18 December 2008 Edition
The city that fought an empire
The Dublin Rebel Tour
BY ELLA O’DWYER
FROM where the editorial staff of An Phoblacht in Dublin work, in 58 Parnell Square, we’ll often hear the voice of Pádraig, the Sinn Féin tour guide, embarking on ‘The Rebel Tour’. While down at the entrance of 58, having an (occasional) cigarette, I’ll earwig on Pádraig as he launches his account of the capital’s rebel past.
“This is the building where the Sinn Féin weekly, An Phoblacht is produced,” he’d say, going on then to describe the illustrious predecessors of this paper: The Northern Star, established by the United Irishmen; the Young Irelanders’ The Nation; and the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s paper, The Irish People.
“The Nation cost six pence, approximately a day’s wages then” Pádraig says, “an indication of how important the publication was to the Irish public.”
Two hours later, I’d be down for another fag and Pádraig would arrive back, surrounded by enthused and inspired followers evidently very impressed with their excursion around rebel Dublin. “It was brilliant... fantastic... a memorable experience.” One day on his return from the tour I broke and asked Pádraig to take me with them next time. “Let’s go now,” he said, and we did.
The tour, just under two hours’ duration, extends the short distance around Parnell Square, up to the GPO in O’Connell Street and back up to the Sinn Féin bookshop via Moore Street. But this relatively small section of the city was always a hotbed of republican activism.
We’re no sooner into our stride when Pádraig stops us a few doors up at 46 Parnell Square, almost next-door to Sinn Féin Head Office at 44 Parnell Square, Kevin Barry House. But it’s 46 we’re looking at now.
“This is where Michael Collins founded his intelligence squad, an elite team of 12 IRA Volunteers, otherwise known as ‘The Twelve Apostles’ or ‘The Squad’, assassins who targeted British spies and who worked under Collins’s command.”
A few doors along, at 41, was where the IRB carried out training, Pádraig tells me. “They built a hall behind the house where they trained officers in drill and education. Their weapons training was carried out in the Mountains and in Finglas, which was then a rural area.”
Then it’s up to 29, 16 and 15 Parnell Square which was formerly Vaughan’s Hotel, one of the hubs of Collins’s ‘Squad’.
“There is a tunnel under these buildings which leads under the Rotunda and onto the far side of the square, ending at the premises of the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union.” The tunnel is now closed and Pádraig would like to see it opened up again. We moved from Vaughan’s Hotel and up to Colaiste Mhuire, where the Supreme Council of the IRB set the date for Rising. Just up from there is number 20 Parnell Square, beside the Writers’ Museum, otherwise known as Banba Hall, where the IRA held their conventions in the 1930s and 1940s. In front of that building there’s a monument to the Miami Showband.
IRA SAFE HOUSE
From the next corner just up from there you can see a derelict building that was once a guesthouse called An Stad which used to be an IRA safe house. Round the next corner of the Square is number 16, where Sinn Féin had its office in the 1930s. Then we go to The Garden of Remembrance, where the 1916 insurgents were held overnight after the 1916 Rising before being taken to Killmainham Jail. An interesting feature Pádraig points out is the surface of the water feature in the garden. “Look down and tell me what you see,” he says. “There’s a mosaic of spears,” I reply. “Yes,” he confirms, “but they’re broken spears and in Celtic tradition weapons were broken at the end of a battle to symbolise conclusion and resolution of the contentious issue so this garden isn’t just about remembrance it also represents reconciliation.”
Over to number 10, where the Orange Order was founded and then we go to number 5 where Eoin O’Duffy founded the fascist Blueshirts in the 1930s.
At the TEEU trade union office he points to where the tunnel leads from the base used by Collins at the far side of the Square. Michael Collins had an office at the top of that building.
Then there’s the tobacco shop established by Thomas Clarke, one of the places where the Rising was planned. We walk along past the Parnell Monument at the top of O’Connell Street, which bears a quote from a speech given by Parnell in response to Gladstone’s offer of Home Rule: “No man has the right to say to his country, ‘thus far shalt thou go and no further’ and we have never attempted to fix the ne-plus-ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood, and we never shall.”
Further down O’Connell Street (near The Spire), is where Cathal Brugha was shot by the Free State Army during the Civil War.
We look around the small museum in the GPO and read The Proclamation. Then we go up the laneway, beside the GPO, off Henry Street where the leaders of the Rising went at the close of the rebellion. In fact, it was in a house on Moore Street that the supreme council of what was by then the IRA gave the order to surrender at the end of that road where it comes onto Moore Street. The surrender took place at 16 Moore Street. O’Rahilly Place marks where The O’Rahilly collapsed and died from wounds received from the British Army but not before he managed to leave a message behind for his wife. In order to see that message you’ll have to go there yourself or, better still, get Pádraig, a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Irish history, to take you there at the end of the tour.
This is merely a taste of what’s in store if you go on the excursion with our tour guide. You can pace yourself, making it a short trip or a protracted one, depending on the depth of your interest. Even The Sunday Tribune (hardly known for pro-republican leanings), sent one of its journalists Valerie Shanley down to have a look. Valerie had this to say:
“The two-hour walk passes surprisingly quickly. As this is a republican tour, there is the Ronseal effect to consider, and it certainly does what it says on the tin.”
It does indeed and more.
The Rebel Tour is a must for anyone interested in Dublin’s political history and I can bet there will be new discoveries for the vast majority of people. Another participant, as illustrated on the tour brochure, had this to say:
“Dublin is a city of secrets and ghosts. This tour, which I highly recommend, lets you meet with Dublin’s rebels, both past and present.”
• The Rebel Tour costs €10. For further information contact 01 8148542
Plaque on O'Connell Street marks the spot where Cathal Brugha was shot by the Free State Army during the civil war