In Look Up Paul Reynolds Encourages you rabble to briefly break from your daily grind and consider the ghosts that haunt the buildings that surround us.
This issue we look at one of the most photographed buildings in Ireland. Any visitor, be they Dub, culchie or a bleedin’ foreigner, will recognize that place in Temple Bar which always has buskers beside it.
The townies amongst you might know the can drinkers such as yer man with the beard and the crutches or the shouty woman with the ponytail as well as some of the young guitar heroes who Wonderwail their way through the early evening leaning against this monument to our past. It even functions as a pop-up art gallery as various street artists ply their trade. But few passers-by can tell what it is or what it ever was.
Purpose-built in 1898 it was Dublin’s first automatic telephone exchange. Much like its newer neighbor, Internet House, it stood as a technological beacon shining through the luddite fog.
With this in mind the Irish Citizen Army targeted the Telephone Exchange in 1916 as one of the communication hubs for the island. While many of us grew up learning of a history of ‘blood sacrifice’ and the futility of the Easter Rising, the truth is that the attack was meticulously planned both militarily and logistically.
Sixty communication points around Dublin were hit in an effort to cut off all contact between British military forces within Ireland and to the ‘mainland’. The hope being that reserves and reinforcements would be delayed or misinformed
Michael Collins himself had worked in the G.P.O. and understood the importance of modern communication. Upon seizing the General Post Office in 1916 postal workers were relieved of the task of telegraphing death notices by members of the Citizen Army who wanted to control what was being wired where.
Unfortunately for the rebels they could not take the Temple Bar exchange. A failure that would prove disastrous.
Painful lessons were learned during the Civil War, April 1922 to be exact, when the anti-treaty forces occupied symbolic or strategic buildings about the town, the pro-treaty forces got busy reinforcing the exchange.
In the same year the red-brick building would witness more violence as troops opened fire on striking postal workers. The proposal by the Provisional Government to reduce further already poor wages resulted in the first major industrial dispute of the Free Irish State.
In September of 1922 postal workers from the Temple Bar exchange came out on strike. An altercation occurred between the striking workers and Free State troops which quickly escalated into shots being fired into a civilian crowd. These weren’t the first shots in the civil war but they were a mark that the labour movement was already sidelined while the Provisional Government was doubling its own ministers’ salaries. As Diarmaid Ferriter maintains ‘The biggest casualty of the civil war was the labour movement’.
So, the next time you pass this un-imposing corner house recollect the battles that were fought here and think of how they could have greatly changed our history.