People can get hung up on buildings. They are important when it comes to history and remembrance. They’re solid. They’re real. They are not some intangible concept of freedom or resistance. They are places we can go to and see and touch and feel for ourselves. We can make a connection with these places. And those connections can lead to strong feelings.
And so it is with Moore Street, or rather 14-17 Moore Street, the buildings, parallel to O’Connell Street, between Parnell and Henry Streets, where the leaders of the 1916 Rising (or at least those who had been stationed in the GPO) went to after their first HQ was set on fire, and from where they surrendered.
For as long as I have been interested in history, I have been reading and hearing about the “campaigns” to “save Moore Street”. A lot of these buildings you see, are basically abandoned. Nobody has ever wanted to touch them before. To make something new out of it will arise howls of protest from those who invoke the names of the 1916 dead with depressing regularity, while to make some form of museum out of them is something whose cost numerous governments have balked at.
Until now at any rate. With the centenary decade focusing minds, and that 2016 date creeping ever closer, the current government has finally decided to do something about it. A commemorative centre, in line with a general renewal of the Moore Street area.
There are moments when you read about things of this nature that you begin to wonder if certain people will ever be happy with anything. The problem here (this time) is that only a select group of houses, 14 to 17, will be earmarked for preservation and upgrading as historical sites. The rest will be incorporated into creating a more attractive and commercially viable urban area.
People complain about this. They see something wrong with the possibility of shops or a shopping centre in the vicinity. They ignore the Tesco’s or Chapters down the road, or the multitude of smaller shops in the same street or the people who sell vegetables and fish in the open air right next to the site. They ignore the litany of concert/theatre posters on the walls today. They ignore the shops already embedded in parts of the site, like the Paris Bakery in 18, which is apparently OK, presumably because it’s not one of those evil chains.
They want the entire area preserved. The entire area, which is frequently one of the most dank and off-putting parts of the city, largely because it has been so neglected. The wet from ill-repaired pipes, the graffiti and the dirt all mark out elements of Moore Street as rather unpleasant at times, at least to look out (and let’s not get into the smell).
They say they want a “Battlefield Quarter”. They want the entire area kept largely as it is, with any remembrance of the Rising expanded from those core buildings to maybe encompass the entire street. They want some kind of building based monolith to their heroes perhaps, the preservation of a whole chunk of Dublin in their honour, to the absolute detriment of nearby and prospective businesses.
I’m not blind to those, like the aforementioned Bakery, who will have to make way, and apparently for something as simple as a connecting road to O’Connell Street. But a short lease is a short lease. The stated plans will, in time, create more businesses and more jobs. You cannot have everything when discussing development of a city centre. Turning 14-17 into an attractive and accessible historical site will require use of the 18/19 space. They only way around that is to expand the scope of the historical rejuvenation, and that is a slippery slope.
(Addendum 24/5/2014: It has become clear subsequently that the Bakery has been facing severe financial troubles for a while, and its owners have been accused, by members of its workforce, of failing to pay several months worth of wages. Something worth noting before we get too sentimental).
No. No more. No more talk, no more toleration of descendents of the Easter Risers thinking they can dictate how we should move forward. You’ve had your say, for so, so long. I’m afraid the men and women of 1916 should not get to tell us how to plan our capital today, any more than their bloodline should.
This is the choice: keeping Moore Street as it is, as we always have done.
Or a commemorative centre where it really matters and an attempt to rejuvenate parts of the commercial activity of the street elsewhere on a larger scale than a couple of shop fronts. It is not the end of the world. It will not abuse the legacy of men who lived and died 100 years ago.
There are certain practical realities to battlefield commemoration within urban areas that we cannot ignore, namely the fact that space will always be at a premium and a productive commercial use of property will nearly always trump other considerations. We have the GPO, which is also redeveloping some of its interior for historical remembrance. We have Kilmainham Gaol, still the best centre for commemoration in Dublin. We have Collins’ Barracks, still the best museum in terms of its displays and memorabilia related to the Easter Rising.
All those places exist. 14-17 Moore Street will still exist. No legacies are being forgotten, no one is being disgraced. By restoring these buildings and moving forward on the other plans for the rest of the street, an effective compromise between those who want remembrance and those who desire urban improvement has been reached.
There are those who will never be happy. No matter what plans are mooted or will be mooted, they will always want something different, something bigger. They will always want their name in the news, their picture in the paper, their sense of self-importance confirmed. Turn the whole street into a giant museum for 1916 and they’d probably ape Bender: “I wonder if it’s too big… Tear it down and try again, but this time don’t embarrass yourselves”.
Don’t get sucked in by these people, who think names like “Connolly” and Pearse” are an argument in themselves, to be used liberally when they lack any legitimate point to make. We’re commemorating them, not deifying them. The Moore Street plans are good. If implemented properly, they’ll be a boon to a part of the city too long ignored for the sake of some crowing voices.