THE GPO AT THE CENTRE OF THE EASTER RISING STILL WORKS

KEN HOUSTON

The phrase usually associated with Easter is “Christ is risen” but this year attention turned to a different type of “Rising” – the Irish one of 1916.

As the BBC never seemed to tire telling us, the rebellion was a short-term failure but because of the brutal aftermath resulting from the actions of the British authorities (the Beeb establishment being crammed with self-hating Brits), the event turned out to be a precursor to Irish independence.

So Dublin, on which the 1916 revolt was centred, took a different path from similar-sized cities in Britain and not just in the political sense either.

Unlike Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds, the GPO building in Dublin, which served as rebel headquarters, is still…..well…..a general post office, continuing to carry out the same function for which it was inaugurated in 1818, although only the façade of the original building remains.

Given the GPO’s iconic role in Irish history It is, of course, almost unthinkable that the building should have been turned into yuppy flats or a boutique hotel but its continuation as a post office only emphasises what has been lost on this side of the Irish Sea with the full-scale sell-off of major GPO buildings to various private sector interests.

The GPO served not just a commercial function; it was a civic beacon, as well as a trig point for the political (if not geographical) centre of a city. Thus, in GPO days, the official centre of Edinburgh was Waterloo Place; in Glasgow it was the south-east corner of George Square.

With the wholesale removal of their GPOs (a trend not mirrored, incidentally, across Europe), our cities have lost something of their civic presence and dignity.

The GPO made up a trio of the three most important centrally-located public buildings – the others being the city chambers/town hall and the principal railway terminal. In most cities of any size the GPO was also a handsome or striking structure (think of the revivalist Scots-Baronial design of the Aberdeen GPO, completed in 1907, which even had its own tower).

In Edinburgh, where the GPO once stood is now a contemporary office development (Waverley Gate) although thankfully the façade of the original building remains, the accommodation behind it being entirely new-build.

In Glasgow the former GPO was converted for mixed use, comprising office space, flats and a Jamie Oliver restaurant. Aberdeen’s former GPO, on Crown Street, has been turned into flats while its Dundee equivalent, a handsome corner building on Meadowside, remains empty but has been earmarked as a centre of excellence for the performing arts.

To be fair, GPO’s had outlived their original usefulness and their sell-off was understandable. In addition to being post offices they also doubled as sorting offices which had to be located close to major railway terminals but nowadays much of the mail is transferred by road and air, which has reduced the requirements for large, expensive, city centre sites.

However, it seems sad that the change of use clauses for these buildings did not contain a covenant that the ground floors (or least part of them) should be retained for use as a head post office, and one specifically branded as such.

In addition to serving a useful purpose, a post office with a prominent presence in the middle of town represents order and community – something in which Scotland, indeed Britain, has become seriously deficient in recent years.

 

WHO WOULD BE OUR HEID OF STATE?

This year’s Oirish Easter turned out to be St Patrick’s Day Mark Two, given the prominence given to events as diverse as military parades and children’s face-painting competitions (green being the most popular colour, of course).

Officiating at the commemorations/celebrations, also gave extended exposure to Michael D. Higgins, the diminutive President of Ireland. He is little known outside the Republic, in contrast to our head of state, Queen Elizabeth, whose status, the present leadership of the SNP has insisted, would not change should Scotland become independent.

However, the party’s rise in popularity, and infiltration from the left, has clearly provided a boost to its republican wing and who knows what might happen if there was a takeover, at some future stage, by more radical elements.

So, given a future breakaway from the House of Windsor, from where might suitable candidates for the Scottish Presidency come?

In later years, the Irish people have tended to elect former academics to the role of President so in the event of Scotland following Ireland, my money would be on Sir Tom Devine, the much-respected, but sometimes controversial, professor of history, who retired from the University of Edinburgh in 2014.

By the same token, another possibility for the role of President from the same branch of academia might have been Glasgow-born Niall Ferguson, currently a professor of history at Harvard University in the USA, and a ‘celebrity historian’ who has brought his subject to the masses by fronting several popular programmes on Channel 4.

Unfortunately, the doggedly right-wing Prof Ferguson would probably fail to tick just about every PC box in the catalogue of the Scottish political and academic establishment, immediately making him a non-starter.

@PropPRMan

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