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Posted in Dublin, Ireland by folkestonejack on August 31, 2016

Our short stay in Dublin has reminded me of the friendly vibe and great kindness that I have encountered on every trip to Ireland. It was something that we encountered time and time again, from the tour guide who stopped on her cycle into work to give us a heads up on what to look out for to the helpful folk at the cemetery who made doubly sure that we found the graves that we were seeking.

Time ran out before we could see all that we might have liked to visit, but that gives us a perfect excuse to come back before too long and perhaps another play at the marvellous Abbey Theatre (the Headlong production of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme that we saw on this trip was stunning and richly deserved the standing ovation given on the three curtain calls).

CityJet BAE 146 Avro RJ85s at Dublin Airport

CityJet BAE 146 Avro RJ85s at Dublin Airport

A short afternoon flight, in the care of Cityjet, delivered us back to London City Airport in time to experience the joys of the rush hour but nothing could quite extinguish the smile on our faces from a very enjoyable trip. Go raibh maith agat.

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Ten sights for the Easter Rising 1916-2016

Posted in Dublin, Ireland by folkestonejack on August 30, 2016

The exhibitions in this one hundredth anniversary year give more opportunities to explore the different strands that came together so explosively in Easter 1916. For what its worth, this is my take on some of the sights that I have visited (in no particular order) should that help anyone with their planning!

1. GPO: Witness History

The GPO: Witness History Interpretive Exhibition Centre offers a modestly sized display about the rising and the events that took place at the GPO from the moment of revolution to the restoration of communications. The 17 minute long immersive presentation that plays out in the semi-circular cinema screen was terrific and gave us a really good sense of the timeline of events. The framework it provided allowed us to better appreciate how the places we visited later fitted into the story.

On leaving the main exhibition space you can see a memorial to all those who fought at the GPO and I was pleased to see one of my distant Carpenter relations listed, though not the other (though both fought at the GPO Garrison and are recorded in Jimmy Wren’s superb The GPO Garrison Easter Week 1916 – A Biographical Dictionary.

One aspect of the GPO exhibition that I didn’t see replicated elsewhere was a look at how the anniversaries of the rising have been treated (and not just by the commemorative stamps issued at the time).

At the time of our visit the post office itself was home to one of the quirkier exhibits, a depiction of the GPO in 1916 made from 50,000 lego bricks! The impressive model was a real labour of love for its creator who spent some two years building this, sourcing obscure parts from around the world.

2. Richmond Barracks

Richmond Barracks has been one of the locations in the story of Easter 1916 that has been overlooked until relatively recently. It was here that the leaders were identified and court-martialed before being transferred to Kilmainham Gaol for execution. The barracks was also the location that 3,000 rebels were held and processed after the surrender, many of whom would then be deported to prison camps across England.

Richmond Barracks

Richmond Barracks

The witness statements that are delivered through an audio-visual presentation in the centre of the gymnasium are chilling. It is a powerful testimony that really conveys the sense of disappointment of the exhausted men at the outcome of the rising, sadness at what this meant for the Irish people and trepidation of what was to follow.

The exhibition also tells the stories of 77 women imprisoned at the barracks after the rising, the school that was established in this space and the community that took the place of the military barracks.

Inside the gymnasium at Richmond Barracks

Inside the gymnasium at Richmond Barracks

It is well worth taking the guided tour round the barracks for the extra insights that the very knowledgeable and passionate guides bring. The tours also include the bonus of a visit to the otherwise off-limits grounds of Goldenbridge Cemetery, the first catholic cemetery in Ireland which dates back to 1829. Although there are many notable graves, the most poignant is that of a child killed early in the rising.

3. In the Shadow of the Castle (Dublin Castle)
28th March – 21st September 2016

It was the state apartments at Dublin Castle, at this time in use as a military hospital, that the wounded James Connolly was taken after the rising. The British authorities hoped that he would recover sufficiently well to be executed in a fit state, but when it was apparent that this would not happen he was taken to Kilmainham Gaol by ambulance and executed whilst tied to a chair.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

In this anniversary year the castle has put on an exhibition that looks beyond this most obvious connection with the rising at the role of the castle as the seat of British power, the attack on the castle led by Seán Connolly and just how close the rebels came to taking it.

4. Signatories (National Library of Ireland)
Up to the end of December 2016

This small exhibition in the entrance hall of the National Library of Ireland presents the life stories of the signatories to the proclamation backed up by some fascinating documents and personal letters (make sure to pull out the display drawers as these contain some of the most interesting exhibits).

The displays also offered some fascinating glimpses into the way that NLI staff in 1916 were caught up in events, from a member of staff killed by looters to a librarian who joined the rebels and was subsequently deported to a camp in England. The letters home from the latter are striking in their sadness for the lost cause, the affection that James Connolly inspired in his men, anxiety for the future and subsequent boredom of prison life (writing about the excitement of counting the panes of glass in his cell over and over again).

5. Glasnevin Cemetery: 1916 Rising Centenerary Exhibition
25th March 2016 – 25th November 2016

The impressive expanse of Glasnevin Cemetery, originally known as Prospect Cemetery, was established in 1832 and 1.5 million are now interred between the two sections.

The cemetery includes the graves of many notable figures from Irish history, including of Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Roger Casement and Countess Markievicz. It also played its part in history in its own right as it was the speech of Patrick Pearse at the graveside of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in August 1915 that in many ways set the clock ticking towards rebellion.

One of the most striking memorials to the rising, the Sigerson Memorial, was beautifully restored in the build up to the anniversary. Sigerson’s depiction of Mother Ireland cradling a dying rebel is as poignant a reminder as any of the high cost of the rising.

The Sigerson Memorial at Glasnevin

The Sigerson Memorial at Glasnevin

Research conducted by the Glasnevin Trust shows that 485 men, women and children were killed during or as a direct result of the 1916 Rebellion. Some of their tragic stories are revealed through a special exhibition in the superb cemetery museum. It is also worth mentioning that the cemetery are also running Easter 1916 tours this year. We ddin’t take up this opportunity but the reviews have been glowing.

6. High Treason: Roger Casement (Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane)
10th March 2016 – 2nd October 2016

Roger Casement, a humanitarian who had been knighted for his work, was tried for high treason after negotiating a supply of arms from Germany for the Irish cause. The trial marked a low point for justice with deliberate moves by the British authorities to manipulate the media and his influential supporters through the release of his explicit ‘black diaries’.

Sir John Lavery’s historic painting, High Treason: The Appeal of Roger Casement, The Court of Criminal Appeal, 17 and 18 July 1916 is on loan from the UK Government Art Collection this year and is displayed alongside paintings of the key figures from the case. It depicts the last day of Roger Casement’s appeal against the charge of treason and the death penalty.

The painting was bequeathed by the artist to the National Portrait Gallery or the Royal Courts of Justice (where his trial had taken place) and after being rejected by the former, the painting was eventually received by the Royal Courts ‘with some consternation’. I like the idea that a permanent reminder of such a flawed case should have hung in the Royal Courts of Justice, though in practice it has been on loan to the Society of King’s Inns, Dublin, since 1951.

Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane

Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane

An adjacent room presents Our Kind, a short film by Alan Phelan which imagines what life might have held for Roger Casement had he not been executed in 1916. It’s a somewhat bleak piece, set in an imaginary exile in Norway some twenty five years on.

7. Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising (National Museum at Collins Barracks)
3rd March 2016 – 2017

The Proclaiming a Republic exhibition at the National Museum is the most richly illustrated and exhaustive in coverage, deserving of a couple of hours careful study. The story of the rising was well told, but I particularly appreciated the depth of coverage of the aftermath and its legacy. The pictures and accounts of the rebels who were deported and imprisoned was fascinating.

Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising at The Riding School, National Museum of Ireland

Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising at The Riding School, National Museum of Ireland

In an adjacent building you can also see the Asgard, a 51 foot yacht used to transport 900 Mauser rifles to the Irish Volunteers at Howth harbour in 1914.

8. Arbour Hill Cemetery

The memorial space that forms the last resting place for 14 of the executed leaders was created in 1955 through the amalgamation of the parade ground, old cemetery and school yard at Arbour Hill. It is located behind Collins Barracks, under the watch towers of Arbour Hill Prison, making it easy to combine this with a visit to the National Museum.

A view of Arbour Hill Cemetery

A view of Arbour Hill Cemetery

The main memorial is set back a little way from the entrance, making this a quiet spot to reflect on the sacrifice made by the rebels.

9. Rising (National Photographic Archive, Temple Bar)
2nd February 2016 – end of October 2016

The National Library’s second exhibition about the Easter Rising displays 60 photographs showing the impact of the Rising on Dublin’s city centre. Some photographs are very well known, such as the shot of a burnt out GPO, but others are quite unfamiliar. It’s shocking to see just how young many of the Irish Volunteers were.

10. Kilmainham Gaol

Last in my list, but not least. Thousands of ordinary men, women and children have passed through the gates of the county gaol but it has always been closely associated with the cause of Irish independence – before, during and after 1916. The roll call of revolutionary prisoners held here is quite extraordinary and that spot in the yard where the the leaders of the 1916 rising were executed never fails to horrify.

One of the panels on the SIPTU building

One of the panels on the SIPTU building

This list is far from exhaustive, such is the incredible quantity of exhibitions in this one hundredth anniversary year. I enjoyed smaller displays in Easons, at the Abbey Theatre and the vast commemorative panels attached to the sides of the SIPTU building to cite but a few of the others.

The more I have learnt about the rising the more I realise that there is still so much that I would like to explore in greater depth, although I didn’t have the time to do so on this trip. In particular, I would like to head out to the Pearse Museum at St Enda’s Park where you can see the school dormitory, study hall and chapel from Pearse’s Irish School. However, this will have to wait for the future!

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The rising remembered

Posted in Dublin, Ireland by folkestonejack on August 30, 2016

As an outsider, who learnt nothing of the Easter Rising at school, let alone the war of independence or civil war, I have soaked up the information on offer in Dublin during this 100th anniversary year.

Arbour Hill Cemetery, where 14 of the executed leaders are buried

Arbour Hill Cemetery, where 14 of the executed leaders are buried

From my first steps back in Dublin I have been really struck by the way that the anniversary of the Easter rising has been quite impossible to miss. The city has been festooned with banners declaring ‘Dublin remembers’, every shop and institution seems to have at least a corner devoted to the experiences of their staff and a multitude of rival Easter 1916 tour buses drive up and down the streets.

It couldn’t have been more different when I first visited Dublin fifteen or so years ago. Yes, there were monuments/memorials around the city, stations named after the signatories and many surviving locations of significance but unless you knew what you were looking at, it would be entirely possible to have visited the city and been completely unaware of the events of that fateful week in 1916.

Back then a single room in the National Museum, in its original home at Kildare Street, covered the road to independence whereas today you can visit an impressive range of multi-roomed exhibitions at sites across the city. Not all of them are permanent, but it is a striking increase in the prominence of the events of Easter 1916.

The growth in interest in the story of the rising in recent years is perhaps echoed by increasing visitor numbers at Kilmainham Gaol, where the signatories of the proclamation spent their last days before execution. In 2003 the gaol received around 155,000 visitors but by 2015 the numbers had leapt to 326,000. The OPW has set a target of 500,000 for 2016!

One of the props created for 'The Humanizer'

One of the props created for ‘The Humanizer’

The discovery of a distant socialist revolutionary connection had already given me a hint of the greater complexity of the rising, demolishing the idea that everyone shared a single motive for action. The deeper exploration of what happened for the anniversary has allowed many of these long neglected perspectives to rise to re-emerge, especially the role of women and the impact of the action on the local population.

There have been some pretty ingenious ways of commemorating 1916, from the repainting of Irish green postboxes into British red to an exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art that considers how the producers of a Hollywood biopic ‘The Humanizer‘ might re-imagine the life of Roger Casement (complete with props created by an Oscar winning designer).

One of the museums we visited on this trip acknowledged a pattern of remembrance, where the rising would come to prominence in the anniversary years but then slip back out of public consciousness. I would like to think it is different this time.

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Delights of Dublin Bay

Posted in Dublin, Ireland by folkestonejack on August 29, 2016

One of the delights of any trip to Dublin for me comes from the chance to escape the city and take the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) to the coast. The seafront at Dún Laoghaire is probably not the first image that springs to mind for the first time visitor, but it has always been one of my favourite stops on a trip to the city when time permits.

Dún Laoghaire as seen from the Forty Foot

Dún Laoghaire as seen from the Forty Foot

On this occasion, we made a visit to the charming Malahide Castle in the morning and then followed this up by a train journey south along the sweep of Dublin Bay to Sandycove. I have always loved the walk along the coast between Sandycove and Dún Laoghaire, but have never been inside the martello tower that houses the museum to James Joyce so it was a pleasure to put this right.

The tower was one of 26 built to the north and south of Dublin in response to the threat of Napoleon’s Grand Army across the Channel. A good number of these still remain and are wonderfully documented on the Irish Martello Towers website.

The Martello Tower at Sandycove

The Martello Tower at Sandycove

In September 1904 a 22 year old James Joyce spent a brief spell living in the first floor of the tower with his friend Oliver St. John Gogarty and Samuel Chenevix Trench. The stay ended on the sixth night after Trench woke from a nightmare of a black panther that seemed so real that he attempted to shoot it with his revolver. Gogarty followed up with a few rounds which shot down the saucepans from a shelf above Joyce’s bed. James Joyce fled immediately and had to arrange for his belongings to be retrieved, not daring to go back himself!

The small museum contains a recreation of the living space, some interesting displays about the tower (including the original copper-sheeted door of the gunpowder magazine) and a variety of exhibits about James Joyce. You can clamber up a narrow set of stone spiral stairs to get a view from the top of the tower.

Below the tower sits the forty foot, a rocky bathing spot said to have been named after the fortieth foot regiment were stationed in the adjacent battery. True or not, there is no doubting that the spot has been in use for centuries and has been immortalised in a number of classic Irish novels spanning from ‘Ulysses’ (1918) to ‘At swim, two boys’ (2001). The spot was once reserved for the sole use of men, but has seen mixed bathing since the 1970s.

Is the Forty Foot Ireland's most famous bathing spot?

Is the Forty Foot the most famous bathing spot in Ireland?

The Forty Foot

The tempting waters of the Forty Foot

The waters at the forty foot looked incredibly inviting on such a hot summer day but signs at the entrance warned against swimming due to an invasion of lions mane jellyfish. This didn’t seem to hve deterred the local population who were happily diving in from the rocks to the accompaniment of the latest dance tracks. I passed up the opportunity this time!

Our walk took us along the seafront, past a sculpture of a sea urchin, up to the derelict Royal Victorian Baths at Scotman’s Bay. The baths first opened in 1843 but the ruins that are visible today are largely the reconstructed baths of 1908 with 1930s extensions. The baths closed in the mid-1990s and have long been mooted for restoration, but many a plan has been announced and fallen by the wayside.

The long derelict Royal Victorian Baths

The long derelict Royal Victorian Baths

The new plans to revive the baths are not as terrible as the proposal to replace the whole site with an apartment block but fall short of what many had hoped for. The latest proposal, approved late last year, should see the site re-open with a gallery, cafe and a jetty for swimmers but sadly will not bring the swimming baths back into use.

We continued on to Dún Laoghaire harbour and took a stroll out to the East Pier Battery which has been restored and opened to the public since my last visit (it had been inacessible to the public from its opening in 1859 until 2009, with the exception of a week in 1991). The sight of a Teddy’s ice cream van inside the battery walls was most welcome and the reward of a 99 helped placate those who had been less impressed by the shade-less walk!

The East Pier Battery

The East Pier Battery

After a short wander through Dún Laoghaire we boarded one of the regular DART trains and were back in the bustle of Dublin city centre just twenty minutes later.

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Star gazing in Phoenix Park

Posted in Dublin, Ireland by folkestonejack on August 28, 2016

The vast terrain of Phoenix Park, which extends to around 1752 acres, holds many significant buildings – not least Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland. However, our sights were firmly fixed on an altogether less polished and secretive sight – the star-shaped magazine fort located on the south east fringes of the park.

The Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park

The Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park

The magazine fort was constructed in 1734 on top of St Thomas’ Hill, where the principal residence of the Viceroy of Ireland once stood. The fort was constructed to a design by Captain John Corneille, a military engineer from the Netherlands, with two powder magazines to supply the British Army barracks in Dublin.

Over the next two and a half centuries years the site evolved to meet the changing needs of the army. Significant developments included the addition of a third powder magazine in 1758, the enclosure of the original grand entrance within a triangular extension in 1801 and a wave of new structures in 1921 when control of the fort passed to the newly established Irish army.

The surviving pillars of the Duke of Dorset Gate

The surviving pillars of the Duke of Dorset Gate

A final, more destructive, act saw the grand archway (known as the ‘Duke of Dorset Gate’) partly deconstructed to allow tall lorries to drive into the inner fort (the pieces of the arch are today stored in one of the sheds).

The army left the fort in the 1980s and control passed to the Office of Public Works (OPW). Today, the fort is a protected structure and is undergoing a combination of archaeological investigation and maintenance works to redress the state of disrepair into which it had fallen. It is hoped that the site could be used for a museum, but for now the site has been opened to guided tours for small groups.

Blast wall inside the fort

Blast wall inside the fort

We joined one of the superb guided tours led by OPW Guide Leif, who helped us understand the arrangement of the fort and conjured up a vivid impression of some of the most dramatic moments in its history.

The fort was one of the first locations to come under attack in the Easter Rising, when a band of volunteers and Fianna Éireann members launched a raid just after midday. The men were able to gain entry under the pretext of a game of football, passing the ball from one to another until they got close to the sentry. When the ball landed at his feet the sentry went to pick it up and was promptly rushed.

Once inside the fort the men set about wiring up their explosives and set the fuses, allowing Isabel Playfair (wife of the family of the fort’s commander) and her family to leave so long as they did not try to raise the alarm.

As the raiders left they noticed that her son was making for an officer’s house and set after him by bicycle, shooting him as he stepped through the threshold. The newspapers of the day report the depravity of the killing of a 14 year old boy, but this turns out to have been an early bit of media manipulation with recent research indicating that he was actually 23.

It’s a fascinating story and one that I had never heard before, but our guide pointed out that it should also be acknowledged that the intelligence gathering carried out by women committed to the cause was crucial. It was their work noting the patterns of movement around the fort and picking up key information from the soldiers that led the groundwork for the raid.

Inside one of the magazines

Inside one of the magazines

The fort is also the location of the infamous Christmas Raid of 1939 in which the IRA managed to gain entry to the fort under the pretext of a parcel delivery for an officer. After locking up the soldiers the raiders loaded one lorry after another with over a million rounds of ammunition. However, the hunt to retrieve this resulted in the recovery of all the missing ammunition and a great deal more in the way of weaponry. It came to be regarded as a disaster.

The tours really are terrific and fascinating from start to finish. It’s great to see it in its raw state, with all the layers of its evolution still apparent, before the inevitable tidy up that a restoration brings. The fort deserves its place on the heritage trail and I really hope that it gets the funding needed.

Practicalities

The fort is open to the public by guided tour on Fridays and Sundays from July 2016. Newspaper reports have indicated that these will run to the end of October 2016.

Tickets are available on the day from the visitor centre (next to Ashtown Castle) with tour groups transported to the fort by minibus. Full details are available from the Magazine Fort Opening page on the Phoenix Park website.

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A morning at the Casino

Posted in Dublin, Ireland by folkestonejack on August 27, 2016

The first stop in our long weekend in Dublin brought us to one of the most underrated sights of the city, the Casino at Marino. It is a joyous and wonderfully playful miniature house commissioned by James Caulfield, 1st Earl of Charlemont, at the end of an extended grand tour in Europe. Today, the Casino stands as one of the finest 18th Century neo-classical buildings in the country, if not the continent.

The Casino at Marino

The Casino at Marino

On your approach to the building you could be forgiven for thinking that it houses just one large room, deceived by the grand entrance and vast windows that dominate the faces, but there are actually sixteen rooms inside! Further ingenuity can be seen in the faux columns that hide drainpipes, in the urns on the attic which are actually disguised chimneys and in the doorframe of the original entrance which incorporates a pull down window.

The Casino allowed Caulfield to show off his collection of antiques and exquisite furnishings in the most perfect of settings, but the costs incurred in the process forced his heir to sell off all of this. The small house shone at its brightest for an incredibly short span of years but made an impression on all who visited in that time. Today it stands alone, following the break up of the Marino estate in 1881 and the demolition of Marino House in the 1920s.

Our tour guide led us on an hour long wander through the interior that was never less than fascinating. The loss of the original furnishings means that you can’t see the magnificence of the interior as Caulfield knew it, but our guide did a great job of conjuring this up with words and fleshing this out with accounts from Caulfields’ contemporaries. It is also good fun to contrast the interior and exterior views of those large windows as you climb the stairs up to the impressive state room.

It has been said that the interior falls a little short as it is currently presented, notably with the heartbreaking cover-up of the floor in a protective plastic sheet and an inauthentic ‘freshening up’ that has been the subject of some criticism, but I think that it is an incredible space to visit nevertheless.

One of the four lions that guard the Casino

One of the four lions that guard the Casino

Our visit was well timed, coinciding with the opening of one of the many underground spaces that lead out from the building. The new exhibition, Tunnel Vision: Going Underground at the Casino Marino, includes the opportunity to visit the puzzling long tunnel.

The original purpose of the long tunnel is hard to fathom and none of the theories adequately explains its existence. At one time it was thought that it might have been to allow servants from the main house to service the Casino whilst remaining unseen, but recent geophysical surveys have shown that the tunnel never extended any further than it currently does.

The long tunnel

The long tunnel

Witness statements indicate that the long tunnel was used by Michael Collins to test fire machine guns intended for use in the War of Independence until locals reported that this was less discrete than they imagined. However, no trace of bullet marks or other such evidence have been found in the tunnels. In short, there is as much mystery about the recent history of these underground spaces as their original usage!

The Casino is such a great place to visit that I can’t believe that it is so overlooked on the tourist trail. If you get the opportunity to go on a guided tour I strongly recommend it – you’ll find it hard to beat the passion and enthusiasm of the team here.

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Dublin days

Posted in Dublin, Ireland by folkestonejack on August 26, 2016

It has been some eight years since I last visited Dublin, so I thought it was about time that I made a return. Since the last time I visited I have been more than a little surprised to discover that there was a family link to the events of Easter Week, April 1916, through my mother’s side.

My plan is to catch some of the exhibitions and installations commemorating the centenary of the Easter Rising before they close. I suspect we will know the history of the rising rather too well by the end of the trip!

Irish connections

In the 1890s three members of my family moved from London to Dublin – Mary Oakley (née Carpenter), Robert Octavius Carpenter and Walter Carpenter. The impetus for the move is not documented in official records, nor do we know if they lived together in their first days in the city. However, we know that they remained close as the twentieth century opened.

Walter Carpenter would go on to make his mark on his new city, swapping his old life as a sweep for the role of trade unionist and revolutionary. Walters’s two eldest sons, Walter Patrick Carpenter and Peter Carpenter, followed in their father’s revolutionary footprints by joining the Irish Citizen Army. Both sons took part in the Easter rising of 1916, serving in the GPO garrison.