Due to Covid and work restraints, I hadn’t been back home to Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic. It meant that my trip planned for late November of this year (2023) was intended to be a special one. I was excited about it. I was planning to spend a few days alone in the capital to walk the city, visit outlying suburbs, to take a look, from the exterior at least, of the house where my late aunt had lived, as well as various other places from my childhood where I had spent time with my mother and other members of the family. This was before hiring a car to drive south to the Midland region, which includes the counties of Laois and Offaly, where several members of my family still live on the ‘McCormack farm’, close to where my mother was born and where so many wonderful memories from my childhood had unfolded.
Added to the list of these plans, there was something else I wanted to investigate. A quest which I have left almost too long. The identity, destiny, of a family member who had taken part in the Easter Uprising of 1916.
I booked a room at the Gresham Hotel in O’Connell Street, on the north side of the city. As a rule I stay south but decided on the Gresham because, as a child, my mother had occasionally taken me there for tea, and more importantly, it was only a few steps from the General Post Office, one of the main locations for the 1916 Easter Uprising. Staying in O’Connell Street fitted with my plan. The Gresham itself is also a building of historic interest, situated in one of the city’s most important thoroughfares. Two Georgian houses at 21-22 Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) were bought by an Englishman, Thomas Gresham, who opened them in 1817 as an elegant lodging house, mostly for aristocrats and their families.
Today, the Gresham is a Dublin city landmark and still retains the name of its founder. Thomas Gresham was an abandoned baby found on the steps of London’s Royal Exchange. He was named after Sir Thomas Gresham, a merchant, politician and the founder of the Royal Exchange.
The Gresham was burnt down during the Irish Civil War (June 1922 – May 1923), but was rebuilt in 1926 and reopened in 1927.
My date of arrival was Thursday 23rd November. I was scheduled to land in Dublin on a late afternoon flight from Paris at around 5 pm. The horrors that I was to encounter later that day were triggered by a series of rather ghastly stabbings that took place at around 1.30 pm Irish time in Parnell Square East, north Dublin outside a primary school. The perpetrator, it was later announced, was Algerian.
At that time, I was en route to Charles de Gaulle airport, blithely unaware of any stabbings or what was to follow once the news of the attacks had been made public.
The city riots began with an anti-immigrant protest. Unfortunately, the protests soon got out of control and grew violent. I was in the plane and ignorant of what was unfolding. No announcement warned us passengers of the destruction, the looting and vandalism. It was not until I landed that I realised something was amiss. Outside the airport, there were several hundred people waiting for taxis to transport them to the city centre or other destinations. I had never seen such disorder there before. Even queuing at the airport, during my eighty-minute wait for a taxi, no one seemed to know what was causing the chaos and the lack of transport. It was my taxi driver when I finally managed to nab one, who at first refused to drive me to the Gresham Hotel declaring it to be dangerous, began to recount to me as he moved slowly towards the city, what was going on. He warned me that O’Connell Street, which is where the Gresham is situated, was barricaded off as was its neighbour, Parnell Street.
‘Why?’ I asked bemused. [Continue reading at The History Girls >>]