Without doubt, Dublin is regarded as one of the great party capitals of Europe, and with very good reason. This stately, graceful city on the Liffey is chock full of bars, clubs and restaurants, all set along and around some of the most spellbinding Georgian architecture anywhere in Europe. And, of course, the locals have a reputation for earthy, honest to goodness carousing that draws people in from all over the world. In short, Dublin is the good time that literally millions of people want to have.
But Dublin is far more than her street entertainers, her outdoor terraces packed with revellers in the long, humid summer nights, and her streets thronged with stag and hen parties from around Europe. Dublin has a subtle undercurrent that is far more nuanced, and it revolves around her place as the pivot on which Ireland’s bid to break free from British rule was wound. In short, the events that led to the infamous 1916 ‘Easter Rising’ that was suppressed at such a high cost in blood on both sides.
The abortive rising was put down in a wave of savage fighting, and the captured leaders of the rebellion were, for the most part, later shot by firing squads in the stark, cobbled stone breaker’s yard at Kilmainham Gaol, in the northern suburbs of the capital. You can still visit the site today and, even in the brilliant light of a warm summer’s afternoon, that brutal, brooding old cul- de- sac exudes an air of solemn finality. I would not even consider visiting the place alone at night.
It was the reaction to the rebellion, rather than the act itself, that really seemed to focus Irish minds at the time. There was little real local support for the original rising; Britain and her Empire was engaged in a life and death struggle with Imperial Germany at that time, and scores of Irish born troops were fighting for King and Country amid the carnage of the western front. The idea of rising up and claiming independence right at that time- though ultimately desirable to many- seemed more than a little wrong.
From the British perspective, it was obvious that the rebellion had to be put down forcibly. Whitehall knew full well that a shipment of German arms was inbound for the rebels- it was intercepted off the southern coast of Ireland, and the German captain was obliged to scuttle his ship. With the threat of German intervention thus very real, the British gave short shrift to the captured leaders of the rebellion, culminating in those final, ghastly scenes in the yard at Kilmainham Gaol.
But those same executions were also seen as excessive by the local populace, which had also been shocked by the rapid and brutal suppression of the original attempt. Public opinion in Ireland began to turn irrevocably towards independence, leading ultimately to the ‘two state’ situation that still exists to the present day.
For a great, dramatic overview of the entire story of the Easter Rising, I definitely recommend visiting Dublin’s stately General Post Office. This was the headquarters of the rebel leaders during that fateful Easter Week back in 1916; it was on the famous steps at the front that the original proclamation of independence was read out in the first place. Though much of the actual fighting and skirmishing took place in the surrounding streets and on the periphery of the Post Office (The GPO as it is always referred to), it’s place at the heart of the rebellion is universally acknowledged on both sides.
Inside, an evocative, sobering display of artefacts from the time combines with modern, audio visual technology to create a slowly unfolding timeline of the events leading up to the rebellion, the act itself as it played out over the course of one long, bloody week, and the inevitable consequences for all concerned, right up to the present day. It’s foolhardy pride tinged with sadness, a sense of frustration mixed with fatalism, and an adrenaline fuelled sense of urgency to force a conclusion, whatever the human and material cost might be.
So yes, enjoy the sense of partying, and the breezy sense of down to earth fun that has long been Dublin’s gift to the rest of the world. But also do her the respect of acknowledging that there is more, far more, to this magical, mercurial city that still sprawls along the banks of the River Liffey. She deserves more.