“Original and Authentic”, Siobhan Mearon looks at the Revolution 1916 Exhibition which promises to take us back in time, and experience the Easter Rising through the eyes of those who lived it.
Among the many celebrations taking place all over the city this year is ‘Revolution 1916’, an exhibition that incorporates many unique relics, with interactive sets that take the visitor through the same Dublin that the rebels fought in 100 years ago. The exhibition opens on 27th February in the Ambassador Theatre on O’Connell Street, a fitting home for the year-long event.
In 2016, the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising, Dublin city has further reason to remember the events of the past that have shaped Ireland into what it has become.
Spokesperson for the event, Bartle D’Arcy, spoke of the importance of the exhibition’s surroundings. The Ambassador Theatre, formerly the Rotunda Rink, holds strong ties to the Rising, as D’Arcy mentions. “The building that it’s in is particularly important, because that’s the building in 1913 that all the volunteers signed up to fight in 1916, and it’s also sitting on O’Connell Street which was the main centre of operations 100 years ago.”
Not only does the Ambassador Theatre have such a rich and relevant heritage, but its prime position on O’Connell street ensures that the exhibition will attract huge crowds, be that of intrigued tourists, or even Irish people wishing to learn more about their own history. D’Arcy says that the exhibition is expected to receive upwards of a quarter of a million people.
The visitors to the exhibition will experience the celebrations of the 1916 Rising on a few different levels. D’Arcy reveals that the exhibition houses “the largest private collection of original artefacts from that period”. This unique collection of various military artefacts is sure to be a highlight of the exhibition because, as D’Arcy explains, “they’re quite rare because the Rising was a military defeat so a lot of the arms were broken by the volunteers before they surrendered, and were obsolete so the British destroyed them.” This only adds to the authenticity of the exhibition as the pieces are not just valuable remnants of the fight against the British soldiers, they’re extremely rare.
The pieces for the exhibition, as they are rare, have been donated to Revolution 1916 by the Irish Volunteers Commemorative Organisation, a private collector that has been collecting artefacts like the ones exhibited at the event for 70-80 years. This exhibition also holds the original Proclamation, one of only 50 among other rare items. “We have original Howth mauser rifles, brought to Ireland in the gun running of 1914,” D’Arcy explains. The exhibition has 3 of the 12 in existence. None of the artefacts have come from national museums.
The sets that are built downstairs allow visitors to experience Dublin of 1916 first hand, D’Arcy says. “Visitors are able to walk through the main operations of the Rising, into the GPO as it was on Easter Monday, they can retreat down Moore Street and will end up in Kilmainham and the place of execution, the Stonebreaker’s Yard.” These sets, although seemingly ambitious, purely serve to create an authentic atmosphere, which gives an insight into the past for the visitors to fully immerse themselves in. D’Arcy claims this is an important aspect of the exhibition. “We want people to try and feel what it was like, to understand the history.”
D’arcy says that the 1916 Rising tells us a lot about how people lived 100 years ago. “The question is why did those men and women feel it was necessary to raise arms and seize buildings and to fight against the British Empire, because they don’t feel the need to do that now.” This unique perspective on the reasons for the Easter Rising seem to be replicated throughout the exhibition.
The ideals and hopes of the Irish rebels in 1916 can be translated into the modern day. Specifically, D’Arcy brings up the ideas of equality that are often spread in times of revolution: “The document (the 1916 Proclamation) was the first at the time to give equal rights to men and women within the first line… then after the Free State was formed, women were again relegated back into being inferior to the masculinity of the Free State.”
The 1916 Rising has parallels in these modern times. Women today are also often sidelined in favour of the masculine ideals of Irish society. D’Arcy furthered this by explaining, “a lot of the women who fought in 1916 weren’t deemed to be competent, so they didn’t get their pensions for about 20 years afterwards.”
“The document itself, in cherishing the children of the nation equally, and also it being a 32 county republic, none of those things have been realised by a succession of Irish governments, both in the 26 counties and in the 6 counties in the North. So, that’s why it’s relevant today, because a centenary is a very important time, commemorating what happened on the streets of Dublin and all over Ireland in 1916, and now we’re coinciding with a general election as well so it adds a little bit more to it.”
The Proclamation is a fitting theme to the exhibition, as D’Arcy calls it “the defining document for republicanism.” D’Arcy references the fact that the Proclamation itself could be traced back to Robert Emmet’s proclamation in 1803, as well as incorporating the ideals of the rebels. He said of the Proclamation, “it has a lot of the United Irishmen’s ideals written into it, Mitchell’s thoughts, Pearse’s thoughts, and Connolly influenced a lot of it, which would be where the equality comes into it, and also the right of the Irish people to the sovereignty, and to the assets of Ireland.”
With the Centenary celebrations taking over Ireland this year, the eyes of the world will be on Dublin. D’Arcy puts this down to all the events commemorating the 1916 Rising, saying, “Dublin has a rich heritage, including some buildings still intact from 1916 on Moore Street, that are very valuable from a heritage and a tourism point of view… I think it has a wide appeal for everybody.”
Dublin’s unique history is undoubtedly attractive to tourists because as D’Arcy concludes, “not all cities had revolutions.” Revolution 1916 will not only bring valuable tourism to the city, but perhaps more importantly to emphasise its rich history and remember the events that formed this country.