Updated: Jun 18, 2021
Visitors to Dublin may wonder why there is no coherent and consistent celebration of the people, events and key locations that led to the Easter 1916 Rising, its Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and the subsequent War of Independence of 1920-1921 and establishment of the Irish Free State that followed in 1922. There are plenty of monuments, of course, but there is no unifying theme or recommended itinerary to take in all of these landmarks in one cohesive visit. Could this be due to a tourist board blind spot or simply because unifying opinion in Dublin on such matters is a bit like putting Humpty Dumpty together again? Interestingly, the idea of an Independence Trail for the city was floated back in 2012 by a young and eager Minister for Tourism, but the concept proved too politically hot to handle and the idea fizzled away and has hardly been mentioned in the public arena since. So, in the absence of any consensus or official itinerary, let us create one. A good starting point might be at the end: The Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square was opened for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966. Sunk into the ground with a cruciform pool, the Gardens remember “those who gave their lives for the cause of Irish Freedom” incorporating a 120-year long campaign made up of successive battles: the 1798 Rebellion by the United Irishmen, the 1803 Rebellion of Robert Emmett, the 1848 Rebellion of the Young Irelanders, the 1867 Rising of the Fenian Brotherhood, the 1916 Easter Rising, and finally the Irish Republican Army’s War of Independence in 1921-22. Even on a sunny day, you will most likely find the Garden of Remembrance a sombre place and perhaps it should be. As you leave the Garden head towards the imposing and influential statue of Charles Stewart Parnell at the northern end of O’Connell Street. The 19-metre high polished granite obelisk and bronze statue designed by Irish-American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was unveiled in 1911. Parnell (1846-1891) was a Leader of the Home Rule League and Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster. Described by a contemporary as “the strongest man the House of Commons had seen in 150 years” Parnell became both lightening bolt and lightening rod for the Home Rule movement, putting fire in the belly of those who came after him and encapsulated in the words displayed on his monument: “No Man Has A Right To Fix The Boundary To The March Of A Nation”. Make your way down the middle pedestrian section of O’Connell Street and pause to look up at the General Post Office, perhaps the greatest symbol – we could even say the cornerstone – of our Independence Trail. Originally built in 1814, Padraic Pearse read the Proclamation of Independence on its steps on the Monday morning of April 24th 1916. It was used as HQ by the Easter Rising leaders and consequently burned to the ground, leaving barely the facade. Re-built in 1923, today it is the headquarters of the Irish postal service, An Post, and also serves as Dublin’s busiest post office. It is worth entering the GPO to look at The Death of Cúchulainn, a magnificent sculpture by Oliver Sheppard originally exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1914 and unveiled at the GPO in 1935. For the full experience, pay a visit to the GPO Museum, first opened in 2010 and relaunched after significant investment and re-modelling in 2015 in advance of the Easter Rising Centenary. The Museum’s Witness History Interpretive Centre has a self-guided tour of approximately 1 hour covering all the major players and nearby landmarks associated with the Rising. Exit the GPO and continue your way down O’Connell Street, noting the monuments to Nationalists and Republicans at various junctures, including socialist and labour leader James Larkin (1874-1947), publisher John Grey (1815-1875) and Young Irelander William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864). Chief amongst all these is The Liberator himself, prominently holding court over his own street, the River Liffey, and pretty much all of the capital as a result. A native Irish speaker born in Cahirsiveen, County Kerry, Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) ran a successful and lucrative Dublin legal practice and lived at #58 Merrion Square (there is a plaque in his memory there). He was possibly the country’s most influential person of the first half of the 19th century, famous for addresses at mass meetings, spearheading the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, espousing non-violence and campaigning for the repeal of the Act of Union. To bookend the Independence Trail, and if there is still gas left in the tank, continue on a slow and contemplative 2.5-mile walk to Kilmainham Gaol. The shortest route would be via the quays but if time is on your side, and you want the full Trail experience, go via Dame Street to see the statue of Thomas Davis (1814-1845), writer, influential member of the Young Ireland movement and founder of its newspaper The Nation. Continue down Dame Street and stop into Dublin Castle (see separate entry on this totemic landmark). When you arrive at Kilmainham Gaol you will, symmetrically enough, be finishing at the start, for the execution here of the leaders of the 1916 Rising sent shockwaves across Ireland, Europe and the U.S., and proved by most accounts to be the final straw that led to the defining act that was the War of Independence. Their names and the dates of successive executions read as follows: 3rd May 1916: Padraic Pearse, Thomas Clarke (1858-1916), Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916). 4th May: Joseph Plunkett (1887-1916), Edward Daly (1891-1916), Michael O’Hanrahan (1877-1916), Willie Pearse (1881-1916). 5th May: John MacBride (1868-1916). 8th May: Éamonn Ceannt (1881-1916), Michael Mallin (1874-1916), Seán Heuston (1891-1916), Con Colbert (1888-1916). 12th May: Seán MacDiarmada (1883-1916), James Connolly (1868-1916). Thomas Kent (1865-1916): executed in Cork on 9th May; Roger Casement (1864-1916): executed in London on 3rd August. The list included all 7 signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Your Unofficial Independence Trail has ended, for now.