The General Post Office in Dublin on O’Connell street is the headquarters of the Irish Postal Service and a bustling hub of activity, but every Easter it becomes a symbol of Irish revolution and a somber place of remembrance.
Dublin was still under British rule in 1916, when seven unlikely revolutionaries hatched a plan for an armed uprising during the Easter holiday. They wrote a Proclamation of Independence and chose strategic sites in downtown Dublin for their Rising, including the post office along the main thoroughfare of the city. They felt that once the revolution began the people of Ireland would rise with them and they assumed that the British would not destroy their own property in retaliation. They were mistaken on all counts.
The Rising had its problems from the beginning. Due to a split in leadership and miscommunications, even the date was confused. When the fighting didn’t begin on Easter as many thought, would-be reinforcements turned around and went home. Despite this, the planned takeovers of government buildings began on Easter Monday, and the destruction of a large portion of Dublin shortly followed.
The general post office, or GPO, was the headquarters of the revolution. Here the Irish flag was raised and the Proclamation was recited loudly, to the jeers and complaints of the citizenry who just wanted to post their mail. When the British began to shell the area with heavy artillery, the complaints grew louder. The post office was eventually set on fire and mostly destroyed, along with many of the buildings around it. In the end, the British army had no qualms about destroying most of downtown Dublin to defeat the upstarts in the GPO.
The Easter Rising lasted only for 6 days. It would likely have been a mere footnote in history, but for the fact that all seven signatories on the Proclamation were then tried in secret and executed by the Crown, at which point they became martyrs to Irish freedom. Their short-lived fight eventually led to Ireland’s independence and the leaders are revered to this day. Decades later, their proclamation is located in many Irish government buildings including the GPO and on countless memorials. It is read every year on Easter at the renovated post office by a member of the Irish Defense Forces.
All that remains of the original building is the beautiful Georgian facade. The facade has its own visible scars of bullet holes, cracks and mortar damage. It is still one of the busiest post offices in all of Ireland and it houses a permanent exhibition of its role in the Rising called Letters, Lives and Liberty. Every year on Easter, a wreath is laid outside the General Post Office, the Proclamation is read and other ceremonies commence to commemorate the men and women who fought in 1916.