The archaeology 1916 is as much about repair and rebuilding as it is about damage and destruction. The material legacy of the Rising extends beyond bullet strikes and broken party walls to quietly restored facades and new buildings emerging from gutted ruins. Nowhere is this more evident that on O’Connell Street.
On Easter Wednesday morning, as the Helga glided up the Liffey, the first shells began to fall on the iconic street. Volunteer outposts were soon under sustained fire from British Army posts at Trinity and at Independent House, D’Olier Street. On Thursday, the Imperial Hotel was shelled, and fires broke out on the eastern side of the street; Hopkins, the Dublin Bread Company, and the rest of the block as far as Middle Abbey Street was set ablaze and the fire soon spread to Wynne’s Hotel and the Royal Hibernian Academy. Hoyte’s Drug Hall, near the Imperial Hotel on Lower O’Connell Street, ignited dramatically in a ball of flames; the highly flammable oils and chemical creating a deadly spectacle .
The western side of the street suffered less. The block between Middle Abbey Street and the Quays (Nos 45-56) remains largely intact, although a number of the buildings have been subsequently redeveloped. At the end of this row, overlooking the Liffey, is the site of Kelly’s Fort, No. 56 O’Connell Street Lower. Kelly’s was one of a pair of Volunteers outposts commanding O’Connell Bridge and the quays, the other being (the now destroyed) Hopkins and Hopkins Jewellers on the southeast corner of the street. The outposts faced College Green and TCD, the likely direction of a British offensive on the GPO garrison .
Kelly’s Fort got its name from M. Kelly and Son fishing tackle and gunpowder office, the business based in the building in 1916. The building itself dates to between the 1790s-1810s, when much of Sackville Street lower was constructed . During the Rising, Kelly’s Fort was occupied by Volunteers under the command of Captain Peadar Bracken from Kimmage. At 12 noon on Easter Monday, Bracken and five men from the Kimmage Garrison occupied Kelly’s. Bracken recalled their actions in his BMH statement:
After I inspected the position, we barricaded the ground floor and occupied the first storey. From there I got each house linked up by boring through the walls (with crowbars got on the south side of the Bridge from a Corporation man), zigzagging in each room to save us from an enfilade tire if any house was occupied by the enemy (BMH WS361, 8).
Arthur Agnew, also in Kelly’s, recounted the same events:
We proceeded to barricade Kelly’s with furniture, sewing machines, etc. – in fact, anything we could lay our hands on. We bored into the next house, Chancellor’s the Photographers – and from there we kept boring until we finally arrived at Elvery’s (BMH WS152, 4).
Monday was quiet. The men busied themselves intercepting looters from the windows of Kelly’s and filling up vessels with water in case the water was cut off (WS361, 8). On Tuesday the outpost was reinforced by five men from the Fingal Battalion, and welcome supplies of grenades and ammunition came from the GPO (WS361, 8). Agnew remembered that ‘We got some sandwiches from the G.P.O. that day and in the evening some girls from the G.P.O. brought us more sandwiches and cakes’ (WS152, 4).Gunfire was exchanged with sniper at Trinity College, and the men continued the work of boring through the party walls of the houses, reaching Middle Abbey Street (WS361, 8).
Action intensified on Wednesday with the arrival of the British naval vessel, the Helga. Taking advantage of their clear view, Bracken and his men took shots at the Helga’s crew:
I opened fire on members of the crew who were exposing themselves on her decks, which had the effect of making them take cover. Later on, the Helga pulled in at the Custom House and some men dashed out of her for the building. They also came under my fire which scattered them (WS361, 9).
The Volunteers in Kelly’s noticed that the Independent House, in D’Olier Street, had been occupied by the military, and they began sniping at the soldiers. As Bracken recounted:
One [solider] exposed himself a little at a side door whom I pointed out to my comrades. I told them not to move a trigger until he came outside and to leave him to me. He came out on the path and I dropped him. Another showed up and I allowed him to pull in the casualty. In a few seconds he reached out with his rifle to fish in the one on the path. While doing so, he exposed his arm and side, and I let him have one which caused his cap to bound out to the street (BMH WS361, 9).
Kelly’s came under constant machine-gun fire from Independent house, and in the afternoon, a ‘big gun’ at TCD began to shell the position. The third storey of Kelly’s was hit by a shell, which as Bracken recalled ‘cleared our cook from the third storey and enveloped him in dust, but he was nothing the worse otherwise. Shells were bursting all round us’ (BMH WS361, 10).
Bracken sent a dispatch to the GPO to report the shelling of the building. The men were ordered to evacuate to the GPO, where they were able to rest and have something to eat. Later they were redeployed to the block of buildings between Middle Abbey Street and Princes Street. Bracken wanted to reoccupy Kelly’s, but was unable to because of the constant machine gun fire on Middle Abbey Street (BMH WS361, 9-10).
Photographs taken after the Rising show the extensive damage done to Kelly’s. All the windows were broken and the southern façade was punctured by shells and gunfire. Kelly’s made a substantial claim to the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee. They filed for 1051-9-2 for damage done to No. 56 and the adjacent property, No. 34 Bachelor’s Walk, which they also owned . Included in their claim was the repair of the holes bored in the walls by the Volunteers on the second floor.
Shortly after the Rising, the lease on the building was acquired by Knapp and Peterson, pipe-makers, who set about renovating the property. In June 1916, the Irish Builder carried a notice for their intended works:
Dublin – Messrs. Kapp and Peterson Ltd., having acquired the premises No.56 Lower Sackville Street, otherwise known as “Kelly’s Fort,” intend to carry out alternations and repairs to put the premises in thorough order again. It is intended to clear away all the brick walls on the ground floor and carry the superstructure over the shop by steel joists and a steel column at the corner, the joists being supported by stanchions bedded on reinforced concrete. A handsome shop front and shop fixtures are to be installed by Mr. A. H. Bex, 19 South King St, which will include the formation of island show cases, polished granite bases to the shop windows etc. The upper portion of the premises which was badly riddled by shell and rifle fire during the insurrection, is to be practically rebuilt, with new floors, partitions, etc., to make the rooms suitable for letting as offices. The building operations are to be carried out under the superintendence of Mr. G. P. Sheridan, architect, 1 Suffolk Street .
In 1918 a photograph of the renovated premises accompanied an article in the Freeman’s Journal on the rebuilding of O’Connell Street after the Rising. Today the façade of the building looks much as it did in 1916. The shop front erected by Kapp and Peterson in the aftermath of the Rising can still be seen complete with the company’s logo.
 Foy and Barton, The Easter Rising (The History Press, 1999), 175.
 Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland, Dublin (Yale University Press, 2005), 213.
 The Irish Builder, No. 58, 24 June 1916, p. 284-287.
 Foy and Barton, The Easter Rising (The History Press, 1999), 189.
 National Archives of Ireland, PLIC/1/4347.