Saturday, December 19, 2015

REVOLUTION 1916: Molly O'Reilly and the Rising

We are on the eve of a momentous year. This time a hundred years ago republican men and women were planning the overthrow of the British Empire in Ireland.

REVOLUTION 1916: Molly O Reilly and the Rising

For those of you who have never heard her name Molly O’Reilly was a young teenage girl who marched with the Citizen Army to the GPO on Easter Monday April 24th 1916. Molly was born around 1900 in Gardner Street in Dublin. At the age of 11 she joined Clann na nGaedheal the republican girl scouts movement. Two years later she was so appalled by the living conditions in the Dublin tenements that she volunteered to support the workers and their families during the Lock-out. At the age of 13 Molly helped organise a soup kitchen in Liberty Hall.

And it was there one week before the Easter Rising she raised the Irish flag (the gold harp on green) for James Connolly.

Molly was hugely influenced by Connolly and was an active member of the Citizen Army. In July 1914, after hundreds of rifles were landed by the Asgard at Howth, she brought dozens of the rifles to her home in Gardner Street where they stayed until they could be distributed throughout Dublin.

During Easter week and in the midst of heavy rifle and machine gun fire and the artillery shelling of Dublin City centre she fearlessly carried dispatches for the leaders out of and into the GPO.

Later during the Tan War she was a member of the Cumann na mBan and as a worker in the United Services Club in St. Stephens Green – a club for British soldiers – she gathered intelligence for Michael Collins.

Molly opposed the Treaty. During the Civil War she was held in prison by the Treaty side and went on hunger strike. As a result she and 50 other women were released in November 1923. Molly remained a stalwart of the republican struggle until her death in October 1950.

Molly O’Reilly was an exceptional woman; a courageous woman; a strong woman.

I give you this short account of her exceptional life experience because the Sinn Féin exhibition to celebrate the Easter Rising – REVOLUTION 1916 – which will open on Saturday February 27th 2016 - is largely centred around Molly’s story. The visitor will experience the Rising through Molly’s eyes.

The exhibition promises to be one of the highlights of the centenary celebrations. It will be held in the historic Ambassador Theatre on O Connell Street. It is part of the Rotunda complex which saw the founding of Sinn Féin in 1905 and the Irish Volunteers in 1913. Over seven thousand joined the Volunteers at that inaugural meeting and on the same night a special section set aside for women was also full.

The organisers of the exhibition are going to extraordinary lengths to make REVOLUTION 1916 an event not to be missed or forgotten.

It will host the Irish Volunteers Commemorative Organisation (I.V.C.O.) collection of artefacts covering 1916 and afterwards. It will also include an original 1916 Proclamation - one of only 50 known to exist. This week another of the original Proclamations sold in London for £300,000.

The exhibition will also have on display three Single Shot Mausers which were part of the consignment of 900 brought in as part of the Howth gunrunning episode. These were used during the Rising. One of the single shot Mausers is a "Black" one - a one off rifle - that was said to have been given to the veteran Fenian and 1916 signatory Tom Clarke. It was only recently identified and the brass trigger guard has 20 notches carved on it. It also has a British sappers serrated bayonet attached. Only 12 of these Mausers are known to still exist.

Other artefacts include Luger and C96 Mauser machine pistols, original uniforms of Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and na Fianna Éireann.

There will be over 500 artefacts on display, many of which have never been seen before. Also included are other items from after 1916 including Michael Collin's revolver, the first I.R.A. Thompson machine guns brought to Ireland, and the Tricolour that flew over the G.P.O. in 1966 on the 50th anniversary of the Rising.

A significant part of the exhibition will involve lifting part of the floor of the Ambassador so that visitors can look down into the network of tunnels underneath. These were used by Michael Collins’s, ‘The Squad’ to carry out attacks on the British military. It is also believed by some that the leaders who abandoned the GPO as it burned on the evening of 28 April 1916 were trying to make their way to these tunnels.

Also on display are a wide range of artistic pieces from framed portraits to stylised garrisons, large charcoal prints to life size sculptures. Artist Robert Ballagh has created a set of iconic images of the 1981 Hunger Strikers which will be on exhibition for the first time to mark the 35th anniversary in 2016. And master mural artist Danny Devenny is completing two 1916 murals in the lobby of the Ambassador.

Each day at midday a uniformed P.H.Pearse will read aloud the Proclamation outside the Ambassador.

The exhibition is scheduled to run for at least 33 weeks.

International Women’s Day on March 6th will see the ‘Women of the Revolution’ honoured by an event at the GPO.

Other events will include a parade of the Irish Citizen Army that will take place from Liberty Hall to St. Stephen’s Green on March 26th.

Dawn Vigils will be held outside Kilmainham Gaol on the dates the leaders were executed and in Cork on 9th May and Pentonville on August 3rd 2016.

And on Sunday April 24th 2016 the Citizens’ Initiative will be holding a national march and rally to ‘Reclaim the Vision of 2016’.

So, a lot of hard work and planning is going into REVOLUTION 1916. Whatever else you are thinking of doing next year as your contribution to the centenary celebrations take the time to come to Dublin for a once in a life time opportunity to see a unique exhibition of artefacts of that period. See you there.

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