Bridget “Brede” Connolly was one of the many women who took part in Ireland’s Easter Rising of 1916. She navigated through the streets of Dublin ferrying communications between James Connolly in the General Post Office and Ned Daly, in Church Street. Brede didn’t have that far to go as the crow flies but she had to make it through some of the fiercest fighting of the insurrection to deliver these messages and she did it time and time again.
On this day in Irish history one of the bravest Irish women bid her last farewell to her beloved Ireland. Elizabeth O’Farrell passed away on June 25th, 1957, forty-one years after completing a dangerous mission that many thought would kill her. In 1916, Ms. O’Farrell wore a red cross and carried a white flag through raging battle zones to offer the surrender of the leaders of the Easter Rising. As she left the makeshift rebel headquarters in Moore Street her friend Sheila fell into hysterics, sure that Elizabeth would be killed on this mission.
April 29th looms ever closer and the Centenary celebration truly comes to a close…at least until May when the executed leaders will be remembered a hundred years after they were killed. The surrender was originally offered on behalf of the revolution by Elizabeth O’Farrell, but the English would not accept it from a woman. She returned with Patrick Pearse and stood at his side when he offered it himself to “prevent the further slaughter of the civilian population and in the hope of saving our followers, now hopelessly surrounded and outnumbered”. Some argue that it was no surrender at all, but rather a pause to prevent the loss of innocent life because the leaders knew the fight for Irish freedom would continue, with or without them. Others couldn’t bear the thought of standing down for anything, even if their leaders were asking them to. The end to the Easter Rising is a fact, but were the rebels defeated?
That’s a question I’ve been studying for a long, long time and my answer is still yes and no. It’s also for a different post, because this one is about what you can do in Dublin on April 29th to commemorate the close of the battle and to lend your support to those who are still fighting to save one of the most important areas of the city.
As someone who has been a long term student of Irish history, I have been looking forward to the centennial celebration for years and years. At first, I thought I’d have to watch it from afar – and I still may yet have to do that, but the goal is to spend about a month wandering through the whole of the Emerald Isle before culminating in Dublin for the 100 year commemoration of the Easter Rising. I have been devouring any information I can find on the planned celebrations for years and have found it all woefully lacking. I still can’t even get an answer about whether it is going to be planned for Easter, which is incredibly early in 2016, or if it will wait until April 24th.
I started paying attention to what the people in charge were and were not saying. Modern politicians seem to be more concerned with whether or not the British royalty will show up than they are about planning something awesome for their own people. Given that they owe their positions to the rebellious men and women of 1916 (also before and since) you would think that they’d be getting ready to honor them.
Well, not in this life anyway. (Yet) 98 years ago, on Easter Monday, a big thing began in Dublin. I cannot help but feel that I was there in some form or another – in a different life – because how else could I explain the connection I have to Ireland in general and that time in particular? The entire time I was there, I had a never-ending sense of deja-vu and since I have been back, I have longed every day and dreamed every night of the emerald isle. I’m even learning Irish – and it drives me bonkers every day – but I cannot stop.
So this Easter to celebrate the Rising, I am wearing an Easter Lily for Ireland’s patriot dead and I added the GPO into the Atlas Obscura lexicon. It was all I could do, since I am on the wrong continent today. It is a lonely place in my head and heart – standing alone amongst the people I know in the things and the history that is so vital to who I am and learning a language that I have no one to speak it with. Still…as the fiddles play on the stereo and I watch Gerry Adams give a speech to the commemorative crowd in Dublin, I know in my heart that I found a home – and continue to explore it every day – even from too great a distance. And as he said this morning, “If this were 19 and 16, we would all be in the GPO”. I know I would, I think I was …and I will be again for the 100 year anniversary.
I repeat and expand on the Atlas entry here too…because of a deep love of the Irish Nationalist history and the fact that today is the day to celebrate the one place in all the world that I’d be OK with being labeled a Republican.
The General Post Office in Dublin on O’Connell street is the headquarters of the Irish Postal Service and a bustling hub of activity, but every Easter Monday it becomes a symbol of Irish revolution and a somber place of remembrance.
Dublin was still under British rule in 1916, when seven unlikely revolutionaries hatched a plan for an armed uprising during the Easter holiday. They were a headmaster, a poet, a tobacco enthusiast, a philosopher and more – just ordinary men who had grown weary of the boot on their necks. They were born of desperation and idealism – sure that all they had to do was begin before their whole country stood with them. In secret, they wrote a Proclamation of Independence and chose strategic sites in downtown Dublin for their Rising, including the post office along the main thoroughfare of the city. They felt that once the revolution began the people of Ireland would rise with them and they assumed that the British would not destroy their own property in retaliation. They were mistaken on all counts.
The Rising had its problems from the beginning. Due to a split in leadership and miscommunications, even the date was confused. When the fighting didn’t begin on Easter as many thought, much needed would-be reinforcements turned around and went home. Despite this, the planned takeovers of government buildings began on Easter Monday, and the destruction of a large portion of Dublin shortly followed.
The general post office, or GPO, was the headquarters of the revolution. The men took over the GPO – not harming anyone who was there but not leaving either. Here the Irish flag was raised and the Proclamation was recited loudly, by Padraig Pearse to the jeers and complaints of the citizenry who just wanted to post their mail. When the British began to shell the area with heavy artillery, the complaints grew louder. The post office was eventually set on fire and mostly destroyed, along with many of the buildings around it. In the end, the British army had no qualms about destroying most of downtown Dublin to defeat the upstarts in the GPO.
The Easter Rising only had to last for 3 days to have a chance, because of an agreement with Germany. The German government had promised that if they could last 3 days, the question of Irish independence would be put on a global platform. Unfortunately, it was Germany…in the middle of World War 1 and well, the Irish rebels chose poorly in their ally in this matter. Still, the Rising lasted for 6 days – with less than 500 volunteer fighters against the might of the British Army. It would likely have been a mere footnote in history, but for the fact that all seven signatories and on the Proclamation and many others were then tried in secret and executed by the Crown, at which point they became martyrs to Irish freedom. Their short-lived fight eventually led to Ireland’s independence and the leaders are revered to this day. Decades later, their proclamation is located in many Irish government buildings including the GPO and on countless memorials. It is read every year on Easter Monday at the renovated post office by a member of the Irish Defense Forces.
An Easter Lily is worn by Nationalists to symbolize the rising – and it too can be found everywhere in Ireland – in statues, memorials, Northern Irish murals and on countless lapels throughout the country and the world. No one honors their history or their martyrs like the Irish.
All that remains of the original GPO is the beautiful Georgian facade. The facade has its own visible scars of bullet holes, cracks and mortar damage that stand in mute testimony to the history of Irish Nationalism. It is a powerful place for anyone who enjoys history and it brought tears to my eyes. It is still one of the busiest post offices in all of Ireland and it houses a permanent exhibition of its role in the Rising called Letters, Lives and Liberty. Every year on Easter Monday, a wreath is laid outside the General Post Office, parades honor Ireland’s patriot dead the Proclamation is read to commemorate the men and women who fought in 1916.