An Anniversary

As many readers will be aware, this weekend Ireland marks the centenary of the Easter 1916 Rising, the event deemed to mark the onset of the country’s drive towards independence from its neighbouring isle. The Easter Rising was marked by destruction, not least of human life: there were 485 fatalities, more than half of them hapless civilians who had the misfortune to find themselves caught up in the affair. There was also huge destruction of buildings in the centre of Dublin, most especially around the section of O’Connell Street closest to the river Liffey, since the rebels chose to centre themselves inside the General Post Office. This building, designed by Francis Johnston in 1814, was entirely gutted while another casualty was the Royal Hibernian Academy on adjacent Lower Abbey Street which the architect had not only designed but also funded in 1824.
An exhibition currently running at the Irish Georgian Society premises, 58 South William Street, Dublin unfolds the architectural history of O’Connell Street from its origins as Drogheda Street, through a long period as first Sackville Street, to its more recent incarnation. In many respects the show is unintendedly melancholy, since it forces the visitor to reflect on the thoroughfare’s steady decline from a heyday in the mid-18th century to today’s gimcrack circumstances in which O’Connell Street is predominantly given over to fast-food outlets and slot-machine emporia. Several of the photographs featured are of what was perhaps the finest property on the street known as Drogheda House. Filled with superlative rococo plasterwork, this was originally built in the 1750s for wealthy banker Richard Dawson before being bought in 1771 by Charles Moore, sixth Earl (and later first Marquess) of Drogheda from whence came the building’s name. Sold again after his death in 1822, the house was by the end of the 19th century divided in two, becoming respectively the Hibernian Bible Society and the Dublin United Tramways Company. Drogheda House stood sufficiently high up O’Connell Street to survive the Easter Rising, but this area was then caught up in fighting during the course of the Civil War in 1922: the building was entirely gutted, and later demolished. Over the course of this anniversary weekend, it is worth recalling what was (often unnecessarily) lost, as well as what was won.

Ireland’s Main Street, 1625-1925: An Architectural History runs at the Irish Georgian Society until May 15th.

6 comments on “An Anniversary

  1. eimear says:

    That final photograph is beautiful. I have found I am less engaged with the rising, the more commemorations I see. It feels so remote, and so flawed.

    • Michael King says:

      That is precisely how I feel. But am also remote from it in a physical sense as I have not lived in Ireland for many years. I do not have many memories of the 1966 commemoration as I lived deep in rural Ireland during my childhood and I do not remember any commemorations there apart from those in the primary school that I attended. My parents did not acquire their first television until 1968, so I have no memories of those TV programmes that feature so prominently in reminiscences of 1966.

  2. David Corbett says:

    As an American I remember that DeValera congratulated Hitler on his birthday but did not offer condolences to the passing of Roosevelt.

  3. James Canning says:

    Pertinent thoughts. Bravo.

  4. trewinb says:

    The saddest aspect is that a bloodless progression to Dominion status and ultimately full independence was likely to have occurred at the end of hostilities. Instead we have a legacy of decades of bitterness and bloodshed. We can’t change history but hopefully can learn from it.

  5. Turbarius says:

    You do good work Robert in advertising the aesthetic remnants of the Anglo-Irish gentry but you err in regarding your aestheticist position as a stance of civilisation against philistinism, fanaticism and vulgarity because the Big Houses were a rough immediate fruit not of civilisation but of barbarism and the men who inhabited them descended in the main from the most vulgar, fanatical and philistine gombeen factions of seventeenth-century England. That these exemplary specimens of puritanism and whiggery turned high church on our soil attests, along with everything else about them, to their utter vacuity of principle, as well as to their tacky arrivisme. The Anglo-Irish aristocracy was founded by brigands, and consisted, by the common moral and social canon of aristocracy, of vulgar trash, even if apt and capable trash with regard to leisured pursuits (I suppose one must find ways to keep busy when saddled with the free time grown of the land and labour of others).

    It is unseemly to dwell on the casualties of the means by which Ireland regained its dignity in 1916 while politely passing over the means by which men like William Parsons, Charles Coote and William Cole of Enniskillen acquired, consolidated and ‘defended’ ‘their’ land. There are very few classes more deserving of their historic bad reputation than the English landed families of Ireland, and very few whose conduct was so intensely characteristic over centuries, for the worse. The families who seized or won land through the commission of war crimes (chief among them was the use scorched earth tactics) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were in many cases the same families who in the nineteenth century evicted their tenants to die in famine in order to replace them with sheep and cattle. The same names, the same methods, even the same faces – can you look at Sir Richard Bingham of Elizabeth’s wars and tell me he does not resemble his many-times great-grandnephew (and fellow murderer by hunger) the 3rd Earl of Lucan?

    The invocation of Ireland’s pleasant but somewhat boring Georgian architecture as a call-to-genuflection by apologists and eulogists of the Anglo-Irish landed classes reminds me of the German artillerymen who justified the shelling of Reims Cathedral by their need to be firm and unyielding in their assertion of the culture which produced Goethe’s similarly-overrated poetry.

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