Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Neighborhood Is The Monument

The Easter Rising came too late to be fought in open fields and farmland. What was once country was built up by 1916, and so the failed rebellion took place in a bustling city filled with buildings of various types.

The key battles that were fought by the rebels were situated in urban structures, and we all know that cities do not remain the same over the course of one hundred years. Architectural styles change and technology advances, so that the the Georgian facade common to 1916 Dublin becomes outdated and slated for renewal.

But what does a nation do to preserve the places where its history was made?
After Easter Monday, 1916

At the time of the Rising, the buildings where things happened were owned by individuals who expected to make a profit of some sort from ownership. These were assets, after all, to be bought and sold and then used by new owners to suit their purposes. Like other rebellions before it, the rebellion failed in 1916, and the British managed to inflict some heavy damage in putting down the uprising, so who was thinking about preserving anything at the time?

The Irish State has an interest in preserving the run-down building on Moore Street in Dublin where the rebellion died. The surrender was signed at 14-17 Moore Street and the leaders taken away to be shot as traitors. Today, the neighborhood is derelict, in need of attention to encourage economic development at a time when there is no cash on hand to fund such a grand scheme.

The surroundings buildings are owned by individuals who might like to ride the government's coattails as the site of the surrender is saved for posterity. Tourists visiting Moore Street would need fast food and souvenirs and vendors would need storefronts from which to sell such items, and if the chipper next to the historical site is tacky, well, it's bringing in money to someone.

The government must preserve the neighborhood, and not just a single building, if it is to preserve its heritage. The building should be seen in the context of the time instead of being preserved like some specimen that fails to provide a full picture of the area where the Rising ended. It is a battlefield as much as Normandy or the Somme, and deserves the same regard.

Maureen O'Sullivan has begun a campaign of sorts to push the government towards greater zoning regulation in the area so that when the tourists come in 2016 for the centenary of the Rising they are not walking through a decrepit neighborhood to see the building on Moore Street. Sure the country is poor again, but do the neighbors really need to see how threadbare some areas are, and it's not as if you could tell people not to go there when the building is such an important part of Ireland's history.

What Ms. O'Sullivan proposes is a new regulation that would control the re-development of the immediate area, to avoid the construction of a massive, modern shopping center smack up against the outer wall of 17 Moore Street. Anyone coming in to the area would have to maintain the historic facade and treat their building as part of the national monument, even if it is not owned by the government.

That sort of regulation puts a burden on the property owner, and calls for an owner with a commitment to historic preservation.

If those aren't the types of people who currently own the buidlings on Moore Street, there could be quite an outcry from well-heeled developers who don't want the government telling them what they can do with their property and if they want to tear something down, they'll raze it in a minute.

Otherwise, those visiting Moore Street in two years time will not find the same street once trod by Padraig Pearse. They'll find a little, nondescript building in the midst of either squalor or modern facades, and a small piece of the experience will be gone forever.

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