By Juliana Adelman
In case you don’t already know, I am not Irish. I am not even Irish-American; my only Irish relations are my in-laws. As such, I was probably one of the few people on the 1916 walking tour who learned most of my Irish history from academic books instead of in school or at home. Before the tour, I hadn’t quite realised how much my academic bias had tended to drain events and people of their colour. For me, 1916 is one of many rebellions which, due to a variety of circumstances, snowballed into something that rebellions in say, 1798, 1803, or 1848 were unable to achieve. For Lorcan Collins, my tour guide, 1916 is the birth of free Ireland. Its leaders are heroes; its ideals lofty. It is the culmination of historical Irish aspirations. Over the two hour tour, I enjoyed Lorcan’s enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, all things 1916. I got to revisit 1916 and bask in the glow of another nation’s pride in its difficult birth.
Lorcan has a lot of energy and a lot of information to impart in his allotted two hours. We began in the basement of the International Bar (upstairs there were people drinking pints at 1130am), by taking in some background information before the walking tour began. Lorcan began with the Great Famine, and proceeded to briefly explain the Home Rule movement, the Gaelic League, the IRB, the Irish and Ulster Volunteers, and so on. The walkers, made up of Americans, Canadians, Australians, an Austrian couple and me, appeared to be up to the barrage. Those of us who were a bit early had already had a quick read of the tour’s short pamphlet which includes information on the key organisations and people involved in the rising and a reprint of the proclamation. The Americans, not surprisingly, had a lot of questions: What was the Irish flag in 1916 that the proclamation refers to? How many people in Ireland speak Gailege? Why do they call Cork the rebel county? Lorcan handled all of these and more with humour, patience and knowledge. Scandalously for a Dub, he even admitted to a slight jealousy of Cork’s moniker.
Eventually we left the pub and headed for our first stop, in front of Trinity College where Lorcan explained why it did not serve as a base for the rebels during the rising. The tour then proceeded past the statue of Thomas Moore, down Pearse Street to Pearse’s birthplace, and headed up to the quays, across to the Customs House, past the Connolly statue, down Abbey Street, across O’Connell Street (pausing at Jim Larkin) and ended at the GPO. At each point Lorcan stopped to impart an element of history related to the Rising, either the significance of a particular location in terms of the battle or the cultural importance of an individual to Irish nationalism.
The tour is unabashed in its celebration of Irish nationalism, of the Rising and of its leaders. Occasionally, this grated on my historian’s urge for neutrality, but an equivocating tour guide is a boring tour guide. And Lorcan is anything but boring. He keeps the charm and the jokes and the anecdotes going without pause. My only complaint was that I might have liked the chronological significance (for 1916) of each of our stops pointed to at the start. We kept going back and forth in time and even though I know the sequence of events I started to get a bit muddled.
The tour doesn’t need a plug from me: it’s already the highest rated attraction for Dublin on Trip Advisor and recommended in Rick Steve’s guidebook. I came away thinking that I will definitely place my next set of American visitors in Lorcan’s capable hands. I also wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad thing for us historians, especially social/economic/cultural historians to try to imagine what a walking tour of our subject would be like: how could we bring the same kind of life to the admittedly more mundane characters that people our stories?
The 1916 Walking Tour leaves from the International Pub and is 12 euro. You can find the times and dates here.