The sites have been selected for what they can offer the researcher in terms of surviving physical fabric and in the legibility of the surrounding urban landscape. Despite their being well known in the historical accounts of the Rising, many of the sites are little known to those from outside their specific localities, where the actual narrative of the street fighting that took place at these locations remains less than fully understood. The sites will include:
- Northumberland Road
- Boland’s Mills
- Mendicity Institution
- South Dublin Union and its outposts
- Richmond Barracks
- Magazine Fort
- Jacobs’ Factory
- Kilmainham Gaol
- North King Street
- General Post Office
Work already undertaken by Archaeology and Built Heritage at Moore Street and the Foresters’ Hall to the rear of No. 41 Parnell Square will be incorporated into the final report, along with recent survey work undertaken by DCC at Dublin Castle.
The overarching strategic plan has, in popular reception, focused on the symbolic centrepiece of the Rising, the GPO, a narrative overwritten by P.H. Pearse’s blood sacrifice trope. Military victory appeared secondary to inculcating a sudden upsurge of nationalist fervour which would quickly achieve the Republic. Yet this interpretation ignores Connolly’s writings on urban warfare and denigrates the Modernist aspects of the Rising as promulgated by the rebels against the more traditional modes of conflict followed by the Crown Forces. The British Army was still coming to terms with the stagnation of trench warfare; this can most clearly be seen at Northumberland Road where the Sherwood Foresters charging in open streets met with grevious casualties from a well-placed small rebel force.
Indeed, the Battle of Mount Street Bridge saw the greatest loss of life from a British perspective, yet the question as to why the republican positions on Northumberland Road were not simply infiltrated from the surrounding streets has yet to be answered. Similarly, the occupation of a hospital (the South Dublin Union) by republicans went beyond conventional mores of warfare, even from today’s perspective; here the British response was more in keeping with the type of tactical street fighting that developed in Belchite and Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, reaching its apogee at Stalingrad.
The battle to the north of the Four Courts around North King Street has been grandiosely described as ‘Ireland’s mini-Stalingrad’. North King Street is however more significant as the location of the murder of unarmed civilians by Crown Forces. Yet, where many of the Republican participants did not wear conventional military attire, how can 1916 articulate something of the developing rules of twentieth-century warfare and the increasing use of ‘irregular’ forces which has become the norm in contemporary conflict?
Perhaps one of the least known sites in the city centre is ‘the Mendo’, the Mendicity Institution accommodated in the eighteenth-century Moira House on Usher’s Island. Here a small garrison commanded by the 25 year old Séan Heuston immobilised the quays and the Crown Forces from the Royal Barracks located just across the river. Heuston was charged with holding this position for three or four hours, to delay the advance of British troops on the GPO. He would hold his position for over two days, with twenty-six Volunteers and a limited supply of ammunition.
Even less known and understood are the outposts established away from the principal garrisons, with those in Liberties coming under sustained verbal and physical attack of a different kind from the local inhabitants, such as the ‘separation’ women, many of whom had husbands and brothers fighting another war in the Western Front or in Gallipoli. It is perhaps in these peripheral areas of the city that the most historic fabric survives, yet here, in one of the more ‘traditional’ neighbourhoods of Dublin, there is little local memory of the significance of the fighting.
Perhaps of greater interest still is the afterlife of those buildings central to the conflict. Where there is little sense that the sites of the Rising were treasured by the Free State and indeed, recognition of sorts only came after the 1966 anniversary, what can be made today of the site of Boland’s Mills, now the Treasury Building developed by one of the more aggressive property development companies, a building which today accommodates the National Assets Management Agency? The site of Moira House (the Mendicity Institution) is perhaps more legible today as a manifestation of the State’s attempts to deal with poverty and homelessness; what remains of Richmond Barracks in Inchicore stands as an eloquent indictment of the city’s attempts to counter failed social-housing experiments with the equally questionable policy of public-private partnership.
The project will additionally interrogate the memorialisation of 1916 and examine several sites prominent before and after the battle, such as the Foresters’ Hall on Parnell Square, Richmond Barracks in Inchicore where captured republicans were held prior to internment, imprisonment or execution and indeed Kilmainham Goal, the first of the sites to be memorialised.