GPO may become setting for presidential inaugurations


THE GPO in Dublin may become the setting for future presidential inaugurations, following its transformation to accommodate a museum commemorating the 1916 Rising, The Irish Timeshas learned. FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor reports.

Plans being drawn up by architects in the Office of Public Works (OPW) envisage demolishing part of the building to create a glazed courtyard to the rear, two-thirds the size of the Upper Yard of Dublin Castle.

The two existing courtyards within the GPO are "rather mean", according to a spokesman, so the plan is to demolish the cross-block between them and create a much more impressive civic space.

Beneath this courtyard, there would be a vast concourse - "something like the Louvre [ in Paris] rather than Clery's basement" - which would be accessible from the front and sides of the building.

The concept being worked on is to retain the existing post office, but reconfigure it to create a processional route from the neoclassical portico on O'Connell Street to the courtyard and concourse.

"This could become the 'front room of the nation' within a building that's central to the foundation of the State," the OPW spokesman said. "It could even be used for presidential inaugurations."

Traditionally, presidents have been inaugurated in St Patrick's Hall at Dublin Castle, "with 500 people crammed in, so it would be lovely to have these ceremonies in a space that could accommodate 2,000".

The proposed concourse beneath the courtyard would be a large, column-free exhibition space similar to the central concourse of the Louvre museum, with roof lights above to flood it with natural light.

Apart from a 1916 museum, it would contain a philately museum and possibly also a museum of Dublin. A working group headed by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is examining the options.

The National Museum is advising on the content of the 1916 museum, which is likely to be broader than the Rising itself and its aftermath, but it is likely that professional exhibition designers will also be involved.

It is envisaged that shops would be installed at ground level, along the Prince's Street frontage of the building, to complement plans by Arnott's for a major redevelopment of this "back street" area.

The proposal to demolish the cross-block, which is located halfway between the front of the building and the GPO arcade, means that many of An Post's 1,000 staff will have to relocate to other offices.

However, the OPW spokesman emphasised that the GPO would continue to house the "headquarters function" of An Post as well as the post office, which dates from 1814 and was rebuilt in the 1920s.

The OPW's in-house design team is headed by assistant principal architect Michael Haugh, with Charles Moore as project architect, and overseen by commissioner David Byers, who is also an architect.

The sketch scheme they are preparing is expected to be presented to the Cabinet in May, with a view to getting approval to proceed to planning application stage and finish the building work by 2013.