Thursday, February 04, 2016

HIDDEN PAGES 1916


Welcome to St. Thomas & St. George Parish Church

This is how the occasion was announced to the press:
"The Irish Society for Archives in conjunction with An Post will host a novel seminar Hidden Pages From the 1916 Rising, at which five archival curators will engage with the public to explore some of the little-known archival sources about this momentous event."
If anything it was an understatement. There were fascinating presentations of new archives, and old ones put to new use, in the exploration of what really happened in 1916.

The venue itself was a piece of history. Its location, structure and financing owed everything to the revolutionary period.
"The Church of St George and St Thomas, Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin (located alongside the Gresham Hotel) was rebuilt in the 1930s following the destruction of an older church (originally located in Marlborough Street) during the Revolutionary period in 1922."
I had been in this most unusual church once before. Originally St. Thomas's, it inherited the parish of St. George from Hardwicke Place when that church ceased to have a religious function and the two parishes were amalgamated. My interest was in St. George's where Richard Brewster, a parishioner who died in WWI was commemorated. While some of the relevant plaques still remain in the old St. George's building, one has transferred to St. Thomas's. You can read all about this here.



Rector Revd Obinna Ulogwara

The Rector, Revd Obinna Ulogwara, made us all very welcome. And with nothing short of an Irish sense of humour told us which two exits to use in case of an emergency. Use of the third exit could lead to us being run over by a bus.



Dr. Raymond Refaussé

Raymond Refaussé, Librarian and Archivist at the Representative Church Body (RCB) and a man with archives in his blood, introduced the occasion and gave us some idea what was in store for us.



Patsy McGarry

Our MC for the night was Patsy McGarry, more usually the religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times, but currently engaged in resisting an attempted landgrab by Co. Westmeath of a not insubstantial chunk of Co. Roscommon, his home county.

Patsy guided us smoothly and entertainingly through the evening's speakers.



Colm O'Riordan

Our first stop was the Irish Architectural Archive in Merrion Square. I've been in there and they have whacks of very interesting stuff on the built environment. Colm took us through some of the structures relevant to the 1916 Rising, not forgetting the GPO and the RHA HQ in Lower Abbey Street. Both these buildings were destroyed in the rising, making for two out of three hits on the works of Francis Johnston in the city centre. The third strike on his city center work had to wait for the 50th anniversary of the Rising - Nelson's Pillar.

I was particularly interested in the enormous bakery that was destroyed at the bottom of O'Connell Street. It had been a most out of place building. Its successor became the central cinema with its controversial canopy defying city ordinances, though Colm didn't mention this particular mortal sin by Councillor O'Farrell.

Colm told us how, in the reconstruction of O'Connell St., the Corporation for the first time insisted on controlling the façades of the new buildings. This led to some serious rows but the Corpo held their ground. If this "enlightened" approach had continued into independence we might have been spared some of the abominations that were permitted in the name of progress in the latter half of the 20th century.



Ellen Murphy

Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist at Dublin City Library and Archives, revealed ‘Reactions to the Easter Rising in the Monica Roberts Collection at Dublin City Library and Archive’ under the heading: "It was grand to see our Tommies".

This archive is a collection of correspondence between Monica Roberts and the troops at the front in WWI along with a short diary of Monica's own contemporaneous reactions to the Rising. The tone is British and Unionist and the sentence quoted above was her reaction to the arrival in the city of British army reinforcements.



Gráinne Doran

Wexford County Archivist, Gráinne Doran took us to one of the other parts of the country outside Dublin where there was significant action during the Rising. Her current project is ‘The collective effort of the men and women in County Wexford, Easter 1916’, and it is concentrated on the action in Enniscorthy. There is an emphasis on oral history as well as the usual written and visual sources. She will be covering not just the activity in Co. Wexford itself but also action by Wexford people in the capital.



Pádraig Allen

Pádraig Allen took us through the emergency medical response to the Rising, as revealed through the newly discovered archives of St John Ambulance Ireland. These are full of fascinating stuff. They are particularly relevant in the context of redressing the current gender imbalance in the reporting of the Rising.The medical response was an area in which women distinguished themselves at all levels.

Pádraig wore the 1916 John's Ambulance uniform which he had specially made for this centenary year.



Stephen Ferguson

Stephen Ferguson, Assistant Secretary at An Post, was talking about ‘The staff of the GPO during Easter Week, 1916". In fact he gave us a thrilling sequence of stories on how the Rebels neutralised the city's communications hub and on the ingenuity of some of the staff in re-establishing alternative communications routings.

He also drew our attention to the current importance of the central Post Office archive in London, given the destruction of so much material in the GPO.



There was a very lively and lengthy Q&A at the end where the questions and answers competed with a host of new stories recounted by members of the audience.

The Irish Society for Archives and An Post are to be commended for sponsoring a great evening. And particular thanks are due to Dr. Susan Hood, Assistant Librarian and Archivist at the RCB, for a flawless piece of organisation.

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