Sunday, May 20, 2012

Protecting our National Heritage

Fionnuala Flannagan and Gerry Adams walk down Moore Lane with representatives of the Famileis of the 1916 Leaders.

 All nations have their heroes; men and women who in war and peace overcome adversity and succeed in changing the course of history. In so doing they advance the cause of freedom and the betterment of citizens.

Some are the stuff of myth like the Greek and Norse gods of old, like Hercules and Thor. Every culture has them. Some are real but their actions become the stuff of legend and the stories of their deeds change in the telling over millennia; Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his band of soldiers, the Fianna, or the Ulster hero Cú Chulainn.

But often these are real people who in remarkable acts of leadership and courage and self sacrifice transform the world around them. Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae, Travis and Bowie at the Alamo, Mandela through his decades of imprisonment and inspired leadership as President, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Bobby Sands and his nine comrades in the H Blocks. Every nation has them. And when times are tough the names of heroes dead can enthuse a new generation to greatness.

Ireland is no different. Our small island has a rich history of such heroism – mostly as a consequence of colonisation and resistance to it.

The 1916 Rising is one such act of resistance that has had a profound impact not just of Ireland but also the world.

96 years ago the British Empire was the largest ever to have existed in human history. It covered a quarter of the globe and controlled the lives of nearly 500m million or one fifth of the earth’s peoples. It stretched around the world. It was the superpower of its day and it exploited its colonies ruthlessly.

Undaunted by this a relatively small number of men and women in Dublin and other parts of the island struck for freedom at Easter 1916. After five days of intense fighting and with much of the GPO and O Connell Street in flames or destroyed the 300 strong garrison of the GPO evacuated the building to join with other garrisons to continue the fight. In the late evening of Friday April 28th they retreated into the lanes of Henry Street.

There was intense fire from British troops. So the volunteers smashed their way into Moore Street terrace through number 10 which was then Coogan’s Grocers. The republicans tunnelled their way through the walls the length of the terrace with the leadership of Padraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada and a badly wounded James Connolly setting up their head quarters in Number 16.

When it became obvious that there was no way to escape from the area, and concerned for the hardships the conflict was inflicting on the civilian population, the leadership took the decision to surrender. Elizabeth O Farrell made the first dangerous journey to speak to the British General and then it was Pearse who walked to Parnell Street where he formally signed the surrender document.

The republican garrison then marched in ranks up Moore Street to Parnell Street and over to the grounds of the Rotunda Hospital where they were held. Clarke was stripped and abused by British soldiers before being taking away for court martial and execution.

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny has described this area as the ‘lanes of history’ and he is right. From Tom Clarke’s shop on Parnell Street, to the GPO, to Moore Lane and Street where the Garrison retreated, to the spot where one of the leaders ‘The O'Rahilly’ died, to the location of the surrender, to the Rotunda where the garrison was held by the British; these are all places intimately connected to the Rising.

Now they are under threat. Not from the British but from a developer. And while numbers 14 to 17 Moore Street have been designated as a National Monument, only the outside skin of these buildings will remain if a developer, Joe O Reilly, has his way and the whole area is turned into a shopping complex.

Outside Number 16 Moore Street

The developer is in NAMA who are now considering funding this development. In other words Irish taxpayers, Irish citizens may be asked to pay for the vandalising of a national monument.

In recent years this blog has travelled to many other countries. Whether it was the World Heritage site that used to be Robbin island prison under apartheid, or Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted; or the Place de la Bastille in Paris where the Bastille prison stood and whose fall was the first act in the French revolution.

Other states take pride in their history and celebrate their struggle for freedom.

The Relatives Present their plan to Gerry Adams and Fionnuala Flannagan

The National Monument that is 14-17 Moore Street in Dublin is a disgrace. It and the terrace it is part of are a derelict slum. It is an insult to the memory of those men and women who it should honour.

Last Friday I visited Moore Street along with the relatives of the leaders who were executed and Fionnuala Flannagan. The relatives have been campaigning for many years for the government to protect and develop this site on behalf of the Irish people.

This week Sinn Féin is introducing into the Dáil a Private Members motion that seeks to do this. The motion was written in conjunction with the relatives and reflects their view of what needs to be done. Thus far 50 opposition TDs have signed up in support of it. I see no reason why the government parties cannot also support it.

Text of Private Members Motion:

That Dáil Éireann –

- Looking forward to the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a landmark in the history of the people of Ireland;

- Recalling that in January 2007, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government placed a preservation order on Nos. 14-17 Moore Street, Dublin, under section 8 of the National Monuments Act 1930, on the grounds that the buildings are of national importance by reason of their historical significance as the final headquarters of the 1916 Provisional Government;

- Acknowledging the hard work of the relatives of the Signatories to the 1916 Proclamation of Independence in raising public awareness of the importance of these historic buildings and this historic area of our capital city and in securing the designation of the national monument;

- Viewing with serious concern the deterioration of the national monument which has languished in a vacant and neglected state for many years and the potential threat to the monument under a current planning application;

Resolves to:

- Ensure that the 1916 National Monument at 14-17 Moore St. is fully protected and preserved in its entirety as designated and that the surrounding buildings streets and laneways are retained in such a manner that the potential to develop this area into a 1916 historic/cultural quarter can be fulfilled;

and calls on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs to act without further delay to ensure the full preservation of the national monument and to develop a plan to transform the GPO/Moore St. area into an historic quarter and battlefield site so as to protect and preserve the 1916 National Monument and the associated streetscapes and laneways, thus greatly enhancing our national heritage and tourist potential in our capital city as we approach the centenary of the Easter Rising. – Gerry Adams, Sandra McLellan.

Outside Number 16 Moore Street

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

To celebrate their struggle for Irish freedom. Let there be Monument, in that build a monument which shall endure Gerry. That trustiest of monument for the preservation of an event, is respected. It is the lack of a monument that sticks like a fishbone within the city's throat. The 1916 heroes are ture martyrs for the cause of freedom. Let there be a great monumnet for freedom, for there can be no better cause, no greater reason, for a monument dedicated to the memory of the 1916 Rising.