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).
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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
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/