Demolishing Tradition

Sandy Boyer (SB) and John McDonagh (JM) interview via telephone from Dublin Seán Whelan (SW) of the National Graves Association about the current events in the effort to save Moore Street. TPQ transcriber has our thanks.

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
16 January 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 41:38)

SB: And we're going over to Dublin to talk to Seán Whelan from the National Graves Association. Seán, thanks very much for being with us.

SW: You're welcome, Sandy. Nice to speak with you.

SB: And people may not know but - everybody's heard of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin where the Easter Rebellion was fought but there's a house on Moore Street that people don't know that much about. Tell us about it.

SW: There's an old terrace on Moore Street when the rebel leaders were in the GPO near the end of the 1916 battle the GPO was heavily bombed and was on fire and collapsing so they evacuated it and there's a street that runs down one side of it and they crossed that street into a small street called Moore Street and they tunneled through the houses on Moore Street and they took control of all the houses on that side of that street, of Moore Street. And that's where James Connolly was in a stretcher in one of those houses that Pearse left to surrender from, where Nurse O'Farrell famously brought the flag of surrender up to the British leader, General Maxwell. And one of the houses on that street was also commanded by a very young Michael Collins. It's one of the most historical structures we have in relation to 1916. In fact, it's probably the most, by far the most historical structure that's still standing because, of course, the GPO was destroyed, all that's left of the GPO are the pillars in front of it. So it's crucially historically important so that's basically where we are with it; our government wants to demolish it.

SB: Yeah, that's what I want to get to: The Irish government owes its existence to Easter 1916. Now it wants to demolish the terrace on Moore Street.

SW: Yep! We fought long campaign to have four of the - we tried to have the whole street dedicated as a national monument but eventually they agreed to four houses - 14 to 17 Moore Street as a national monument – they can't destroy that. But what they want to do is they want to demolish the buildings immediately at either side and demolish the rest of the street but the whole street is a battle scene site and is one of the most crucial in the country. It should be turned into, and I think any sensible person would agree, it should be turned into an historical and cultural area. It would be a major tourist attraction and it would be a beautiful asset in the middle of the city rather than another glass and brick shopping centre which is what they want to build there.

SB: Help us understand I mean, even from a...

SW: ...Well I don't think I can help you understand it, Sandy, because I don't understand it! I can't understand how a government can allow, a national government can allow, such an historical treasure to be destroyed. It would be like destroying The Alamo in Texas or be like destroying The Bastille in France. Now, our national newspaper, The Irish Times, ran an article last week where they said that – it's re-echoing what a couple of politicians have said – that Moore Street had no historical importance before 1916 – well, The Bastille had no historical before the French Revolution and had the Texans not taken a stand at The Alamo it would be just another old mission station and it' would have been long since faded away.

SB: Well for that matter who would care about the Tara Post Office?

SW: Yeah well, there you go! But it's crucially historic. Now, they moved in with bulldozers there to start the demolition last week and the people of Dublin responded magnificently and all sorts of groups turned up there to protect the buildings and stood around them. So the relatives have now taken out a High Court injunction – there's a group of 1916 relatives, people who are descended from the signatories of The Proclamation and other prominent figures from 1916 – and they have their own group and they've taken out an injunction to prevent work on it so until the injunction has been heard by the High Court it's come to a halt at the moment. But this struggle has gone on to save these buildings for many, many years now and initially it was owned by a group called Chartered Land who got planning permission from Dublin City Council to do the demolition work. Now Chartered Land has since gone into what's called NAMA here, it's the National Asset Management Authority, for big companies, development companies, that were on the verge of going bust - basically the government body, the NAMA, took them over. So NAMA now own those buildings so, in effect, the government own them. So the government own the buildings, the historical buildings, that they now want to destroy.

JM: And Seán, I just wanted to jump in here: The way now because of the internet we're getting to follow the occupation of those buildings and there's videos of Damien Dempsey outside singing rebel songs – Do you think because it's the hundredth anniversary it's stirring up more of a passion? Because it is good to see younger people going out and doing this - it's not like it's the old time Republicans that are taking it over – that there is another generation that rose up and took over these buildings.

SW: Yeah, that's right and I think that's a crucial part of it, John, because it's one of the aspects of the whole thing about 1916 and the leaders of the past. It's that we have very conservative, right-wing governments and political parties here who want that to be forgotten. They don't want young people being radicalised and getting onto the streets to save buildings like that. They don't want them understanding their history and understanding that people can make a change and politics can be affected. That's what they don't want. And you're quite right, the one hundred anniversary is bringing this to more and more people's attention and more and more young people are reading it and understanding it – the period – and admiring the sacrifice and the commitment of the men and women of that period and other periods in our history and for conservation government who wants to be able to do what it like and run roughshod over people's rights and bring in the type of austerity we have at the moment and call it economic growth you need an ignorant young population to make that work and that suits their purposes.

SB: And Seán, you had a strategic decision to make: You called off the mass protests temporarily while this court case is pending. Do you want to tell us...

SW: ...Well, I didn't. Actually, the relatives' group and the Save 16 Moore Street Committee were running that occupation but that whole occupation was sort of spontaneous – there was all sorts of groups involved in it - so the High Court action means that they can't do any demolition or any work on the buildings for the time being so they're secure until that court case is heard.

SB: But again, it just strikes me that – even from a profit and loss standpoint - this is incredibly shortsighted.

SW: Oh, absolutely, yeah! It's a major – it could be a major, major tourist attraction. It could be like - Kilmainham Gaol is where the 1916 leaders were executed and other periods of our history – Republicans were executed there as well. Now in the 1940's our government decided they were going to demolish Kilmainham Gaol and again it was the National Graves Association at the time who ran a massive campaign to save Kilmainham Gaol. Well now, Kilmainham Gaol is the second most visited museum on the island and to get in a tour there during the summer time you have to book in advance or wait hours and hours. And people go into that museum now and literally wait half a day just to get a tour of it – it is so popular.

SB: I've been in it and it's magnificent – it really is. And to think that you could have something comparable to that on Moore Street – right in the centre of Dublin. I mean if you know – well it's right off O'Connell Street - the centre of Dublin where every tourist goes. I mean, that's potential!

SW: And quite clearly another massive glass and steel shopping centre is not going to be a big tourist attraction.

SB: (laughs) No, unfortunately I don't think you have any shortage of them!

SW: No. It's actually short-sighted building those in the middle of cities now. Most of the major shopping centres throughout the western world have been built outside the cities where there's ample parking and room to spread. But building a shopping centre like in O'Connell Street is just creating more traffic.

SB: There's no shortage of traffic there.

SW: There's no shortage of traffic and there's no shortage of shopping centres. They tend to become dated pretty quickly and demolished anyway, so...

SB: So how long is this case going to go in the High Court?

SW: Don't know. The High Court will hear it. I'd imagine they'd hear it fairly quickly because it's such a prominent case and we'll just watch this spot as they say and see what happens. But there is a determination there among elements of government to demolish as much of that street as they can and it's been going on for a long time. But people are responding magnificently to it and the people of Dublin want to save Moore Street – there's no doubt about that.

SB: So John, do you have any...?

JM: No, Seán, just maybe quickly: What plans for the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Uprising is the National Graves Association doing?

SW: We spent the last two years renovating – there's a plot in Saint Paul's section of Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin where the members of the Irish Citizens Army and the Volunteers who came from England and Scotland and who died in 1916 are buried – now it's a huge monument there and we undertook to completely renovate it in time for the anniversary, the hundredth anniversary of 1916. So we will have it - the work's still going on but we will have it complete, we're absolutely certain we'll have it completed in time, and we'll be having a major commemoration there and unveiling the new monument. If you have a chance to go on our website or our Facebook page - it's magnificent, the monument, it's all done with limestone and granite.

SB: Seán, thank you very much and please keep in touch – this is very important.

SW: Will do. Thanks very much, Sandy. Good to speak to you.

(ends time stamp ~ 51:35)

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