They are a part of the history of the Irish nation. Their relatives signed the Proclamation of the Republic and led the Easter Rising in 1916. And, these descendants of the executed leaders of the Provisional Government today are leading a different movement, one which seeks to preserve and protect the last battlefield of 1916 from the commercial interests and crass development which threatens to destroy the National Monument, which is Moore Street.
Just as their relatives joined together to fight the British forces in 1916, today the descendants of those brave leaders are members of the Save Moore Street Committee which seeks to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising by creating a living monument to the revolutionary era by preserving and restoring the street where the GPO Garrison sought shelter and five members of the Provisional Government made the decision to surrender to the British forces to prevent further bloodshed.
Right now, that street faces an assault by commercial interests which could destroy its remaining eighteenth century architecture and eliminate the small shops and street market flavor that has characterized Moore Street since the nineteenth century. And, most importantly, those actions could destroy an important historical treasure, making it simply a footnote in a Dublin guidebook.
“As you can imagine, our heritage was drummed into us at an early age. ”, said Muriel McAuley, granddaughter of Thomas MacDonagh, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation and Commandant of the Jacob’s Biscuit Garrison, during the Rising, who was executed by British firing squad on May , 1916. “It was also suggested that we not speak politically, as it would not be seen as we speaking, but our forebears”, she continued. “Many of the other descendants have the same attitude. We tend not to get involved in committees and organizations, but when it became obvious that not only the last headquarters of 1916, but also the last command headquarters which had not been either demolished or virtually rebuilt was about to be just about flattened, with just a cursory shell remaining, then we felt that we could not stand by and let it happen without protest. We owe this to coming generations. “
Mrs. McAuley, in fact, has connections to three of the executed leaders. Her mother, the daughter of Commandant MacDonagh, also was a godchild of Padraig Pearse, and a niece of Grace Gifford, who married Joseph Mary Plunkett, at Kilmainham Jail on the eve of his execution.
The 1916 relatives hope that their involvement in the campaign to preserve and protect the Moore Street Terrace will raise awareness of the significance of this area, designated a National Monument in 2007, and the events which occurred in the streets, shops and apartments of Moore Street on April 27 through 29, in 1916.
Joseph Plunkett’s grand-niece Honor O Brolchain points out that, until she became involved in the Save Moore Street Campaign, she was unaware of the importance of the street to the story of the Easter Rising, despite the fact that Joseph and his two brothers all surrendered on Moore Street.
She believes that many Irish people simply presumed that the Rising ended when the members of the GPO Garrison walked out of that building and surrendered on what is now O’Connell Street, a presumption supported by Hollywood’s version of events depicted in the movie Michael Collins.
But the GPO Garrison did not surrender as Hollywood tells the story. Rather, after days of bombardment from British guns, and with the GPO in flames, the garrison evacuated the Post Office, under fire, through Henry Place, and on to Moore Street. They first stopped at No. 10, but then broke through the interior walls of the attached buildings.
The provisional Government set up their last headquarters in the back room of No. 16, Plunketts Poulterers. The volunteers continued tunneling through to No. 25, thus occupying the entire block. Structural evidence of the rebels’ tunneling remains in several properties within the terrace, according to Committee members. And the brickwork on some of the buildings reflects the scars inflicted by British ordnance.
James Connolly Heron, great-grandson of the Commander of the Irish Citizens Army and Proclamation signatory, the executed James Connolly, feels the fight to Save Moore Street, is very important because “it is incumbent on the State to honour the memory of all the men and women of 1916 through the creation of a 1916 cultural and historic quarter in this area - the very birthplace of our nation. They were, after all, our golden generation - a generation prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country unlike those of a later one - prepared to sacrifice their country for their lavish lifestyles.”
And it appears that the government may be listening. On April 24th, the 96th anniversary of the start of the Easter Rising, Ireland’s Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar annonced that he plans to commission a feasibility study to determine whether the upper end of Dublin’s O’Connell Street could be turned into a 1916 heritage quarter.