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General Post Office (GPO), O'Connell Street, Dublin 1

Excavation Licence no. 14E0115, 2014

 

 

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Test trenching in the GPO inner courtyard took place over three days between the 6th and the 9th May 2014. Six test trenches, each 2m x 1m were cut over the area of the present courtyard which is now mainly used as a bicycle park.

The project is for the development of an exhibition centre which will be partly located within the east courtyard of the GPO complex. The courtyard is approximately 35m x 17m and the plinth is approximately 0.6m in height. The proposed finished floor level of the new exhibition centre will be approximately the same as the surrounding basement and this will therefore necessitate the removal of the plinth. Currently, there are a number of drainage and electrical services buried in the plinth and these will be relocated as part of these works.

The General Post Office (GPO), the building of which was commenced in 1814, is situated on present day O Connell Street. O'Connell Street appears to have been undeveloped until the late 17th century. It is shown on Bernard de Gommes map of 1673 as a green area to the east of the ‘Abbey Parke’, or lands belong to St. Mary’s Abbey. There is no prehistoric or medieval arcaheology or history relating to the site apart from the fact that the lands were relatively close to those of medieval Cistercian house and lands of St. Mary’s Abbey.

Situated on the north side of the Liffey, the area of the GPO was outside the medieval metropolis of Dublin which was mainly on the south side. It was just east of the lands of St. Mary’s Abbey. Until the 17th century, the south area of O’Connell’s Street just below Abbey Street would have been under water or intertidal (as shown on Clarke’s map of medieval Dublin) till reclamation from the Liffey. The area of the GPO is shown clear of development on Bernard de Gomme's map of 1673. It was, however, soon after, developed by Henry Moore, Earl of Drogheda who laid out the first streets in this area in the late 17th century. The familiar street names close to the GPO, Moore Street, Henry Street, Earl’s Street and Drogheda Street (the origin of present day O’Connell Street) originated from the namd and title of the enterprising earl.

In the early 18th century, Drogheda Street, the street which was to develop first into Sackville Street (to be later renamed O’Connell Street), only ran as far as Abbey Street on its south side - where it ended in a T junction - as can be seen on Charles Brooking’s map of 1728. In the 1740s, a property developer, Luke Gardiner, acquired the upper part of Drogheda Street as far as the Henry Street junction as part of a land deal. Gardiner demolished the western side of Drogheda Street creating an elongated residential square, 46m in width, thus establishing the scale of the modern-day thoroughfare. He named the new development 'Sackville Street' after the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lionel Cranfield Sackville, Duke of Dorset. It was also known as 'Sackville Mall' or 'Gardiner's Mall'. It had been Gardiner's plan to eventually break this grand new street through to the river before he died in 1755. An engraving of Sackville Mall can be seen on Fig 9 and the mall is located on Rocque’s map of 1756. Just south of Sackville Mall, Drogheda Street continues as the origianl narrow street and it was on this juncture of Sackville Mall and Drogheda Street that the GPO would be built in 1815.

Photo: Sackville Street, Dublin 1842.

Click to view or download: Archaeological Impact Assessment Report, May 2014.


 

 

 

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From 1777, the planning body in the city, the Wide Streets Commission, completed Gardiner’s plan. For the next 10 years they demolished buildings and streets, extending the wide roadway to the Liffey and building new terraces. They demolished the houses on the west side of Drogheda Street, creating the wide thoroughfare which was called Sackville Street upon completion between 1785–1790.

The foundation-stone of the new purpose-built post-office, the GPO, was laid on 12 August 1814, attended by the Post-Masters-General, Charles O'Neill, 1st Earl O'Neill and Laurence Parsons, 2nd Earl of Rosse. The structure was completed in the space of three years for the sum of £50,000. It was opened in 1818. An important building in Dublin city, it features on several engravings and photographs of the 19th century. 

As one of the most prominent public buildings in the city, the GPO was chosen to serve as the headquarters of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. On Easter Monday, April 24th 1916, the GPO building (among others)was taken over by the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citzen’s Army led by Padraig Pearse and James Connolly. The British authorities reacted fast and, by the 28th April, the rebels were facing 18,000 to 20,000 soldiers.

From Thursday 27th April, the GPO was entirely cut off from the other rebel garrisons around the city. Next day it came under a ferocious artillery attack which also devastated much of central Dublin. This compelled the rebel leaders based at the GPO to evacuate the building on Friday morning, taking shelter in Moore Street from where they eventually decided to surrender. From accounts, it would seem that the army was unaware that the insurgents had left the building during Friday and the attack on the GPO continued. By the night of Friday, 28th April, the GPO was nothing more than a shell and the facade was all that remained of the original building. Eventually, in the late 1920s, the GPO was completely remodelled and rebuilt by the Commissioners of Public Works under the Irish Free State.


 

 

 

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Six trenches were cut, 2m x 1m each, across the inner courtyard. In the two southerly trenches, Trenches 4 and 5, natural gravel was reached very quickly and was undisturbed as shallow in depth as 25cm below ground level. In the three most northerly trenches, 1, 2 and 6, were evidence of walls. Trench 3, along the west side of the site was in the mid-line between north and south and was filled with rubble.

The rolled stone and gravel natural subsoil in Trenches 4 and 5 were in accordance with what might be expected so close to the original shoreline of the river Liffey which, till the land was reclaimed, would have come up close to Abbey Street particularly as the trenches were cut circa 2.5m-3m below street level. The features in the northmost trenches are however of interest. While the rubble in Trench 3 could have come from anywhere, the stone and brick wall foundations in at least Trenches 1 and 6 are in situ while there is also a floor in Trench 6.

These walls are very similar to basement walls of 18th/19th century date. They may represent basement walls of Georgian houses demolished in former Drogheda Street to make way for the earliest GPO building which was opened in 1815. The walls may otherwise represent basements relating to an extension of the GPO building in 1870. Though the building has an open interior courtyard in the first edition Ordnance Survey map, it has been extended inwards on its north side by 1870 and the new extension covers the north half of the present courtyard. The same extension can be seen on the 1916 plan.

 

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Judith Carroll & Co Ltd
Archaeological Consultants
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Glencullen
Dublin 18 

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Mobile: 087-9968819/ 087-3810933
Email: info@judithcarrollandco.ie
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