Selfies, sunshine and gur cake at Dublin’s Road to the Rising

The real star of the day is the sun, making its first lasting impression since the end of last summer

Conor Pope takes a tour of O'Connell Street which was transformed as part of RTE's 'Road to the Rising'. Costumed volunteers, historical walking tours and restored artefacts helped evoke an Edwardian atmosphere in the capital. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

There is a Massy Brothers coffin-filled hearse parked at the top of O’Connell St just under the shadow of Parnell. It’s surrounded by people laughing and taking selfies in the sun.

“I hear there’s a body in there already. He’s ready for take off,” a man says. The crowd surrounding this most sombre of carriages laughs.

A woman looks on at all the mirth mournfully. “That’s Sean Patrick O’Neill,” she tells a confused looking boy from Brazil who has just happened upon the scene. “He was my cousin and he died on this street after he was hit by a tram. He’s left behind 10 children. It is so, so sad.”

She shakes her head and looks close to tears.

Hildo Marques Psousa’s confusion grows. He moved here from Brazil a couple of weeks back and hasn’t a notion what is going on in Dublin right now. Eventually he interrupts her.

“I don’t think this is true,” he says to her earnestly. “I think maybe this happens but not maybe to you. Not the way you are smiling.”

It is Sean Patrick O’Neill’s cousin’s turn to looks confused but she continues to mourn his passing.

Eventually Hildo wanders on and it is only then that Rachel Fayne comes out of character. She is one of the 250 volunteers playing an acting role in RTÉ’s Road to the Rising, the wonderful celebration of Dublin at Easter 1915 when it was unknowingly readying itself for an insurrection that would shape the next 100 years.

While the 21st Century Volunteers are sprinkled among the tens of thousands of people who have come out to play, the real star of the day is the sun, making its first lasting impression the city since the end of last summer.

Music fills the air and actors and members of the public mingle among the many stalls which have lined the city’s main street. Unusually, perhaps, for a high-profile city centre event, there isn’t a drunk teenager skulling cheap lager to be seen anywhere.

Near the James Larkin statue a large crowd has gathered. A small child is hoisted on to his dad’s shoulders to see what is happening. “Ah it’s just a man talkin, Da,” he says. He sounds most unimpressed.

The hundred or so people who have formed a huddle mass around John Gibney as his historical walking tour of the area gets underway are a whole lot more impressed.

“I’d no idea we’d get such a great crowd”, he says as he leads his group from Big Jim Larkin to the junction of Henry St and O’Connell St where the second stage of his tour starts. “It’s making it difficult to navigate but sure we’ll see how we get on.”

As he picks his way gingerly through the crowd, his audience pepper him with questions about the Rising. He answers them all easily enough as he rubs his reddening neck. “I don’t have any sunscreen on. I didn’t expect it to be so sunny. I reckon I’ll do one more tour and then retreat to the shadows like a mushroom,” he says before leading his tour part up Moore St while a nearby choir belts out a melodic version of Kodaline’s High Hopes.

The Waldorf Barber Shop has taken a stall near the spire and barber Christian Hoey is inviting passers by to sit in an antique barber’s chair and pose for a picture as he tends to them.

In the quiet moments, he tends to his own perfectly sculpted handlebar moustache. Beside him is a big poster alerting would-be customers to the various beard styles that would have been popular in the year before the Rising.

“We had them before the hipsters,” he says. “Before they were cool.”

There is something of a commotion at the Manning’s Bakery stall next door. Four women in early 20th century clothes are handing out free gur cake. Some people eye the dark brown paste sandwiched between slices of pale pastry suspiciously.

There are no suspicious eyes to be found among the Cully Sisters. They are delighted to have stumbled upon the bakery. Four of the five sisters worked in the bakery on Talbot St going back almost 50 years.

“I started there nearly 44 years ago when I was 14,” Denise says. “The Gur Cake we used to sell was only gorgeous. Four of us worked there. Mind you Olive only lasted one day. She wouldn’t wash the tables,” she continues. Olive, standing at her shoulder nods in agreement.

There is a lot of interest in the free food, the queue for the carousel stretches further than those any of the other attractions. “It’s longer than the queues at Disneyland,” one punter says.

No-one seems to mind the wait, mind you. Sunshine will do that to people.

Mary Enright from Drumcondra is dressed as Helena Moloney, the prominent Republican, feminist and labour activist. Mary is having a blast.

“A lot of attention will be focused on the 100th anniversary next year but today we are celebrating the 99th and isn’t that just as important. The city has been crying out for something like this for a long time,” she says.

Just behind Mary/Helena are a couple of suffragettes. It is no accident that Evelyn and Greta Quinlan have come dressed in honour of those who fought for women’s right to vote.

“We believe in equal rights,” Evelyn says. “And considering the referendum on marriage equality that is coming up we are in a very political space right now so we had to dress up in costumes that would promote equality for all people.”

She breaks off to pose for a picture. There is a lot of posing for pictures. For one day the city’s main street has turned into Instagram paradise.

On a stage near the spire the Postman’s Choir are finishing up a rousing chorus of Danny Boy - a tune that was enormously popular in 1915. It still has resonance today judging from the cheers and cries of encore when the postmen have delivered their last song.

Teresa Gogarty and three generations of her family are here for the day. They have only just arrived but are very impressed by what they have seen so far. “We have a 10-year-old who is learning about 1916 in school so it is nice for her to see it brought to life.”

Her father-in-law Joe breaks in to the conversation. “We have a son-in-law whose grandfather took part in the Rising,” he says enthusiastically. “He was a runner in Clanwilliam House. We have two candle sticks he took from there as the place crumbled.”

The family wander off in search of diversion. It’s not hard to find.