Although many of the leaders of the 1916 rising were held in Richmond Barracks before their execution in Kilmainham Gaol, the building was originally constructed to protect Ireland from another colonial power.
“The barracks was first built by the British to defend against Napoleon,” says Tom Garry, the guide, through his thick white moustache, on a humid August afternoon, as he brings a group of eight on a tour of this historic site in Dublin 8.
Garry is giving the Goldenbridge Cemetery tour. One of many new additions to the revamped Richmond Barracks, which is now run by the Dublin City Council Culture Company, a subsidiary of Dublin City Council.
Since the handover of the site was completed in January 2020, its use has changed direction too.
“Prior to us operating the building there was a focus on the history of the building over the years but we have expanded operation to include gardening workshops and cultural activities,” says Iseult Byrne, CEO of the Dublin City Council Culture Company.
Since then, the barracks has opened up to the public for classes on biodiversity, art and monthly history lectures, and two new walking tours have been added to the site.
The focus for now, says Byrne, is getting people to connect with the stories and history of the barracks, rather than “trying to remember some facts”.
“An Ethos of Inclusion and Participation”
At 10am on Wednesday the barracks has just opened its doors and there’s plenty of activity going in the courtyard out the back.
Visitors sit with their coffees scattered around outside making use of the green space that now sits in the middle of the barracks. While inside people are flipping through books at the new, temporary, home of Inchicore library.
The former home of the library on Emmet Road is currently closed due to renovation works to make it more accessible, says Byrne, adding that they offered up the space in the barracks “to make sure that the community doesn’t lose a resource as important as a library”, she says.
“This is a huge building; it’s a huge piece of land so we really wanted it to be part of the community,” says Tracey Bardon, the front-of-house manager for the barracks.
The Dublin City Culture Company has a particular ethos for projects like this, says Byrne. “We prioritise inclusion and participation. It’s mixing local relevance with potential wider offerings.”
As part of the participation element, they’re running what they call memory-collection sessions, where people from the locality come to meet the staff at the barracks, to share their own memories from the area while the staff take notes and document their stories.
“We record them on paper or, if they consent, we record it on video,” Byrne says.
Then, depending on the content, they will use the stories for tours on the site, or for videos online or they will be added to books that the company gets published, she says.
Once Gathered, the Stories Are Shared
Another new addition is the Richmond Barracks-to-Kilmainham Walking Tours, made in collaboration with historian Donal Fallon.
Participants can follow in the footsteps of the soldiers who would walk from from the barracks to Kilmainham Gaol while getting to know the lesser-known history of the area between the two sites, says Bardon.
“You’ll hear about Che Guevara or the footballers from St. Pat’s Football Club,” she says.
Says Bardon: “You might know facts and dates and names but you might not know that Joe down the road had a granny who worked in here and nursed some of the soldiers.”
Social history is the everyday normal person’s history, she says. “Just because they are not talked about doesn’t mean that they are not important.”