The Dublin GPO is a place of symbolic importance for the Irish; not only in terms of its magnificent architecture and as the home of the Irish Post Office, but also as the place where the Easter Rising of April 1916 took place. This was an extremely significant time in Irish history as, although many people lost their lives, it led to the Irish gaining independence from the British and the formation of a brand new State.
The Easter Rising of 1916 was mainly limited to the city of Dublin, thanks to the capture of an important shipment of German arms on 21st April by British troops. It was also confined to the capital as a result of a number of conflicting orders, which caused the leaders of the rebellion to postpone the action that had originally been planned for the 23rd April – Easter Sunday. Around mid-morning on Easter Monday, the rebels assembled throughout Dublin at pre-arranged meeting points, waiting to take-over a number of strategic buildings, including the General Post Office, the Four Courts, the South Dublin Union and Jacob’s Factory. Due to lack of British intelligence, the rebels were able to occupy the buildings easily, with the GPO becoming the ‘nerve centre’ and headquarters of the whole operation.
The rebels, led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly went on to declare the GPO building as the seat of the new provisional government, with five members – Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, MacDermott and Plunkett – taking up residence. The insurgents held a unified belief that the only way to bring about Ireland’s independence from the UK, was through an armed revolt. As the GPO was the communications centre of both the country and based in the centre of the city, they thought it was the most symbolic place to raise the Irish Republic flag.
The rebels expected the British to retaliate immediately but, due to the fact that they only had 400 troops to face over 1,000 rebels, they chose to wait for reinforcements. As they waited, they used their time to gather intelligence, and also to protect other strategic positions in the area, including Dublin Castle, the official seat of government.
As time went on, the fighting became more intense, with many violent street battles. Despite an influx of more troops, the British suffered high casualties, particularly at Mount Street Bridge, where they lost 234 men compared to just 5 dead amongst the rebels. The fighting got more out of hand, with soldiers allegedly killing unarmed men during intense battles. However, by 28th April, the British numbers had grown to almost 20,000 men.
The GPO was fiercely guarded by the rebels, but soon become entirely cut off from their other strongholds. It then came under a fierce artillery attack, which not only had a devastating effect on the GPO itself, but also on the rest of the centre of the city. The rebel leaders who were based at the Post Office capitulated and evacuated the building, before offering their unconditional surrender.
In total, the death toll during the Rising reached 450, with 2,614 injured and 9 people listed as missing; these figures included 254 civilians. The high number of civilian casualties was attributed to the fact that much of the fighting took place in densely populated areas.
Sixteen men were executed as a result of the Easter Rising, with 14 of the rebels being executed in Dublin’s Kilmainham Goal.