As one of Ireland’s most famous buildings and the last of the Georgian public buildings to be erected in the capital, the GPO acted as Rising headquarters throughout Easter Week 1916 and it was from here that Pádraig Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic for the first time.
A new $8.56 million (€7.8 million) visitor attraction, expected to open in March 2016, has been under construction at the iconic landmark since late last year.
Situated in the inner eastern courtyard of the building, the development of the the 17,200 sq ft (1,600 sq m) GPO Witness History Interpretive Exhibition Centre is now reaching the final stages following months of various building materials being hoisted over the GPO’s roof by crane.
GPO Witness History is one of the seven major highlights of the centenary year and the center is expected to welcome up to 300,000 visitors annually, introducing everybody from the Irish history buff to international tourists to special effects, soundscapes and the incredible stories of those in Dublin during the Rising.
The Irish postal service An Post has described the center as "an immersive experience which will bring to life the personal stories of those involved in and impacted by the Irish rebellion" while Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys has stated that it is "an exciting step back in time".
When the Rising began on Easter Monday 1916, Pearse and other Republican leaders seized the GPO, replacing the British Union flag with the flag of the new republic. Only a small group of staff were on duty in the post office at the time so as to keep essential services going on the Catholic holy day. The customers and staff were asked to leave when the Rising’s troop entered although a number of Post Office telegraph staff and some unarmed soldiers barricaded the doors upstairs and refused to leave until shots were fired.
The GPO had been chosen as headquarters because of its position in Dublin’s city center and, as the biggest post office in Ireland, it was the heart of communications throughout the country.
Just before midday, Pearse read the Proclamation from the GPO, a surviving original copy of which is still in the possession of An Post.
Overall military commander, James Connolly, and four other members of the military council—Pádraig Pearse, Tom Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada and Joseph Plunkett—were stationed at the post office through the events of the Rising until forced to leave because of fires caused by days of shelling by the British Army.
In the past 100 years, the GPO has remained a symbol of Irish nationalism, despite being the only major rebel post to be taken during the week, and it featured heavily in the 1966 commemorations as it will throughout 2016.
Much of the original building was destroyed during the Rising and was left unrepaired for some years throughout the War of Independence and the Civil War, until the government of the Irish Free State took up the restoration project. Within the building stands a statue depicting the death of the mythical hero Cúchulainn sculpted by Oliver Sheppard in 1911.
Although the center will not officially be open until March, bookings can be made through their website.