There are seven big projects lined up for the 1916 centenary next year. Or, as the government has decided they shall be known, seven “Permanent Reminders”.
Restoration works are underway at Richmond Barracks, Kilmainham Gaol, the Military Archives, the Kevin Barry Rooms at the National Concert Hall, and Teach an Phiarsaigh, a cottage used by Patrick Pearse. And there’ll be a General Post Office Interpretive Centre and a Tenement Museum at Henrietta Street.
It might seem like the government has forgotten something. Wasn’t there another project it plans to have ready to mark the centenary of the Rising: the 1916 Commemorative Centre at 14-17 Moore Street?
In fact, the buildings may have the status of National Monument but they lack that of Permanent Reminder.
Either way, it will be another space where visitors can come to experience the commemoration of the Rising next Easter. Or will it?
An Taisce Heritage Officer Ian Lumley is more than sceptical. He’s good reason to be.
In March of this year, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys announced plans to purchase 14-17 Moore Street, to turn it into a commemorative centre to mark the centenary of the Rising.
The site, the last headquarters of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, where the rebels decided to surrender and abandon the rebellion, was to be acquired from owners Chartered Land Limited for a fee believed to be around €4 million.
Fianna Fail TD and party spokesperson for arts and culture Sean O Fearghail welcomed the proposal, but criticised the government for being too slow in recognising the importance of the monument as a unique part of Irish history.
“Restoration works should be well underway at this stage considering the 1916 centenary celebrations are just over a year away,” he said in a statement on Fianna Fail’s website. “It is of fundamental importance that Moore Street and the surrounding area is ready for the upcoming 1916 celebrations.”
Three-and-a-half months have gone by. The government has yet to buy the National Monument.
Is There Time?
Discussions about transferring 14-17 Moore Street into state ownership are still going on between the Department of Arts, the owners and other parties, according to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. “This process is ongoing and is nearing completion.”
But Lumley doesn’t believe the centre will be ready in time to mark the centenary “because of the nature and the complexity of the work and the public tendering process hasn’t been initiated”.
The tendering process is likely to take some time, he says. Documents have to be drawn up. They would have to be advertised. There would have to be some weeks given to contractors to respond. And some weeks more to consider and appoint before things could start up.
“I can’t see anything happening for months,” he says.
Barry Lyons of the 1916 Relatives Association is inclined to agree.
“It would be impossible now,” he says. “Even going back as far as last year, the time frame wouldn’t be suitable to restore the buildings in time for 2016. I think the government has realised that as well.”
They don’t seem to have. “Minister Humphreys has said she hopes the project can be completed in the centenary year, as she is keen to have it open to the public as soon as possible,” the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht also said.
A Familiar Story
The seeming lack of political will to conserve and restore the Moore Street buildings, aka the “birthplace of the nation”, is not new – or unique to the current government.
In 1998, planning permission was granted by Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanala to the Carlton Group for a major commercial development on a one-hectare site stretching from O’Connell Street to Moore Street. The decision included approved plans for the demolition of 10-25 Moore Street.
There was significant opposition to the proposed development. Not least from the National Graves Association (NGA) and relatives of the signatories of the Irish Proclamation who objected, in particular, to the proposal for a “Millennium Wing” that would link O’Connell Street to Moore Street.
It spawned a new campaign, which advocated the preservation of the Moore Street terrace, especially Number 16, the last headquarters for the leaders of the Rising.
With pressure from groups such as the NGA and people like James Connolly Heron, grandson of 1916 leader James Connolly, Number 16 was granted an order of preservation about a decade ago. Yet, without restoration or conservation, the building decayed.
Much of the roof was missing and the original fireplaces were stolen, said Matt Doyle, secretary of the NGA. “They were just derelict buildings,” he says. “It reflects really poorly on the state.”
In 2007, the NGA and groups such as the Save 16 Committee successfully campaigned for then Minister for the Environment Dick Roche to have the building elevated to National Monument status. Roche rolled numbers 14, 15 and 17 in too.
But still nothing happened, and the buildings fell into further disrepair. On a visit to the site, relatives of the leaders of the Rising were dismayed at how dilapidated the buildings had become.
James Connolly Heron said the buildings were in a worse state than they had been six years earlier, when they’d been elevated to status of National Monument.
In April 2014, Chartered Land – having acquired the National Monument and much of the old Carlton Cinema site which is bounded by O’Connoll Street, Moore Street, Henry Street and Parnell Street in 2005 – was granted planning permission to build a massive retail development surrounding the historic buildings.
As part of the plan, the developers, whose loans on the site had been transferred to NAMA, had been given consent the year before by then Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan to restore 14-17 Moore Street and build an interpretative centre.
Deenihan pitched the move as certain to “secure the future of one of the most important sites in modern Irish history”.
Along with the interpretive centre for the General Post Office, the Moore Street commemmorative centre “will provide a key focal point for our commemoration of the events, the people, and the sacrifices they made in 1916”, he said in a press release.
Some of the campaigners welcomed the plans, but others felt the plans didn’t go far enough.
Campaigners like James Connolly Heron, Barry Lyons and Matt Dylon of the NGA had been – and still are – calling for the preservation of the entire terrace of 10-26 Moore Street, where 200 to 300 volunteers spent the last days of the Rising.
In its 2013 report, Dublin City Council’s Moore Street Advisory Committee highlighted the “immense importance” of Number 10 Moore Street as the first building which the rebels entered and occupied, where the leaders of the Rising stayed overnight following the evacuation from the General Post Office.
The committee recommended “that the City Council, through nominees from the Moore Street Advisory Committee, start discussions with Chartered Land and NAMA with a view to securing the retention of this historical building.”
This recommendation fell on deaf ears, and the plans for the Moore Street commemorative centre took a couple of odd turns to where they lie now, in waiting.
Too Little, Too Late
The first turn was a proposed “land swap deal”, which would have seen the transfer of 14-17 Moore Street from Chartered Land into council ownership in exchange for numbers 24 and 25, which are currently owned by the council. This was voted down in November last year with 22 in favour, 38 against and one abstention.
Then, earlier this year, Minister Humphreys announced her plans to buy the National Monument from Chartered Land.
With the commemorative centre already approved under the National Monuments Act, she’d planned to bring proposals to the government, outlining plans for the restoration and opening of the centre.
“This puts an end to the uncertainty surrounding the future of these buildings and ensures that they will be accessible to all who are interested in the history of the 1916 Rising,” she said.
But with the buildings yet to be purchased and with work yet to have started, the uncertainty surrounding the future of 14-17 Moore clearly remains.
As things stand, An Taisce’s Lumley says “it certainly won’t be ready for Easter”.