Living history at the GPO
A new interactive visitor centre, GPO Witness History, has been built in the building that was at the centre of the Rising
Catering for all ages and nationalities, GPO Witness History will explain the social and political context of the Rising, the lives of the ordinary and the famous, and also the events of the time.
Before 1916 the General Post Office (GPO) was the main sorting office for letters and telegrams, and acted as the nerve centre for communications both within Ireland and to Britain and the wider empire.
In planning the 1916 Rising the rebels’ military council decided against a serious effort to seize Dublin Castle, erroneously believing it was heavily fortified. They instead chose the GPO.
Although lacking the castle’s martial splendour and administrative importance, it was an imposing building of national importance at the heart of Dublin’s commercial district.
On Easter Monday, April 24th, 1916, the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army, led by Pearse and Connolly, duly marched their rebels into the GPO, forcing stunned staff and customers to leave at gunpoint.
Pearse then strode outside to read out the 1916 Proclamation to the general bemusement of the bank holiday crowds. The Rising had started.
Alerted by their malfunctioning telegraph lines, staff in the telegraph room upstairs barricaded themselves in and informed the British authorities. They refused to leave until the rebels threatened to shoot them.
A few weeks previously the post office had just completed lavish renovation work of the GPO. These new counters, floor tiles, office fittings and doors didn’t last long. A week later the GPO was a burning shell. It was not fully rebuilt until 1929.
Today the GPO is thought to be the world’s longest operational post office HQ, and the country’s busiest post office, containing six floors and 950 staff.
A new two-storey interactive visitor centre, GPO Witness History, has been built in an existing courtyard just behind the public post office area.
The centrepiece of the State’s 2016 Permanent Reminders programme, this immersive experience will feature previously unseen artefacts donated by families and will open on Easter Sunday, March 27th. An Post describes it as an international-level visitor attraction.
Catering for all ages and nationalities, GPO Witness History will explain the social and political context of the time, the lives of the ordinary and the famous, and also the events of the time. At least 300,000 visitors a year are expected.
In the middle of the exhibition is a 15-minute “video experience” of the 1916 Rising. There will also be an original Proclamation, plus a focus on the 40 children killed in the Rising.
Visitors will also see two reconstructed bedrooms side by side – one from an opulent Georgian house; another from a single-room tenement.
Visitors can also view movie booths in which modern and contemporary historians air opposing views.
The upper level of this new centre will showcase how the Rising was commemorated over the past 100 years, and its impact internationally, before culminating in a retail and café area on a quiet covered outdoor courtyard which will also feature late-night entertainment.
Dublin artist Barbara Knezevic has been commissioned to create a permanent memorial in black limestone in this courtyard, to the 40 children who died. There is also a memorial wall to all those who played a part in the Rising.