooling five months later and Gandon’s interior was completely destroyed.” After the Civil War, the Custom House was rebuilt and restored, and now serves as the offices of the Department of the Environment. Here the Monkey takes in the facade of the Custom House along the Liffey.

Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland
The Monkey sits in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. Dating from the 13th Century, most of the Castle was built in the 18th Century and served as the seat of British rule in Ireland. Today, the Irish government uses it for a variety of purposes, like hosting state dinners, inter-governmental summits, and visits by foreign dignitaries. Below street level, excavations have revealed remains of a Viking fortress dating from Dublin’s earliest days.



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Ireland

   FAST FACTS


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Population:

4,156,119 (2008)

Land area:

68,890 sq. km.

Capital:

Dublin (pop: 495,781; 2005)

Economy:

In 2006, Ireland ranked 8th in the UNDP Human Development Index and 29th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $52,892.89. Public debt accounts for 24.9 percent of total GDP, while 7 percent of Irish are beneath the poverty line.

Main language(s):

English, Gaelic

Monkey's name:

The Monkey, Ap (Ah-p)

Fun fact:

Ireland’s 1845-1850 potato famine is an infamous historical tragedy that resulted in some one million deaths and mass emigration. But it is also a travesty. While a blight did wipe out potato crops, a staple food of the Irish peasant, Ireland’s farms still produced sufficient food to feed the population. Unfortunately, much of that food was exported to Britain by colonial landlords. Thus the suffering caused by a natural disaster was augmented by profit-oriented human decisions—an unfortunate trend that continues around the world today.



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