BASQUE PIRATES ON THE WAVES

Diarmuid Breatnach

One of my appointments on a recent trip to Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, was with a “free radio station”, with a dual purpose: to learn about their operation and to give them an interview about my thinking on the political phenomena known to most people as “peace processes”. The radio station in question is Zintilik and located in the Orereta area of Errenteria town, not far north from Donosti/ San Sebastian, in the souther Basque province of Gipuzkoa and my hosts were Hektor Gartzia and Julen Etxegarai. 

View of side of building which houses Zintilik. Photo D.Breatnach

View of side of building which houses Zintilik. Photo D.Breatnach

Julen and Hektor setting up for the interview Photo D.Breatnach

Julen and Hektor setting up for the interview
Photo D.Breatnach

Not long after I arrived, one of my hosts related his memory of events in the area after a local ETA fighter had been killed. The Guardia Civil had swamped the area to prevent an “homenaje” (an event honouring the dead) taking place, guns pointing at men and women; the children, of which he had been one, gathered into their grandparents’ house ….. He showed me where the police vehicle had parked at the end of the street, his sweeping hand indicating the places where the armed police had stood.

THE “FREE RADIO”

The “free radio station”, also known as “pirate radio” has been broadcasting for 32 years, which I find amazing. It began broadcasting from an “okupa”, an occupation of a private empty building, turning it into an alternative social and political centre. Under popular pressure, the local authority, under the control at the time of the PSE, i.e. (Spanish unionist social democratic party), granted them the building they currently use.

Front of Zintilik building. Photo D.Breatnach

Front of Zintilik building from the street.
Photo D.Breatnach

Originally built to house a smithy, for some reason the building never saw service in that capacity. It is in my estimation an attractive building in a traditional-enough local style, of thick stone, compact without being squat. It has an attractive back yard, no doubt intended at one time to receive the horses with hooves in need of iron shoes, fitted and nailed. The roof is tiled in what seems the usual way for the Basque Country.

Zintilik broadcasts 24 hours a day, which it is able to do using repeats.  The Zintilik collective owns its equipment and funds itself through fund-raising concerts, txosnak (stalls/ marquees) at festivals and occasional donations. They run advertisements for

Julen and Hektor again. Photo D.Breatnach

Julen and Hektor again.
Photo D.Breatnach

local community groups and announce events but accept no commercial sponsorship – nor does their wish for independence stop there. “We don’t receive any funding from the local authority or from the Basque Autonomous Government,” declares Julen, “nor do we wish to.”

Funding from such sources comes with strings attached”, adds Hektor.

Or one becomes dependent on it and unable to function without it”, further explains Julen.

Partial scenic view from the back of the building. A block of flats to right just out of shot does restrict it however. (Photo D.Breatnach}

Partial scenic view from the back of the building. A block of flats to right just out of shot does restrict it however.
(Photo D.Breatnach}

As a further illustration of self-reliance, they tell me how they climbed on to the roof of their building to repair a leak, rather than ask the municipal authorities to do it. And it was the same when branches of a nearby plane tree needed cutting to prevent them knocking against the radio aerial on windy days.

We know it’s work that the local authority owes us and that we and the rest of the community pay their salaries but we prefer not to depend on them,” they explain.

As an example of how dependency – although of a different sort – can undermine a community resource, they relate the story of building which was occupied in order to be used as a community resource. As time passed, many were using it as a social resource but less people were volunteering for the work involved in maintenance at any level. Appeals of the four or so committed people who ended up doing everything fell on the deaf ears of the clientele until one day the four locked the centre doors after the last user had left for the evening and, the next day, handed the keys over to the local authority.

The back yard to the building where we ate a meal after the interview. Photo D.Breatnach

The back yard to the building where we ate a meal after the interview.  The structure there is an outhouse.  (Photo D.Breatnach)

As you imagine, this was a great shock to the clientele,” they tell me, “but it was the result of their own lack of commitment to the project.”

I reflect that many activists will identify in one way or another with that sad experience.

RECORDING THE INTERVIEW

Julen and Hektor discuss the format and general content of the interview with me and map it out, do sound checks and then we go to it. Hektor, who knows quite a bit about the more recent Irish history and about the current situation in the Six Counties, is my interviewer, while Julen monitors from the control room and occasionally joins in with comment or question.

Interview room. Photo D.Breatnach

Interview room.
Photo D.Breatnach

For music in between sections of interview, Irish Ways and Irish Laws (John Gibbs) and Where Is Our James Connolly? (Patrick Galvin) have been chosen, both sung by Christy Moore and Joe McDonnell (Brian Warfield), by the Wolfe Tones.

They also invited me to sing Back Home in Derry, Christy Moore’s lyrics arrangement of Bobby Sands’ poem – but to the air I composed for it. I am happy to oblige – I enjoy singing but it is more than that: I want the air I composed to get a hearing. Christy Moore used Gordon Lightfoot’s air to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald for Sands’ poem and, excellent though that fit is, especially with Moore’s chorus, I think that the poem (and its author) deserves an air of its own.

Recording room. Photo D.Breatnach

Recording room.
Photo D.Breatnach

Although the main focus of the interview was the phenomenon of “peace (sic) processes”, we discussed aspects of Irish, Spanish, Palestinian and South African recent history, including the 1916 Rising in Ireland, along with the backgrounds to the songs chosen. For the most part, I left it to my interviewers to draw conclusions relating to their experience of political processes in their own country.

FESTIVALS AND STORMS

Upstairs in the broadcasting/ recording and interview rooms, all is in good order: equipment and facilities. After the interview, I note that downstairs, in the main space, things are a in a bit of a mess, for which Julen apologises (he has never seen the state of my flat).

Some of the community groups we support store their placards and banners here,” he says. “Besides, we’ve just finished our local festival and everyone relaxes, dumps their equipment and goes on holiday.” Throughout the Summer and early Autumn, each village, town, city and even area will have its own week-long festival for which the community groups and campaigns will organise and participate.

Down in Donostia (San Sebastian), to where Hektor and Julen accompanied me after we ate the food they had prepared, the city was in the midst of its own festival and was heaving with people – tourists from everywhere, it seemed, as well as Basques.

With that picturesque bay and its island in our background, they got a passing young woman to take our photo, the three of us – the conversation with her was in Euskara only. I held up the placards I had prepared for the photo in turn, one in Irish and another in English, supporting the Moore Street quarter in Dublin.

R-L: Julen, Diarmuid, Hektor. Donosti bay in the background with island partly visible. Storm building in the sky.

R-L: Julen, Diarmuid, Hektor. Donosti bay in the background with island partly visible. Storm building in the sky.

Save M St Quarter Donosti backgroundDark clouds were gathering overhead and on the horizon the sky was a baleful orange. A storm or at least a downpour was being promised and, as we turned back towards the bus station, the first drops began to fall. In the humid heat, the light rain was welcome for awhile but for part of my solitary journey back to Bilbo, it formed a silvery curtain in the coach’s headlights and streamed down the windows.

I remembered being told that one can frequently witness a violent storm in the Donosti bay while not so far away in Bilbao, as a result of local conditions, all is calm. As for winter storms in Donosti, the waves hitting and surging over the seafront and piers have to be seen to be believed; occasionally the sea reaches inland, floods cellars and converts parked cars into boats or semi-submarines.

The rain eased off and stopped about half-way through my journey and when I got into San Mames station in Bilbo, the streets were not even wet.

end

Clenched Fists 3 Tzintilik Irratia 2016

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ON THE BASQUE LANGUAGE TRAIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On the platform at Mundaka there are only a few to catch the 9.18 a.m. train to Bilbao. Mundaka is a popular coastal resort town in Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country.  “Egun on” (“good day”), I greet those on the platform in Euskara in passing, the Basque language, and they reply the same.

Bizkaia Train & Notice on Track

Train on the Atxuri (Bilbao)-Bermeo line. Note the warning sign to bottom left of image, in Euskera first and Castillian second. (Photo sourced on Internet).

A young couple with two little boys come on to the only platform (for both directions) and I think I hear the woman speaking to the boys in Euskara. But soon, I make out some Castillian (Spanish) words; however it is not unusual to hear some Castillian words and even phrases scattered through Euskara conversation, in the southern Basque Country, at any rate. But no, I can tell now that the conversation between mother and child is definitely all in Castillian – I must have been mistaken earlier, when I thought they were speaking in Euskara.

Mountains over Mundaka rooftop

A view from a Mundaka building a number of stories up. The port is out of sight to the left, the station behind. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Casa de los Ingleses

“Casa de Los Ingleses”, a beautiful if rather gothic-looking old house, residence of an English family with business interests locally many years ago. I passed it on the short walk from the town to the station. Behind it there were plots being worked for vegetables, all due to disappear beneath a new car park construction. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Servants House

The residence of the servants of the Casa de Los Ingleses, a lovely building in its own right.  Its demolition is planned to make way for a new construction (see design in next photo) — my guide encouraged me to write a letter of protest to the municipality.  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The construction planned to replace the "servants' house" after the latter has been demolished. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The construction planned to replace the “servants’ house” after the latter has been demolished. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

“Miao, miao” says the smallest boy, pointing at some feral cats dozing near the platform. “Bai, katua” replies the mother and a flood of Euskara follows, both boys and mother and occasionally father too conversing in Euskara. And so they continue until the southbound train arrives and everyone gets on, except one man, presumably waiting for a northbound train to Bermeo.

On our journey southwards, soon passing alongside salt marshlands, I note that the names of the stations are in Euskara only: Itsasbegi-Busturia, Axpe-Busturia (in the broad estuary of the Urdebai river), San Kristobal Busturia, Forua, Instituto Gernika, Gernika….

The Wikitravel entry for Gernika translates it to the Castillian “Guernica” and opens with this: Basque town which was the site of the first airborne bombing attack on a civilian town during the Spanish civil war. The bombing, by the Condor Legion of Germany’s Luftwaffe in 1937, inspired Picasso to paint the landmark cubist work Guernica, now on display at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.”

Well, yes, but one might add for clarity that it was done as part of Franco’s fascist offensive and that the fascist press later blamed it on Asturian Anarchist “fire-bombers”. And one might update it by commenting that the Basques have asked for Picasso’s painting to be located in Gernika itself, a request which the Spanish state authorities, the political descendants of the fascist victors of that war, have refused.

Train tracks Axpe Busturia

Train tracks from Axpe Busturia, the estuary to the left and salt marshes on both sides.  (Source: Internet).

Onwards again, the next stop is Lurgorri-Gernika. At the next after that, Zugast station, a middle-aged man gets on with Berria, the all-Euskara newspaper, under his arm. This periodical, being in many ways the replacement of another newspaper, Egunkaria, has a noteworthy connection with history.

Founded in 1990, Egunkaria was the first all-Euskera daily newspaper in the world; it had a left-nationalist editorial line and a journalistic outlook, which led it to report ETA statements alongside those from Spanish unionist political parties and from the State. The Basque language was no longer illegal or banned since the transición, post-General Franco, when the fascist Spanish oligarchy brought the leaderships of the social democratic party and the Communist Party on board, along with their respective trade union leaders — and called it “Democracy”.

But on 20th February 2003, the Spanish State’s militarised police, the Guardia Civil, raided the newspaper’s premises, seized records, machines and closed down the periodical. They also raided the homes or arrested at the building a total of ten people associated with the newspaper, at least four of which were tortured subsequently. For one of those, the manager, a gay man, the torture included sexual violation.

Massive protest demonstrations ensued from an outraged Basque population. The arrested were released on bail.

On 15 April 2010, seven years later, the defendants were finally acquitted on all charges relating to ‘terrorist’ connections and the judges added that there had been no justification for the closure of the newspaper in the first place.

By then, Egunkaria was beyond recovery and anyway Berria had stepped in to occupy the niche (apparently with the blessing of the Egunkaria team). The case against the State for compensation for the loss of the newspaper and also for torture remains open, sixteen years later. The Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg found the Spanish state guilty of not investigating the manager’s complaint of being tortured and ordered compensation paid. It did not, however, as it usually does not, find the state guilty of the torture itself. Of course, torture is difficult to prove, particularly when the state in question keeps political detainees for five days incommunicado, without access even to independent medical practitioners, while its police goes about getting their “confessions”

On the train journey now, the next stop has the delightful-sounding name of Muxika. This causes some amusement to a teenage boy in a nearby seat, accompanied by an older woman – they have been talking in Castillian only since they got on. I wonder are they aware that in June 2013 José Mujica, President of Uruguay until last year, visited the townland that gave rise to his surname. Mujica was presented with a key to the town by the Mayor, who is of the Basque Abertzale Left party Bildu.

The train pulls out of Muxika, then on to Zugastieta-Muxika station as we continue running southward through thick woodlands, occasional industrial parks and small allotments where an occasional middle-aged man tends to his large tomatoes, the small elongated sweet peppers of the region, courgettes, climbing beans …..

Onwards to Morebieta Geralekua before the line takes a sharp twist north-eastwards to more woodlands, rivers, streams and mountains at Lemoa, Bedia, Usansolo, Zuhatsu Galdakoa. Now the built-up areas of Ariz Basauri followed by the contrast of the picturesque Etxebarri before a southward curve to Bolueta and then eastward, to run along the Nervion river to Atxuri station in Bilbo (Bilbao), journey’s end.

All of the stations along this route were named in the Basque language – not one had a Castillian version showing (although there will be plenty of that in streets and squares in Bilbao). The public announcements on this train, as on their counterparts in the Irish 26 Counties, are bilingual but with this difference – on the Basque train, they are always in Euskara first, Castillian second. Likewise with the signage. One is never under any doubt about which language is being given primacy there, nor indeed here, where the English version comes first and, when in text, is in a more dominant type or more contrasting colour.

The Irish language is being derailed even as, to mix metaphors, it is being given lip service. Further down the tracks, unless some urgent repair work is undertaken, lies the final stop – the cemetery of our national language.

end

“SLASH AND BURN” IN MOORE STREET

Diarmuid Breatnach

“Almost slash and burn,” is how one of the people I am talking with describes the procedures they expect from Lisadell, the construction company employed by the Department of Heritage in Moore Street, to work on where the GPO Garrison retreated in the last days of the Easter Rising.

“The roof doesn’t need replacing,” says another. “It needs the hole in the roof fixed and the timbers carefully repaired, not replaced.” I remark that I’ve known people who’ve had water damage or dry rot and just had the timbers replaced. “Yes, of course, when conservation is not an issue. But when it is, the work is slow and painstaking, bit by bit, to conserve everything that can be conserved, putting in extra supports when needed.”

I am talking to people with expertise in the area of conservation of buildings of historical and/ or architectural value. They know what should be done to conserve the historic buildings in the Moore Street quarter and they feel certain that it will not be done. They feel impotent – they have the expertise, they care about conservation but they fear the combined powers of the State and big property speculators such as Hammerson, who plan to build a huge shopping centre over the whole Moore Street quarter. They will advise but if they go “too far”, they feel their professional lives will be seriously impaired. Perhaps they fear even more than that – who knows?

In 2007, just before Nos.14-17 Moore Street were made a national monument, TG4 in the their Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca program broadcast a remarkably in-depth exposure of the battle between Chartered Land and another firm of property speculators for control of the quarter and how Joe O’Reilly of Chartered Land, coming from behind, had been given an incredible advantage over his competitors with a preferential deal with the Planning Department of Dublin City Council.  This took place among more than a whiff of corruption and of complaints by elected Councillors who were excluded from a secret meeting and at another, threatened with financial penalties. Joe O’Reilly of Chartered Land (and also joint owner with Irish Life of the ILAC shopping centre) gobbled up most of Moore Street and only a fierce campaign in the autumn of 2014 prevented the Planning Department getting authorisation to swap him two Council properties in the Street, thereby clearing the way for him to begin demolition of the terrace.

 

“THESE TIMBERS HEARD …. MACHINE GUNS … SCREAMS … THE PAINFUL DECISION TO SURRENDER …”

Another of the experts intervenes. “These timbers they are going to rip out are the ones that heard the discussion around whether to surrender or to go on fighting,” she says. I am a little surprised at such poetic imagery from a person whose work is in bricks and mortar, plaster, timbers and slates – but there is no denying the passion and there is more to come.

“Those timbers heard the chatter of British machine guns, the crack of their rifles, screams in the street, the occasional crack of a Volunteers’ rifle, perhaps an occasional groan from the wounded Connolly. They heard Elizabeth O’Farrell volunteering to go out under a white flag although civilians had already been shot down under such a flag. They heard the discussions upon her return, the painful decision to surrender, Pearse’s decision to go out with O’Farrell, Seán Mac Lochlainn’s orders to march out in military order ….”

Can damaged timbers and bricks be conserved? I ask. “Oh yes, they do it in England on historic buildings, even genuine Tudor ones. All kinds of damaged timbers can be conserved. But if at all possible you do it in place, in situ – removing timbers causes further damage.”

And bricks? And slates? “Well,” breaks in another, “you’d photograph everything carefully in advance or as you uncovered sections. Anything to be temporarily removed would be numbered, slates or bricks. Then the supporting timbers or brickwork is slowly treated, then everything put back in the same order.”

What about missing or broken bricks or slates? “Broken bricks can sometimes be repaired but otherwise you’d source bricks from the same brickyard. Or if the brickyard is no longer in business, you’d look for other buildings of the same bricks being demolished and buy the material. The same with slates.” I think of the descriptions by campaigners occupying the buildings of how they found timbers just thrown into a set-aside room, and all kinds of objects left leaning against plasterwork that was probably in need of conservation.

A woman shows me on her Ipad a section on restoration procedures on the website of Historic England, a body sponsored by the British Department of Media, Culture and Sports. I quickly record three paragraphs (I will look up the rest later).
A conservative approach is fundamental to good conservation – so retaining as much of the significant historic fabric and keeping changes to a minimum are of key importance when carrying out repair work to historic buildings.

The unnecessary replacement of historic fabric, no matter how carefully the work is carried out, can in most situations have an adverse effect on character and significance.

“The detailed design of repairs should be preceded by a survey of the building’s structure and an investigation of the nature and condition of its materials and the causes and processes of decay.”

I remark that doesn’t seem to be what is going to happen to Nos.14-17 Moore Street. They nod – they agree.

“It’s just a building site to them,” says one. “What they have already done in defacing a national monument is criminal – but who will prosecute them?”

“They put more holes in the front of those buildings than British soldiers did in 1916,” says another man angrily. “Then they just ripped out their Hilti bolts and filled up the holes with an epoxy resin, instead of pointing material.”

This is a reference to the drilling of holes for the erection of a banner without planning permission, across Nos. 14-17 Moore Street, officially a national monument since 2007. Judge Barrett agreed it was illegal in the case taken by Colm Moore, the nominee of some 1916 fighters’ relatives. Although she is appealing that and other decisions of Barrett’s, the Minister had it taken down recently — but again using questionable methods.

“No wonder Humphreys doesn’t want independent inspection and monitoring”, says another, a reference to the Minister of Heritage’s consistent refusal to allow any independent conservation experts in, or indeed the Lord Mayor of last year, or a number of TDs and Councillors, always under the guise of “Health & Safety requirements” that no-one not of the workforce should enter. Yet when they had their media exercise after the Government’s purchase late last year, RTÉ camera crews were in there as was Caitriona Crowe of Trinity College, praising the purchase of the buildings and the Department’s alleged intentions. It later emerged that the demolition of three adjoining buildings was part of that plan but a five-day occupation of the building by concerned citizens put a stop to that, before an injunction was granted by Judge Barret preventing further demolition until the case taken against the State had been decided.

While the rest of the buildings in the quarter and the streets themselves, uncared for and subject to constant assault of weather and with broken drainpipes, heavy traffic and so on accelerate in deterioration, and the Minister’s appeal against the Barret Judgement will not even open until December next year, an assault is imminent on the roof and parapets of four of the buildings of the historic 1916 terrace, those with the best-preserved original frontages and among those with the highest specific historic importance within that terrace. If this were a case of some greedy or careless private owner or company, a complaint could be made to the National Monuments Service. Many such cases have ended in heavy fines for the perpetrators.

But Terry Allen, the Principal Officer of that very Service baldly said in his evidence to Judge Barrett that Moore Street was not a 1916 battlefield. His office comes under the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, of which Minister Heather Humphreys is the boss. And the Government’s Cabinet stands behind her, if not actually pushing her forward. We tend to look to the State to protect national monuments from people damaging them. But who can protect them from the State itself?

 

End.

NB: These conversations happened but not with all of the people present at the one time. I have put them together for the sake of a condensed narrative and for the protection of identities.

 

Further information:

Principles of Repair for Historic Buildings from Historic England website:

https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/technical-advice/buildings/maintenance-and-repair-of-older-buildings/principles-of-repair-for-historic-buildings/

The Facebook pages of the following campaigns:
Save Moore Street From Demolition

Save Moore Street 2016

Save Moore Street Dublin

The TG4 program Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx0Kah7dE80

And some of the Easter Rising Stories series of videos by Marcus Howard on Youtube

Description of Terry Allen’s responsibilities as Prinicpal Officer at the National Monuments Service http://whodoeswhat.gov.ie/branch/ahg/Monuments/terry-allen/641/

 

MASS CROPPIES’ BURIAL GROUND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC ONCE AGAIN

Clive Sulish

Croppies’* Acre, a piece of parkland believed to the site of a mass grave of United Irishmen insurgents and non-combatant victims, situated between the Liffey’s Wolfe Tone Quay and the Collins Barracks complex of the Irish National Museum, was some weeks ago reopened to the public for the first time in four years. Few if any of the campaigners for its saving or its reopening were invited to the event or given credit in the short newspaper report about the occasion.

This report seeks to correct that omission, to give a brief account of efforts made over the years and to comment on the care of the park today.

(* “Croppy” was a name given to supporters of the United Irishmen, apparently because of the males wearing their hair cut short and close to the scalp, in the style of the revolutionary French of the time.  “Crapaí” and “Cnapaí” were the versions of the word in the Irish language).

The Pedestrian Gate on Wolfe Tone Quay, Liffey side, open to the public again after four years (Photo C. Sulish)

The Pedestrian Gate on Wolfe Tone Quay, Liffey side, open to the public again after four years (Photo C. Sulish)

HISTORY OF THE SITE AND OF THE CAMPAIGNS AROUND IT

In 2012, after the site had been closed for some time allegedly due to health and safety concerns for visitors due to drug-injecting paraphernalia left there by people using the site at night-time, Pádraig Drummond and Diarmuid Breatnach set up the Croppies Acre Rejuvenation project with a Facebook page to promote the importance of the site and to gather forces to pressure the authorities into reopening the site and maintaining it properly.

Prior to this, a number of visits had been made by Irish Republicans (the 1916 Societies on some occasions, independent Republicans on others) to the closed site to collect and dispose safely of drug-injecting paraphernalia and other waste and it was felt that a public campaign was needed.

Memorial stone about halfway along the the Liffeyside of the park. In the distance, the heaped earth of works in October last year which had caused concern (Photo: D. Breatnach)

Memorial stone about halfway along the the Liffeyside of the park. In the distance, the heaped earth and earth-moving machine in October last year which had caused concern (Photo: D. Breatnach)

As part of the campaign a letter to the media was composed by Drummond and Breatnach in consultation with the National Graves Association (a voluntary independent organisation that marks and maintains the graves of those who fought for Irish freedom and which also erects plaques to commemorate people and events). Although none of the main media published the letter it is reproduced here not only as a document of the history of campaigning for the site in its own right but also because it summarises well what had gone before.

Croppies Acre is remembered in Dublin folklore as the site of a mass grave in which the bodies of dead insurgents were thrown in 1798. Among those lying in Croppies’ Acre are reputedly the bones of Bartholomew Teeling and Matthew Tone (brother of Wolfe Tone — CS), both hanged at the Provost Prison on Arbour Hill after the Battle of Ballinamuck on 8 September 1798.

 

In 1898, the centenary of the United Irish uprisings, 100,000 marched to the site and placed a plaque there. As many people will be aware, the centenary commemoration of the United Irish played a significant part in the creation of a national pro-independence culture which fed into the Easter 1916 Rising, less than twenty years later, and which in turn fed into the War of Independence 1919-’21 and the creation of an Irish state.

Memorial stone placed during 1798 centenary commemoration which was attended by 100,000 (Photo: D. Breatnach)

Memorial stone placed during 1798 centenary commemoration which was attended by 100,000 (Photo: D. Breatnach)

Although a 1798 rising commemoration plaque was laid at the site by “soldiers of the Eastern Command” of the Irish Army in 1985, soldiers were sometimes to be seen playing football on the field until the mid-1990s, while Collins Barracks was still in use by the Irish Army. This practice ceased after a number of complaints from members of the public who felt the practice was not respectful to the dead insurgents. The Irish Army vacated Collins Barracks in 1996 or thereabouts and the National Museum moved into the buildings in 1997.

In 1997 a proposal to turn the graves of the Patriot Dead into a car and bus park was all the more stunning as the bi-centenary of the United Irishmen’s Rising of 1798 was imminent and groups everywhere were renovating monuments and graves, organising seminars and lectures and planning pike marches.

The then secretary of the National Graves Association, Tess Kearney (since deceased — SC), was in poor health, but decided that such an occasion required action regardless of her personal circumstances. Tess turned in a magnificent effort for the television cameras and organised a campaign to “Save the Croppies Acre”. Within days, various interested parties came together and, under the leadership of the NGA, the plan to build a coach park on the site was defeated and the Croppie’s Acre site was developed two years ago (i.e in 2010 — CS) as a national monument with an expenditure of some €35,000. The field layout is simple with `(some individual) flagstones throughout the site presumably symbolising the bodies lying below and a small open circular stone structure on which are reproduced parts of the text and facsimile typeface of the Droites del Homme (Rights of Man) document from the French Revolution (1789). Also featured is the text of Seamus Heaney’s poem “Croppies” and the motif of the barley seed head is reproduced on the stone in reference to the poem and Irish folk memory.

The enclosure monument, with National Museum, Collins Barracks in the background. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The enclosure monument in Croppies’ Acre, with National Museum, Collins Barracks in the background.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Drummond/ Breatnach letter, signed by a number of historians, history tour guides, authors and history enthusiasts, also noted that:

The Office of Public Works has closed the site because it considers it unsafe to permit public access due to some night-time activities there. Recently some of us went to inspect the site and were shocked at the condition into which it has sunk. Used syringes, discarded needles, bottles, cans and other rubbish were found at a number of locations but especially inside the stone structure.

Rubbish bags were filled and disposed of, with the hazardous waste disposed of in bio hazard containers that were then handed into the local authorities. A return visit found almost as much rubbish as had been disposed of previously. A third visit found even more. This is not acceptable and must change.

The letter concluded by stating that
“It may be that some will say that the expense, even though relatively small, of looking after a national monument, cannot be justified in the current climate of austerity. To those we would say that possibly, had we valued sufficiently our independence and the sacrifices made for it in the past, we would not have allowed foreign finance speculators to bring us to sad straits in which we find ourselves now. The image of our past locked away while we are plundered as a nation in the present is a stark contrast.

However about that, the Office of Public Works must take the appropriate action to look after this site properly and offer safe access to the park during the hours of daylight seven days a week. At night, the site needs to be well-lit and protected. Mr. Brian Hayes, TD, Minister of State responsible for the OPW since 2011, must take urgent action.”

At the time, the OPW probably seemed a much safer bet as custodians than Dublin City Council, especially with the Council’s Planning Department having granted property speculators planning permission to construct a giant shopping centre over the Moore Street battleground and market. However, it was eventually Dublin City Council that took responsibility for the maintenance and reopening of the site to the public.

But throughout the years after the setting up of that campaign, from 2012 to 2014, nothing seemed to be happening to put matters right. Groups of Republican volunteers paid visits from time to time to clean up the site, collecting horrifying amounts of used hypodermic needles and other paraphernalia and waste but the authorities appeared unmoved.

Twice in February 2014, questions were asked in the Dáil, the Irish Parliament, of Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brian Hayes. Pádraig Drummond had written to TDs (elected representatives) Clary Daly and Maureen O’Sullivan, who received replies to their questions, the former written and the latter an oral reply. Daly’s reply from Minister of State Hayes was that The Office of Public Works and Dublin City Council have agreed in principle that the management and maintenance of the Croppies Acre Memorial Park will be undertaken by the Council. OPW and Dublin City Council are reviewing the Council’s proposals regarding improved access to the park prior to formalising a licence arrangement, following which the park is expected to re-open to the public.”

The oral reply was much longer but the nub of it was the same.

We weren’t getting people signing up to form a campaigning group and we were running out of energy”, said one of the campaigners about those years.

In September 2015, soon after DCC staff were seen to have been cleaning up the site and cutting the grass, concerned Republicans visited the site and posted photos on the campaign FB page of drug paraphernalia and mess which had quickly accumulated again on the site.

In October of that year, Dublin City Council staff began work inside the park with earth removers. In the absence of any notice of what was intended and no public consultation, protesters including Éirigí mobilised and halted work. Dublin City Council gave a written guarantee (see photo) that the work was only to create or upgrade a circular pathway. The protests ceased but an eye was kept on proceedings.

However photographs taken during a visit by other concerned people that same month showed drug paraphernalia again accumulating at the site.

View from the west pedestrian gate to the east since the Acre opened (Photo: C. Sulish)

View from the west pedestrian gate to the east since the Acre opened (Photo: C. Sulish)

The letter guarantee which led to calling off the protests in October 2014

The letter guarantee which led to calling off the protests in October 2014

THE SITE REOPENS TO THE PUBLIC

By June this year, the site had been cleaned up, planted, a path put through part of it and finally reopened to the public, four years after the campaign to reopen it had begun. The Daily Herald reported on the opening ceremony (see link for their report below) on the 15th, presided over by Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh in one of her last acts before her year as Mayor was up.

The Herald report alluded to the years of closure and “problems with drug users” but not once did it mention the National Graves Association, the Republican groups that repeatedly visited the site and those that mobilised to protect it in October last year, or the campaign set up in 2012 and the letter to the media of that year and TDs questions in the Dáil

A sleeping bag, perhaps, against the wall within the monument park weeks after reopening. (Photo: C.Sulish)

A sleeping bag, perhaps, against the wall within the monument park weeks after reopening.
(Photo: C.Sulish)

The report did mention Councillor Mannix Flynn who, it said, had been campaigning over the years for the site’s reopening. “Councillor Mannix Flynn, for all I know, may have been campaigning hard for the site’s reopening,” said Diarmuid Breatnach. “I can’t say he has and I can’t say he hasn’t. But I can say that not once in those years of agitation, campaigning and trying to raise the profile of the issue, did we ever hear from or about him in connection with Croppies’ Acre.”

This month, I visited the site again and found it open and being used by the public, reasonably clean and with some attractive plantings of flowers and grasses. But inside the circular monument, there was a small pile of excreta in one spot and, on the way out, I noted what seemed to be a sleeping bag against the eastern wall. The site will need continual watching.

End.

White Purple Flowers Grass close

(Photo: C. Sulish)

White Purple Grass

(Photo: C. Sulish)

Grass Blue Flowers Close

View southwards across the park (Photo: C. Sulish)

The Tricolour in this case would have been better replaced by the green flag of the United Irish with the harp in gold.

The Tricolour in this case would have been better replaced by the green flag of the United Irish with the harp in gold. (Photo: C. Sulish)

APPENDIX

LINKS TO QUOTED AND RELATED MATERIAL

Letter sent to mass media in 2012, after DCC had locked up the site:
http://www.politics.ie/…/221010-croppies-acre-rejuvenation.…

Daily Herald report on the reopening of Croppies’ Acre

http://www.herald.ie/news/drughit-city-park-is-reopened-after-120k-cleanup-34801856.html

Article about Bartholomew Teeling and Matthew Tone https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/captain-bartholomew-teeling-united-irishmen-hero-believed-to-be-buried-in-croppies-acre/