27 August 2005

Ireland's 1916 'Alamo' saved for posterity

Belfast Telegraph

By David McKittrick
26 August 2005

The house in Dublin celebrated by republicans as the "Irish Alamo" for its role in the 1916 Easter Rising is likely to escape a demolition order thanks to a growing campaign to preserve it.

No 16 Moore Street was where the leaders of the insurrection made their last stand against the British. After surrendering they were shot.

Today, the house close to O'Connell Street is abandoned and dilapidated, with gaping holes in its roof and a general air of dereliction.

But interest has quickened in the fate of the building, which was the scene of a vital and fateful moment in the rising, the republican rebellion which eventually led to the British leaving southern Ireland.

Matt Doyle, of the republican National Graves Association, agreed yesterday that, as the northern Troubles tail off, more members of the public feel free to support the campaign to preserve the house. "There is a lot more interest and concern," he said. "You get a lot more people willing to contribute, while before they probably just switched the radio off."

Once regarded as one of Ireland's most important historical locations, it stands between a hairdresser's and a mobile phone shop, surrounded by market stalls offering fish, fruit and vegetables. Several years ago the house was scheduled for demolition, but now the authorities are making surveys of its condition.

The aim is to preserve it as an information and education centre as the area around it undergoes large-scale redevelopment.

Calling for "positive and practical action," a spokesman for An Taisce, the Republic's official heritage body, said: "It's important as a historical location, a place where history happened, and an opportunity to commemorate and explain the event."

The rebellion is annually revered by Irish governments, which mark it with pomp and ceremony as a seminal moment in the foundation of the modern Irish state. But there is a problematic undercurrent to celebrating the event, since the Easter Rising was unquestionably a violent event in which many civilians died.

While the authorities have always regarded this use of force as a legitimate means of budging the British, the outbreak of the northern conflict in the late 1960s posed a huge and troubling question. This arose because the modern IRA claimed validity from the precedent of 1916, saying that it was the legitimate inheritors of the physical-force tradition. The events of 1916, the organisation argued, in effect gave them a licence to kill.

While all sections of official opinion in today's Irish Republic strongly repudiate this view, the authorities are sensitive to the fact that the state had violent roots. Dr Brian Feeney, head of history at St Mary's University College in Belfast, said: "The rising was what created the state, but many southern ministers wish the 1916 stuff would just go away.

"Independent Ireland emerged out of an uprising and guerrilla warfare of a type which in many ways pioneered modern terrorist methods."

Perhaps partly because of this ambivalence, Dublin has comparatively few conspicuous reminders of the rising apart from some plaques. Many key locations, including 16 Moore Street, have not been preserved or highlighted by successive governments.

The importance of the Moore Street house is that many of the rebellion's leaders retreated there after British artillery pounded the General Post Office, the centre of the rising, into rubble.

It was there that the republican leader Padraig Pearse ordered an unconditional surrender "in order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population". After the surrender, Pearse and five occupants of the house were executed by firing squad.

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