This beautiful landmark building and iconic symbol of the 1916 Easter Rising always moves me – it was built in 1818 and is situated halfway along O’Connell Street, just a few blocks from where we’re staying on this Maymester course. Members of two small groups – the Irish Volunteers (under the leadership of Pádraig Pearse) and the Irish Citizen Army (under the leadership of James Connolly) seized the GPO as its headquarters on Easter Monday in 1916. Pádraig Pearse read out from the steps of the GPO to passers-by the Proclamation of the Irish Republic – a declaration that Ireland was now a republic and that his group was the provisional government.
The rebels remained inside for nearly a week, but relentless shelling from the British Army eventually forced them out. At first, many viewed the Rising critically, but as time passed that opinion changed and as W.B. Yeats wrote, a “terrible beauty was born” when, during the following weeks, 14 of the leaders were captured and executed in Kilmainham Gaol. The GPO Museum features a copy of the Proclamation and accounts from staff working that day, as well as a gorgeous collection of stamps.
The Easter Rising would probably had little impact on the Irish situation, had the British not made martyrs of the rebel leaders. Of the 77 given death sentences, 15 were executed – including the injured Connolly, who was shot while strapped to a chair. This brought about a sea change in public attitudes, and support for the Republicans rose dramatically.
I took this photo at sunset, a particularly poignant time of day – I am eager to see student observations and reactions to learning more about the Rising and visiting the Gaol, a sober and fascinating place. We’ll be visiting the Gaol with my CU Denver School of Business colleague, Jan Rutherford, and his Maymester class on Leadership and Entrepreneurship in Ireland – and it will be interesting for my Honors undergraduate students to engage with Jan’s Business graduate students. I’ve been to the Gaol many times over the last decade and it is such a powerful experience – bringing history to life in ways that are just not possible through reading and study alone. We’ll also be visiting the 1916 exhibit at the National Museum of Ireland.