The 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour

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.

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48 Responses to “The 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour”

  1. Ultán Says:

    “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.”

    Interesting stuff. Just wondering if partition was addressed during the tour.

  2. dfallon Says:

    It’s a very good tour, I go back to Lorcan and Conor Kostick’s excellent book on the 1916 rebellion frequently.

    “… equivocating tour guide is a boring tour guide.”

    I’d agree 110%, there is character in this tour. When I did the tour it was a mix of ‘our kind’ and tourists, and I think everyone took something from it. If you can entertain those who know their Maxwells from their Plunketts and still appeal to tourists with no prior knowledge of the rebellion, you’re doing something right.

  3. Felix Larkin Says:

    OK, so it’s great entertainment – but it doesn’t sound like history to me. The glorification of 1916 and all that, as distinct from attempting to understand it (however boring that might be!), makes me very uneasy – not least about the possible current political implications. Don’t forget that W.B. Yeats ended his days troubled by the question: “Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” I have similar concerns about the presentation of complex events in the past in terms of “heroes” and the “culmination of historical Irish aspirations” and the “glow of another nation’s pride in its difficult birth”. Incidentally, can 1916 really be represented as the “culmination of historical Irish aspirations”? I think the main 19th century Irish nationalist aspiration was actually repeal of the Act of Union and a Home Rule parliament in College Green. No doubt I am going to hate 2016 and all that. In terms of current US politics, look at the toxic use that is being made of the Boston Tea Party as representing historical American aspirations! Let’s just try to understand the past: it’s hard enough to do that without confusing the facts with all this “glory” stuff. In fairness to Juliana, she does admit that the tour occasionally grated on her “historian’s urge for neutrality” – that urge is good, Juliana!

  4. patrick maume Says:

    Another problematic take on 1916 I noticed recently. ON 22 August the SUNDAY TRIBUNE had an article on commemorations (link below) in which Mary O’Rourke was quoted as declaring “In 1916 we were all one, before there were any splits”. Do the Redmondites and the Unionists not count as “we”? What about the tactical split between the MacNeill/Hobson and Pearse/IRB groups, which had a significant impact on the way the Rising played out?

  5. Brian Hanley Says:

    I think you’ll be waiting for the Sunday Tribune to give you a nuanced version of history Patrick.

  6. puesoccurrences Says:

    I was wondering if I was really the person to do this review as I figured it might stir people up a bit! I should warn that there is a danger of putting words in Lorcan’s mouth as this is my interpretation of the tour, remembered from scratched notes.

    I agree with all those warning of the potential dangers of glorifying/commemorating and thereby simplifying a complex event. On the other hand, those acts are themselves historically interesting and significant. And of course played an important role in directing the course of Irish history. I felt like it was useful to be reminded of what 1916 means to people. I also wish I could figure out how to write balanced history that is not boring history. Or maybe it’s just the science bit that’s boring!

    Finally, I think we should give the average person a bit of credit for being capable of realising that things are being simplified.

    Thanks for all the comments, keep them coming!

  7. puesoccurrences Says:

    Oh and @Ultan
    I do not recall a large discussion of partition. I gather that every tour is different, however, and kind of veers in whatever direction that the tourists want.

  8. Felix Larkin Says:

    You’re right, Juliana, about commemoration being itself historically interesting and significant. In this regard, I like this quotation from Michel-Rolph Trouillot (SILENCING THE PAST; POWER AND THE PRODUCTION OF HISTORY, p. 4): ‘the ways in which what happened and that which is said to have happened are and are not the same may itself be historical’. 1916 would make a very interesting case study in support of this proposition.

  9. Ultán Says:

    Thanks Juliana. Being a northerner, I’m always interested when I see the elision of the concept of the Irish nation or people with the southern state, given the half million or so people in the north who consider themselves such, and who don’t live in the republic. Especially given the consequences of that self-perception as Irish for recent history.

    It probably shouldn’t, but it still amazes me when people talk about 1916 or 1922 or whenever as the birth of a nation – i.e. a nation-state – without regard for the fact of partition. That’s just not the world a lot of people in the north grew up in. I don’t think the people who signed the Treaty and who fought and won the civil war to establish the southern state would have thought of it as coterminous with the Irish nation. But people today do. I think it shows that Roy Foster was definitely on to something important in Luck and the Irish when he talked about partition creating a widening gulf between the assumptions of people north and south in the decades since it occurred.

    I also think that those assumptions have the potential to interfere with people’s understandings of those involved in things like 1916, both inside and outside the historical profession.

  10. Póló Says:

    Just finished reading Eugene Hynes’s book on Knock. It is a very interesting attempt to (i) fill in the wider background against which the participants were operating, and (ii) separate the subsequent myth from the actual experience. It has due regard to folklore and Irish language sources.

    I’m all in favour of this sort of revisionist research, and, it doesn’t have to be dull. In fact, in this particular case, it is much more interesting and relevant than the versions peddled over the last century.

    I’ve stuck up a review on Amazon here (though I got the book at a knock-down price of €30 in Chapters):

  11. Frank Says:

    I think that Juliana has made an interesting point about livening up history lectures. I have often felt that theatrical representations of historical events might better explain these things to a young audience. While this may be a bit too superficial for third level, I think it might work very well at second level. Perhaps a drama element might be incorporated into the assessment of history at junior or even leaving cert level such that the students would be asked to individually produce a short 10 minute theatrical presentation with actors chosen from among their classmates to display their understanding of a specific topic.

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