Coast To Coast in Ireland: Revolution

It will be a long walk, over 600 kilometers across the island of Ireland. We will follow a series of established national and international trails that start in Dublin and end on the west coast in the small village of Portmagee.

But, today we are in the centre of Ireland's capital city, Dublin. At the heart of a rebellion a hundred years ago that would push a good portion of the island from English control to an independent republic. It was the Easter Uprising of 1916 when the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and other like-minded nationalist groups attempted to overthrow the long-standing English regime that ran the island.

Gail and I leave our modest bed and breakfast on May 4, the start of our long distance walk. We pass the GPO, General Post Office. Almost a hundred years ago to this day, insurgents captured the GPO and used it as their headquarters. Soon, the British would bomb it, blowing out the interior of the hefty stone structure.

Next came The Spire, a stainless steel prick of a monument that replaced an earlier unwanted memorial to English supremacy, Lord Nelson. So unwanted that in 1966, on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, rebels blew the top off the Doric column. Eventually, their act of defiance would lead to the replacement of Nelson's emasculated stone heap with the current contemporary spire of gleaming steel.

Onward, we head south past the formidable Classicist Bank of Ireland, through the gates of Trinity College and into its thoroughly formal courtyard. Not too further along, we encounter another revolutionary place, St. Stephen's Green. It's a beautiful refuge of greenery in the midst of unrelenting urbanity. But, on Easter Sunday in 1916, the park was captured by the rebels and became their second base of operations. Trenches were dug, nursing stations and canteens cobbled together by the volunteer army. But it was a doomed outpost, just like the GPO. English soldiers set up snipers and machine gun post in the Shelbourne Hotel, churches and other buildings overlooking the park, taking aim at the rebels below.

Our path continues on its way to the edge of the city. Even though Dublin is smaller than my own hometown of Winnipeg by about one hundred thousand souls, there is a consistent density from centre to edge. No high rises with surplus space or parking lots wasting the scene. No withering city density with the spread of big box stores. Dublin has a tight fabric of low rise, tailored development. It's a highly walkable experience.

We walk along the walkways lining the Grand Canal and pass by the Portobello Pub, the southern most outpost of the rebels. Then, further south, we pass by St. Edna's School, now the Pearce Museum. Padraig Pearce established the school in 1908. But Pearce was one of the rebel leaders in 1916. He was the the one who read the Declaration of the Republic under the portico of the GPO. And he used the school for covert military operations leading up to the Easter Sunday events. Pearce and the other leaders of the 1916 revolt would soon be executed by the English without trial. The school would fail as well.

It would be easy to frame today's walk as pleasant urban walk. But this is 2016 and the commemoration a heroic, if failed, homegrown revolution is everywhere. It is hard to ignore the events and the places of that event as we walk through the city.

This day's walk ends in Marlay Park, at the edge of the city. Tomorrow, we will leave the history of revolution behind as we continue our walk across Ireland.





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