Dublin General Post Office History Essay

A couple of weeks ago, the Irish Times‘ Patrick Freyne wrote a piece describing twenty-four hours on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Freyne was primarily concerned with reporting the people he encountered over this period and the activities, not least widespread drug dealing, that he witnessed on what is regularly touted as the Irish capital’s principal thoroughfare. He did not discuss the street’s present appearance nor the possibility that this might have consequences for the way in which it is treated (and often mistreated). So herewith a brief history of O’Connell Street and some thoughts on the way it has been allowed to slide into the sorry state seen in the accompanying photographs, all taken within the past fortnight.
The earliest section of O’Connell Street was laid out in the late 17th century by the land’s then-owner Henry Moore, third Earl of Drogheda who, the vainglorious creature, gave his name to different sections of the development: hence Earl, Henry and Moore Streets (there was once even an Of Lane). Drogheda Street, which ran south from what is now Parnell Street to the junction with Abbey Street, was much narrower than its successor on which work began c.1749 thanks to the vision of that key figure in the development of 18th century Dublin, Luke Gardiner. He was responsible for creating an elongated residential boulevard or mall some fifty feet wide and 1,050 feet long, the centre being a tree-lined public space with granite walls and obelisks topped with oil-fuelled lamp globes.
Gardiner named his development Sackville Street, after the Lord Lieutenant of the time, Lionel Sackville, first Duke of Dorset. It quickly became a fashionable district in which to live. As Maura Shaffrey commented in the Irish Arts Review Yearbook 1988-89, ‘No expense was spared by the wealthy residents of Sackville Street, many of whom were Members of Parliament; they commissioned the best known architects and designers of the day to build, decorate, and fit out their homes in the most elegant styles. The architecture of the east side, built largely for prominent men, was superior to that of the west side which was developed mostly by speculative builder/architects.’ The largest residence of all, Drogheda House, had a sixty-feet frontage on the north corner of what is today Cathedral Street.
Below are two pictures of Sackville Street in its heyday, the first dating from 1843, the second a postcard presumed to be from the late 19th/early 20th century.

At the time of its original development, O’Connell Street only continued as far as the junction with Henry Street, although it was always Gardiner’s intention to extend the thoroughfare as far as the river Liffey. This gradually occurred from the late 1770s onwards, aided by the involvement of Dublin’s Wide Streets Commissioners and by the opening of Carlisle Bridge in 1795: designed by James Gandon, this directly linked the street with the south side of the city. Two significant additions in the first decades of the 19th century were the erection in 1808 of a 121 foot tall granite Doric Column at the junction of the upper and lower sections and topped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, and a decade later the opening of the adjacent General Post Office designed by Francis Johnston.
The arrival of the bridge and the GPO inevitably affected the hitherto-residential character of the street and gradually commercial concerns were established there with the advent of hotels, banks and so forth. Nevertheless, O’Connell Street’s original dignified appearance remained as did many of the 18th century buildings..
With its centre of operations inside the GPO the Easter Rising in 1916 devastated the whole area, much of which was laid waste. However, reconstruction afterwards was rapid; in her book on Dublin Christine Casey notes the rebuilding programme was ‘diverse in expression, united only by restrictions on height, a prescribed cornice level and a predominantly classical vocabulary.’ In fact, this was ample to give the street coherence, as was the widespread use of cut granite for the facades. Some of these have survived, as can be seen below. Unfortunately too many are spoiled by the uncurbed use of signage inappropriate in both size and character.

Over the past ninety years the east side of O’Connell Street has fared better than its western counterpart. Despite some ill-considered shop-frontages, the majority of the former’s buildings remain much as they were redeveloped in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. Among the more significant is Clery’s Department store dating from 1918-22. Its design is indebted to that of Selfridges in London, and it has a splendid Portland Stone facade which, aside from a certain amount of tinkering with some of the details, has largely survived, as have the majority of interior features like the marble staircase.
Further up the same side of the street one finds first the Savoy Cinema and then the Gresham Hotel, both of which again are fronted in Portland stone and assumed their present appearance in the late 1920s. Christine Casey is right to point out that neither display much imagination in their design, and unquestionably the Savoy’s ground floor would benefit from re-ordering, but as she also remarks, ‘the sameness of these 1920s facades is preferable to the more recent dross on the N side of Cathal Brugha Street.’

After almost two centuries, the GPO remains the finest piece of architecture on O’Connell Street, with nothing built since approaching its standards (in itself is a damning indictment of our own era). Of the original building, only Johnston’s facade survives, the structure having been reduced to a shell at the end of the Easter Rising. But what a splendid facade it has, 220 feet long and of fifteen bays, five on each side being granite with rusticated ground floor below two further storeys. The austerity of these two sections contrasts with the centre five bays which feature a full height Portland stone portico with six fluted Ionic columns each 54 inches in diameter. These support a heavily carved entablature and pediment above which are three statues representing Mercury, Fidelity and, in central position, Hibernia. The success of the exterior is due precisely to this combination of austerity and ornamentation, the contrast between the plain side walls with undressed window recesses and the decoration of the portico
When first opened the arches behind the portico were unglazed and formed an arcade secured at close of business by iron gates. However, the building was subject to many alterations during the 19th century, so many indeed that by 1888 removal of internal support walls threatened the entire structure’s collapse. The main hall, memorably described by Christine Casey as being ‘like the lobby of a great Art Deco hotel’ dates from the second half of the 1920s. An Post has recently announced proposals to fill in the courtyard behind in order to create a 1916 museum. As yet no designs have been produced to show what form this might take.

Many of O’Connell Street’s present problems have their origins in the 1970s, although the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar by members of the IRA in March 1966 did not help: the thoroughfare’s appearance suffered from the absence of a monument which matched its grandiose scale. However, within a decade it was the demolition of older buildings and their inferior replacements – such as that now housing a branch of Penneys on the corner of Prince’s Street beside the GPO (built 1976-78) – which most clearly demonstrated the want of interest by relevant authorities in following the example of their forebears and maintaining decent standards of design. In addition, around the same period the first branches of now-ubiquitous fast food outlets arrived on the street, and again no effort was made to restrain their branding so that it was sympathetic to the surrounding environment.

It is the west side of O’Connell Street north from the junction with Henry Street, which has suffered most in the past forty years from poor planning and lack of engagement by Dublin City Council. Astonishingly this section of the street largely survived the effects of the 1916 Rising, but what wasn’t destroyed then has been grossly violated in recent decades. For example, the sandstone facade of the former Standard Life Assurance Company building which dates from 1861 and can be seen in the early postcard of the street a little beyond the GPO still stands, but with its ground floor butchered in the 1970s. Like so many other buildings along here, it is now boarded up and empty and the consequences of neglect are increasingly visible. The same is also true several doors further north where the former Colonial Assurance Company building, constructed 1863 in Ruskinian gothic with tiers of round-headed arches, is likewise unused. Immediately beside this is probably the first post-Independence intervention in the street, a predominantly glass-fronted office block developed in 1959 for Córas Iompair Éireann and now used by Dublin Bus. Of its kind it is by no means unsuccessful but, as frequently tends to be the case here, the building makes no attempt to empathise with its context: on the contrary, it flagrantly ignores the architecture of neighbours.

Further north along the west side of O’Connell Street an already tawdry state of affairs grows rapidly worse, not least thanks to two large vacant sites and to the empty buildings found on either side of them. During the boom years property company Chartered Land spent six years and an estimated €180 million acquiring some 5.5-acres of land here: the intention was to engage in comprehensive redevelopment including 700,000 square feet of retail outlets as well as leisure and residential elements, the whole budgeted at €1.25 billion. In the event, the economic downturn put paid to those notions, which is probably just as well since the scheme proposed was grotesquely over-proportioned and, yet again, completely ignored its surroundings. One especially ludicrous feature was the inclusion of what was trumpeted as a ‘park in the sky’, in other words a public roof garden thirteen storeys above ground: fortunately this part of the project was scrapped before An Bord Pleanála granted permission in March 2010 with building heights limited to around six storeys.
That was almost four years ago and since then nothing has happened, other than the fabric of extant buildings in the ownership of Chartered Land has continued to deteriorate and the character of this part of O’Connell Street has continued to decline. And, as is ever the case, Dublin City Council has continued to do nothing to resolve the situation, allowing this part of O’Connell Street to grow every more shabby.

Below is No. 42 O’Connell Street, the last surviving 18th century house on the thoroughfare. In 1752 the plot on which it stands was leased to Dr Robert Robinson, state physician and Professor of Anatomy at Trinity College, Dublin: four years later the house appeared on Roque’s map of the city. With a red brick facade, of three bays and four storeys over basement, the house’s exterior is most notable for its fine Doric tripartite limestone doorway, the lintel carved with a lion’s head and festoons. Inside there is (or perhaps was, the building has been closed up for some years), a splendid carved wooden staircase and on the first floor front room with beautiful rococo plasterwork. In the 1880s the house became the Catholic Commercial Club, a century later demolition was proposed but somehow it survived, becoming an extension of the atrociously designed and ludicrously named Royal Dublin Hotel, built in the late 1960s and within four decades (rightly) torn down: where it stood is now a large hole in the ground and a wide gap in the street. Meanwhile No. 42 to the immediate south – another part of the Chartered Land site – is left to moulder: a fitting symbol for how much we in Ireland value the buildings left in our care for the benefit of future generations.

After decades of allowing, indeed encouraging, the decline of the capital’s main thoroughfare, in 1998 Dublin City Council announced an O’Connell Street Integrated Area Plan (IAP). However, never known for rushing into action, the authority then lingered another four years before actually engaging in work on the street. Some of what it deemed the more significant features of this project included widening footpaths and the central pedestrian section, the installation of new street furniture and free-standing retail units (although the latter pretty soon disappeared again), the restoration of existing sculptures and on the site of Nelson’s Pillar the installation of a 398-feet high stainless steel pin that was somehow supposed to become a symbol of Dublin in the same way as does the Eiffel Tower for Paris or the Statue of Liberty for New York. Quite how something that resembles an enlarged knitting needle was to accomplish this feat was never satisfactorily explained.
As part of the same regeneration programme, Dublin City Council also cut down all the existing trees on O’Connell Street, some of which had been there for 100 years, and replaced them with other trees. The entire exercise, which took four years to complete, cost no less than €40 million of public money. In addition O’Connell Street has been designated both an Architectural Conservation Area and an Area of Special Planning Control (apparently these safeguards ‘strictly govern all aspects of planning and development on the street’). Furthermore, the majority of the street’s buildings are now classified as Protected Structures. It is exceedingly difficult to understand quite what such designations and classifications have done either to safeguard existing structures or to improve the overall character and appearance of O’Connell Street.

O’Connell Street today is dominated by a sequence of fast-food outlets and gaming arcades, all of which will have applied for, and received permission from the local authority to operate the premises. The elegant thoroughfare created by Luke Gardiner, brought to completion by the Wide Street Commissioners and then carefully recreated in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising by our predecessors has in just a few decades been recklessly and wilfully destroyed. Responsibility for this shoddy state of affairs lies overwhelmingly with Dublin City Council, a body which appears entirely devoid of vision when it comes to urban planning and our built heritage. Pulling up and replanting trees, and extending footpaths while the buildings on either side fall into dereliction smacks of deck chairs and the Titanic. If an Integrated Area Plan is to measure up to its name, every aspect of the street must be included, most especially the appearance and maintenance of structures along its full length. One wonders whether anyone from DCC, either its elected representatives or officials, ever looks at the condition of O’Connell Street, and if so do they feel a hot blush of shame over the condition of the capital’s principal thoroughfare, a condition which they are in the position to improve if only they could bestir themselves. Things have come to a shabby state when even the police station on O’Connell Street has been shut and the space immediately outside on the (expensively widened) pedestrian footpath is treated as an impromptu carpark…

Posted in Architectural History, Architectural Horror, Dublin, Heritage at RiskTagged Architectural History, Bad Architecture, Dublin, Heritage at Risk, O'Connell Street

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O'Connell Street Lower
Dublin 1
Republic of Ireland
+353 1 705 7600

It's not just stamps, letters and postal orders; this iconic post office on O' Connell Street is intrinsically woven into the fabric of this republic. If it had ears it would have heard the bombs & bullets of the 1916 Irish uprising and the 1966 explosion that obliterated Nelson's pillar which had been there since 1809. The rebels did try to blow up the pillar in 1916 but the explosives were damp and wouldn't ignite. That's our maritime climate for ya. Built (and largely rebuilt) mostly of granite with Portland stone at the front, it will be 200 years old in 2018. O' Connell Street was originally Sackville Street. The leaders of the 1916 rising used it as the headquarters of the rebellion. The still bullet - holed front of it is 220 foot long with an Ionic portico of 6 fluted Ionic columns. As you look at the acroteria of the pediment there are three statues; Mercury the god of financial gain & commerce, with his Caduceus and purse; the Virtue Fidelity on the right (my word is my bond) with a hound at her feet and a key held in her right hand and Hibernia resting on her spear and holding a harp. It has a new visitor centre, which has replaced the museum, to commemorate the 1916 Rising. In commemoration of the Rising, a statue depicting the death of the mythical Irish hero Cúchulainn which was sculpted in 1911 was sited at the command post in the centre of the GPO main hall and is now housed in the front of the building. Iconic history aside, the ironic truth is that ground rent for this GPO continued to be paid to English and American landlords until the 1980s. Funny old world.

5 stars. General Post Office in Dublin is located on O'Connell next to the Dublin Spire. Nice building with lots of history, high ceilings. The post office is open on Saturday - this was convenient - I took the time to buy stamps / mail some postcards. The staff is super friendly. It seems they also sell cell phones, services, offer financial services etc. Great service for a post office.

A true piece of Irish history. So much to look at. Bullet holes still there. This is the spot where the lads of 1916 fought off those limey bastards. The 100 year anniversary is here. Make sure to raise a pint in memory! As far as a p.o. goes its fast, they have cool Irish stamps and they also have a great little museum to see.

The heart of Dublin City. This Christmas season, it has been wonderful to come through here. I walked into an impromptu carolling session, two men were playing instruments beside the display and a girl said she would like her auntie to go up and sing a song, so they allowed it and my goodness, she had a beautiful voice. What a lovely thing to see at Christmas time. The GPO has stood strong in Dublin, and will be commemorated during the 1916 celebrations this year. Definitely something to check out. The postal service is excellent, you can also pay bills, buy gift cards, stamps, lottery tickets, post parcels, etc. The staff are all wonderful, so cheerful and pleasant to deal with.

This review is fir the GPO Museum located in the historic post office. We might have enjoyed a historic your of the building and we're readying to happily pay 10 Euros to do so. But that interest was quashed by an extremely rude member of the museum staff. My partner placed our bags down beside is (two small backpacks) so that we could take a few moments to read the museum's Yelp reviews and see what we should look for in terms of highlights. My partner has a bad back, so he slipped over to a corner to sit and read them. No sooner had his bum touched down when the rude staff man came flying over to let us know we were not allowed to sit. His words: "This is a museum not a vagrancy; you can't just sit here." There was, literally, no one else in the area. Zero. Despite this, the watchdog museum staffer also refused to allow us to sit on a bench in the museum foyer -- unless we paid first. Mind you, we did no ask to.sit in the exhibit, but in the foyer where benches are located I assume fir sitting. We are here to spend our money and learn about Ireland. This staff person's rudeness and assumption of vagrancy was a poor reflection on the country and on this historic site. That kind of attitude is NOT worth a visit.

How could you not love this building....it is full of history and has to be one of the most attractive Post Offices in the world. I haven't used this Post Office very often but the fact it has more open kiosks than local PO's i've never have to wait to long. The museum is relatively cheap...€2 for entry....but not sure if this is about the building and history surrounding it or if is about stamps & postage. One would be interesting....the other option, not so much!!

The focus for me was the lovely architecture of the main lobby. So far the loveliest interior of a historical building I have viewed in Dublin. Free to see this area. Takes no more than 15 minutes. No comment on the Uprising displays.

I am a history GEEK!!!! I literally dork out on historical buildings every chance I get , so to me the fact I can get all of my postal needs taken care and be surrounded by a building which saw one of the many things in Irish history I am completely obsessed with in one fell swoop.... I'll take it. What makes it an even better experience is the absolute beauty of the building both inside and out. So really you get post office, historical geekdome, and gorgeous architecture. God this place keeps getting cooler the more I think about it. Now if they just served coffee.....

Yes it's steeped in History but you know it's also a post office. Handy for letters, parcels and other post officey business. Once I went in there for a particular type of envelope that they were supposed to have and they told me to try another post office. I left wondering how surely the supreme post office of all irish post offices wouldn't have what I needed. It also opens later and longer than other post offices and is crazy busy at Christmas!

Dublin's General Post Office (or GPO) is one of Dublin's top attractions. The impressive building on O'Connell Street is hard to miss: it takes up a whole block, has massive Greek columns and a large Irish flag hangs from the top. Anyone living in Ireland should visit this historical site. It represents the country's fight for independence. You can still see the bullet holes in the columns outside after Irish nationalists and British forces fought in the 1916 Easter Rising. There's also a wonderful statue of the legendary warrior Cuchulainn that is dedicated to the Irish freedom fighters. Besides being part of Irish history, the GPO offers all the regular services of a post office. If nothing else, visit this landmark to mail your bills and postcards.

Big Building. Post Office Inside. Irish History Outside. Demonstrations in front of it. If you haven"t seen it, you haven"t been to Dublin.

Dublin's GPO (General Post Office) is the stand out building on O'Connell Street. It is a normal run of the mill post office selling stamps, posting letters and parcels and all those other post office services on offer. However, the great thing about our GPO are the bullet holes in the columns and the history surrounding the place. It was opened in 1818 and perched on the central 50ft balustrade are the symbolic figures of Hibernia, Fidelity and Mercury. In the window a bronze statue stands depicting the death of mythical Irish legend Cuchulainn serves as an allegorical commemoration of the Easter Rising.

Love this old post office building. Go inside and check out the historic interior. They don't make buildings like this anymore. I was able to quickly purchase stamps here too for postcards to send home.

One of the birthplaces of Irish freedom . It was headquarters of the 1916 rising . Still has bullets holes in the walls and columns today. Sells stamps too lol.

The GPO is one of Ireland's most famous buildings, and was the last of the great Georgian public buildings erected in the capital. It is the headquarters of the Irish postal service, An Post, and Dublin's principal post office. I have often made a point of walking a little bit further than necessary just to experience the sheer splendour of this imposing post office when I could have easily gone somewhere less out of my way to post my letter. I can rarely resist the opportunity to undertake a task as commonplace as posting a letter within such extraordinary surroundings - adding a great sense of grandiose to things. Extraordinarily, during the Easter Rising of 1916, the GPO served as the headquarters of the uprising's leaders. The assault by the British forces extensively damaged the building and it was not repaired until the Irish Free State government took up the task some years later. Intriguingly, the original columns outside are still pocked with bullet-marks. They provide an everlasting reminder of the important historical events that took place here. The historical significance of the GPO and the way the building has remained a symbol of Irish nationalism and Irish national history never fails to utterly enthrall me.

Inside they will post your letters for you. Visually it will impress you. And on the corner, the street preacher will help save your soul and is apparently a one person postal operation to send your soul to heaven. Amen.

There is so many reasons to visit the General Post Office- usually just called 'GPO'. The first reason, as others have already pointed out is the fact that it is the headquarters of An Post, the Irish postal service and the main post office in Dublin. There is also the historical significance of the GPO, which was used as a rebel stronghold during the 1916 Easter Rising. And thirdly there is the statue of Cuchulainn- the great Irish mythological hero- in the window of the GPO. A must- see for tourists.

Even though this is one of the obvious landmarks on any tourist's itinerary, I still find the GPO-awe insprining; especially with all the bulletholes and shrapnel-marks still visible in the main columns. It does remind of the fact that Ireland had to struggle to be born as an independent nation...

historical and beatifull building. stage for the great conflict in the early 1900's. Nice photo shoot.

This iconic building is one of the most famous in Dublin and represents Irish independence and freedom. The An Post (Ireland's postal service) headquarters are here in the General Post Office in Dublin, in the heart of O'Connell Street. This building has a ton of troubled history and if these walls could speak they would most certainly have great tales to tell. It has been host to many historic events for Dublin such as being the headquarters for the leaders of the Easter Rising (fight for Irish republicans with the aim to end British rule and establish the Republic of Ireland), to being the braodcasting studio of Radio Eireann, as well as being damaged by the British forces with bullet holes still intact! A must visit for Irish tourists.

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