Archive for January, 2016

Membership Spotlight: An Post

January 28th, 2016
An Post - GPO Witness History

An Post – GPO Witness History

The General Post Office Dublin, headquarters of An Post, is an iconic Georgian building that has been witness to significant historical events since it first opened in 1818. In this, the year of centenary commemorations for the 1916 Easter Rising, An Post’s GPO Witness History will open its doors to the public as an interpretative centre in the heart of Dublin city.

Background
In 2010, the An Post Postal Museum was opened on the Ground Floor of the GPO; it included some information on what had happened on site during the 1916 Easter Rising. As a postal museum it was dedicated to the history of the postal service and included philatelic exhibitions for visitors to engage with.

In 2012, An Post took the opportunity to take a more strategic look at the options available to them in relation to the Centenary of Easter 1916. “We could have tweaked the Postal Museum and produced appropriate collateral” says Barney Whelan, Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs, An Post “but we wanted to make sure that whatever we did we would leave a legacy to the men and women who fought on this site”.

“It was difficult to think big back in 2012 given the state of our finances and those of the State, but it was necessary to do so” says Barney “we commissioned a feasibility study which became the corner stone for the business case and for fundraising.” As he explains, “our 2016 Commemorations began in 2012”.

Barney gathered a team of 10 enthusiastic and dedicated An Post staff around him and began the conceptual and planning stages of the GPO Witness History.

The All Party Commemoration Committee, chaired by Minister Jimmy Deenihan TD, in 2012, was the first to come on board in support of the concept. The State funded over 50% of the interpretative centre with the official budgetary announcement in October 2013. Barney says “it was all talk for 18 months and then it was all work!!” His favourite part of the project so far has been securing funding from the State and other stakeholders. “There are so many stakeholders, it was important that they knew what we intended to do, that we wanted to do something worthwhile, that we wanted to leave a legacy”. Pitching the plan over 30 times in the course of 20 months, “I was taken by the support of politicians and civil servants. If this hadn’t come together, there would be nothing here today.”

While planning, designing and executing the construction and exhibition and also setting up a commercially viable business, Barney is appreciative of the reactions it has generated within An Post staff. “This project is a testament to my colleagues, throughout the GPO, who have taken much pride in seeing something like this built and the investment that has been put into it. Most importantly there is an obvious pride in the idea that we are creating something of worth and a new cultural tourism venue which is badly needed in this part of the city.”

GPO Witness History
The past 18 months has seen the restoration, conservation and repair of the courtyard facades prior to the construction of the new centre, to provide the public with greater access to the GPO site. Producing a stylish unit of architectural significance in a 200-year-old building, the main focus of the GPO Witness History is to provide an immersive visitor experience. There has been extensive consultation with historians and designers, and throughout the centre, visitors will find touch screen technology, interviews and artefacts that present multiple points of view on the 1916 Rising.

Divided into several sections, the visitor begins with an introduction to the GPO building followed by an overview of the cultural, economic and social context that led to the Rebellion. Not shying away from the horrors of the Rebellion, the national and international aftermath of 1916 is also explored. A series of interactive games and a set-dressed area has been created especially for children to understand the experience of the Rising.

Moving out of the exhibition area, a large gallery of how the 1916 events have been marked over the past 100 years can be found. As a moment of historical significance for Ireland, commemorations through the years were sometimes tailored to current political views and agendas. A cafeteria, retail space and an open courtyard are the final components of the visit. Spending anywhere from an hour to several in the Centre, people will then exit into the general office of the GPO where events took place in 1916.

Art Commissions – Public Art
Exceeding the spending requisite of the Percent for Art Scheme, the GPO Witness History interpretative centre is complemented by a series of public art commissions. An open call took place in March 2015, receiving 83 responses. The selected works include:

– ‘Embodied’ by Dublin Dance Festival consists of six contemporary dance solos performance by Jazmin Chiodi, Sibéal Davitt, Junk Ensemble, Liv O’Donoghue, Jessie Keenan and Emma O’Kane in April 2016. The performances will take place throughout the GPO and provide different perspectives on the Proclamation and its significance for the Ireland of today and tomorrow.

– A commissioned sound piece by Carlow artists, Alanna O’Kelly, Brian Hand and Orla Ryan title ‘Stormy Petrel/ Guairdeall’. Focusing around the women couriers who memorised the Proclamation and brought the news of the Rising to the four corners of Ireland and their association with the Stormy Petrel birds.

Within the interpretative centre there is also a commissioned artwork titled ‘They are of us all’, marking the lives of children killed during the Rising.  Located in the courtyard, the artist Barbara Knezevic has created an outdoor sculpture commemorating the 40 lives lost.

As a place of protest, pageant and parade, An Post’s GPO Witness History is forecasting 300,000 visitors each year. It will open its doors on 25 March 2016.

Keep an eye out for further 1916 commemorations for An Post’s GPO Witness History here.

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