‘GET YOUR APPLES or oranges’… ‘Anyone now for the last of the strawberries’… ‘Wrapping paper five for fifty’… The sounds of my childhood.
My family were ‘dealers’ on Moore Street, subsequently changed to traders after the infestation of heroin into Dublin in the 1980s and 1990s.
My grandmother’s fruit and veg stall faced the now famous terrace. The last stand in which the leaders and the ordinary men and women that fought in 1916 fled the burning GPO to seek shelter and set up their final command as their headquarters against the British empire.
I heard stories on that street of the fighting and slaughter that took place on Moore Street and the heroic stories of sacrifice men made in the surrounding lanes of Henry Place and Moore Lane.
As the years passed, The Dublin Corporation tightened its strangle hold on Moore Street, as my family, like many others, grew ever distant and detached from the street, swapping inner city life to raise a family in Finglas.
Something clicked with me on Friday – I had to go down there
Yet, despite the absence from the street, something in my brain clicked on Friday when I first heard the news of the builders entering the terrace with the intention of demolition and a small group of protesters stopping the destruction.
Maybe it was equating the hypocrisy of all the years that the Dublin Corporation and Dublin City Council had tried to end the livelihood of traders on Moore Street, while also selling the picture of Moore Street in its blooming glory in advertisements as a Tourist destination.
Comparing that to our government’s eagerness to sell 1916 by constantly reminding us of the vast commemorations and celebrations that they have organised, while at the same time destroying the very buildings in which this rising took place.
Destroying these buildings forever. There is no getting them back once gone, but we can always build more shopping centres and hotels; the reasoning behind the destruction.
Millions of tourists flock to see empty fields where great battles took place at Somme or Gettysburg, yet on our own doorstep we have a unique situation of having a preserved battlefield. The buildings, the roads, the lanes, the bridges, the houses, the gardens that contain multiple stories of the Rising are all still there and intact; for now.
Anyone who visits Boston will be familiar with the ‘Freedom Trail’, yet any future tourist to Dublin will be only be familiar with tacky cut price shops and fast food restaurants that will stand instead of the buildings where the birth of our independence was incepted, and where a few idealistic men and women with hopes of freedom took on the biggest empire in the world.
A part of our history
We can retrace the last footsteps of the men and women who fought in 1916, down the same roads and lanes and to the same buildings. The rebels left the side door of the GPO onto Henry Street, under a hail of bullets, seeking shelter in the adjacent Henry Lane.
In the lane, many rebels died as they tired to build a makeshift barricade across Moore Lane, out of carts seized at the still standing lemonade bottle factory in Henry Lane.
Erecting the barricade under the unrelenting fire of British machine gunners from the Rotunda Hospital end. Having successfully mounted a barricade the rebels made their way further down the lane to Moore Street, but once again stopped by the hail of machine gun bullets.
Stuck in the lane between Moore Street and Henry Street, their only option was to burrow through the wall of 10 Moore Street, where Willie Pearse spent that night, occupying the the now endangered terrace.
The rebels continued to burrow through walls with hammers, bricks and butts of rifles until the leadership had taken up command in the centre of the terrace in number 16.
This was the last stand of the newly declared Irish Republic, where the dying James Connoly lay and where Elizabeth Farrell and Patrick Pearse took the final steps up Moore street with a white flag to surrender to the British forces.
As a father, I want to be able to have the chance to bring my children down through these lanes and buildings to see an intact history and hear the stories as I did.
As a history teacher, I want to bring my kids and students here
As a history teacher, I want to be able to bring my students and future students down these roads to show them that the need all, get all, consumer and commodity thirsty culture taking a grip on young people can be superseded by education, knowledge and history.
What example are we setting to future generations if we allow history to be bulldozed for another shopping centre, another fast food restaurant and for the profits of developers.
We hear constantly about the success of the Atlantic Way in bringing hoards of new tourists to Ireland, therefore any logical thinker can see the benefits of replicating the ‘Freedom Trail’ in Boston and bring in a wave of new tourists to Ireland and Dublin to partake in the ’1916 Freedom Walk’, or the creation of a ’1916 Quarter’.
With these thoughts in my mind, I decided I needed to act and head towards Moore Street after work on that Friday afternoon.
Behind the newly erected building hoardings of the dilapidated National Monument gathered up to 60 people from all walks of life, and huddled in number 18 Moore Street were builders to bus drivers, politicians to musicians, teachers to taxi drivers, shop owners to unemployed.
People chatted in small groups dispersed between piles of rubble in the wind swept and cold building that resembled a building site. The few chairs that occupied the building were reserved for older men and women protesters present.
We passed the time chatting to strangers, we talked about the history of the building, I told Wicklow people about Moore Street of old, while more serious conversations and debates ensured about Dublin GAA and the quest for back to back All Ireland’s without our full back O’Carroll.
Gathering with strangers in Number 18
Unselfish people made tea, while the rest of us drank it, mainly holding the cup to keep our hands warm. That evening the group gathered at the back of number 18 away from the exposed front of the building.
The protesters stood in a large circle and spoke openly about the seriousness of protecting the buildings, that only impeccable behaviour will be accepted on site at all times.
The group erected barriers blocking anyone from entering the ‘protected’ monument from numbers 14-17, while one man gave a lecture on safety; constantly reiterating this is a building site.
With just a few scattered chairs, the realisation dawned that after my initial impulsive reaction to simply go to Moore Street upon hearing the news, most of those staying the night will not be sleeping.
Volunteers putting their names forward to stay were not in short supply. The task to preserve these buildings and our history was too important, before it is erased forever.
The National Museum described the buildings as ‘the most important historic site in modern Irish history’. Some people had to volunteer to stay out in cold, misty rain that had begun to descend, tasked with guarding the entrance and the scaffolding, as being a Friday night those inside needed to be prepared for any mischievous nightclubbers that might appear in the early hours.
Sitting against the historical walls, discussing our past
Inside people sat on the cold ground, with backs to walls and on make shift benches. With all of us gathered in the one space we continued our previous conversations about the building, the street, our history and the government policy to knock this important and symbolic terrace down in the centenary year of 1916.
The ultimate question in all of this is, ‘what we value more as a society’.
The destruction of our history for another shopping centre, fast food outlet and hotel. No one standing in this building now, believes that those things don’t have a place in a modern city, we simply believe their place should not be at the destruction of our historical buildings.
We can always build more shopping centres or hotels in different city centre sites, but we can never rebuild our history once destroyed.
Seán Fox is a history teacher from Finglas.