Besides its architectural significance and role as the chief office of the Irish Post Office, Dublin’s GPO holds a place of particular symbolic importance for Irish people.
It was the headquarters of the men and women who took part in the 1916 Easter Rising. While that rebellion ended in failure with most Irish people lamenting the death and destruction caused, it led to Irish independence and the creation of a new State.
1916 Easter Rising: Monday, 24th April
Inside the GPO, a reduced staff was on duty keeping essential services open for the public. Just after mid-day, a contingent of men who had assembled at Liberty Hall, a short distance away, entered the building and ordered staff and customers to leave. Upstairs, a number of Post Office telegraph staff and some unarmed soldiers barricaded the doors and refused to leave until shots were fired at them. The rebels, led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, were motivated by various ideals but held the common belief that only an armed revolt could bring about the independence of Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. They chose the GPO, the communications heart of the country and the centre of Dublin city, as the building on which to hoist the flag of an Irish Republic.
The 1916 Proclamation
The Proclamation is one of the most important documents of modern Irish history. Drafted in large part by Patrick Pearse, it was hurriedly printed under very difficult conditions in Liberty Hall on the night before the Rising began.
Shortly after taking over the GPO, Patrick Pearse, standing under the GPO portico, read out the Proclamation declaring Ireland a sovereign independent Republic. Copies were then pasted up on buildings around the city centre.
For nearly a week, the rebels held the GPO. Fighting here and in other parts of the city was intense with civilians bearing the greatest hardship. With the building on fire and crumbling, they tried to break through the surrounding army cordon and failed. Patrick Pearse realising the futility of further fighting, finally took the decision to surrender.
The GPO Staff in 1916
It is a curious fact that it was staff upstairs in the GPO who were the first people to try to stop the Rising on Easter Monday 1916. Papers preserved in the British Postal Museum and Archive in London record that the telegraph staff and a few unarmed guards barricaded themselves against the rebels and refused to leave their posts until shots were fired at them.
The official reports of Dublin GPO Staff give a fascinating insight into the lives of a few Post Office people during that turbulent week. Here, for instance, is what Sam Guthrie, the Telegraph Superintendent saw as he looked out of the window of the Telephone Room upstairs in the GPO:
“I saw that the windows of the Public Office and other windows looking into Sackville Street were being smashed, the fragments of glass falling on to and covering the pavement, and several members of the Sinn Fein party stood round the public entrance”