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FLHS and FULS visit Islandbridge Memorial (1914-1918) and Arbour Hill Memorial (1916) in Dublin - Saturday 29th June 2013

This year the annual joint exchange visit saw representatives from both the Federation of Local History Societies and the Federation for Ulster Local Studies meet in Dublin. There was a very good attendance from both Federations with a total of sixty members sharing the experience with equal representation divided between both groups. Group at War Stone with Great Cross in background

Group at War Stone with Great Cross in background

The day started with a visit to the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge near Kilmainham. The Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the 49,400 Irish soldiers who died in the First World War between 1914 and 1918. The visitors were met by Craig Savage from the OPW (Office of Public Works) who conducted an excellent tour of the memorial and gardens which included the central lawn, the sunken gardens, the fountain, the great cross, the war stone, the north terrace, the avenues, the bookrooms and the temple. The two sets of bookrooms at either end of the lawn represent the four provinces of Ireland and contain the books of remembrances in which are inscribed the names of the 49,400 Irishmen who gave their lives in the Great War. Some people were able to identify from the books the names of fallen soldiers with the help of our guide, Craig, and proved to be a special experience.

Group at the Temple Bookrooms and Sunken Gardens
Group at the Temple
Bookrooms and Sunken Gardens

The group then retired to the nearby Hilton Hotel at Kilmainham for lunch which proved to be a most delightful culinary experience as we were served up an excellent meal. In keeping with the theme of the visit, Frank Taaffe gave a most interesting and thought provoking after dinner talk on the topic of commemorating the First World War 1914-1918. Frank traced the history of this very emotive and often contentious subject from the early days when it was treated with apathy to the present day attitude of acceptance and collective commemoration from across the political spectrum. Dick Ryan, Chairman of the FLHS extended a warm welcome to Dublin to everyone and especially those from the FULS who attended. Johnny Dooher on behalf of the FULS also welcomed everyone and thanked the FLHS for hosting the event. Both Dick and Johnny emphasised the strength of the co-operation and great friendship that currently existed and had existed for many years between the two Federations. They said it was important to continue to meet and share our common interest in local history together.

Dinner at the Hilton, Kilmainham Finny O'Sullivan and Larry Breen
Dinner at the Hilton, Kilmainham
Finny O'Sullivan and Larry Breen

After lunch our next stop was Arbour Hill. Larry Breen on behalf of the FLHS acted as guide for the visit to the Arbour Hill area. Although most commonly associated with the 1916 Easter Rising, Arbour Hill has a very chequered history particularly associated with the military. It dates back to 1797 when there was established a Provost Prison and Infirmary. The place had strong connections with the 1798 rebellion where it was a place of execution and burial of rebels during the insurrection, notably Bartholomew Teeling and Matthew Tone. Also Theobald Wolfe Tone, regarded as the father of Irish Nationalism died in the Provost Prison in Nov 1798.

The buildings that exist today, namely, the prison, the church and the military cemetery were built in 1845/48. The British military cemetery is still well maintained and the schools previously used by the soldiers' children are beautifully restored and used by the Irish United Nations Veterans Association as their HQ and Museums. The church has many interesting features including a gangway from the prison for prisoners to attend services, a wooden altar made by prisoners in Kilmainham jail and two impressive Harry Clarke stained glass windows installed in 1924 to commemorate the people who died in the 1916 Rising. The coffin of Roger Casement lay in state in the church in 1965 before his burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Group at Arbour Hill 1916 Memorial British Militaty Cemetery Arbour Hill
Group at Arbour Hill 1916 Memorial
British Militaty Cemetery Arbour Hill

The final visit at Arbour Hill was to the graves of the leaders of the 1916 rising. This memorial was erected in 1956 when the original location which was then the corner of the prison exercise yard was re-developed and re-designed to what it is today. The memorial is a simple green sod surrounded by a border of limestone on which are inscribed the names of the leaders in the order and position in which they were buried. The grave is flanked at the top by a curved limestone wall on which is inscribed the Proclamation in Irish and English with a gilded gold cross in the centre. Arguably its most notable visitor was John F Kennedy in 1963 when he was given a guard of honour by the Irish Cadets. Ironically in less than a year the same Cadets formed a guard of honour at his own funeral in Arlington Cemetery Washington USA.

Finally in the beautiful afternoon sunshine the group visited the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. Here they were able to relax and enjoy some of the many fine exhibitions on display including the impressively restored former gun running boat, the "Asgard" which was associated with the Easter Rising. Collins Barracks (Royal Barracks) was a former British Army barracks and then used by the Irish army and is reputed to be the oldest purpose built army barracks in the world being built in the 1600s. Designed by the famous architect Thomas Burgh it presented an impressive sight with its expansive parade yard, arched walkways and fine buildings.

Asgard at Collins Barracks Museum
Asgard at Collins Barracks Museum

This was a most enjoyable trip enjoyed by all whilst exploring some emotive and contentious events in the history of the island.