May 1916

The Ruins of Dublin, 1916 - a photographic record by Thomas Johnson Westropp

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Photographs taken in the aftermath of the Easter Rising 1916 by Thomas Johnson Westropp, housed in the Library of Trinity College Dublin

Easter Rising 1916
The armed insurrection known as the Easter Rising of 1916 devastated Dublin. The city experienced an unprecedented  level of destruction which was exacerbated by the way British troops retaliated with mechanised weapons deployed from the ongoing war in Europe. From the moment the hostilities ceased on the 29th of April, Dubliners were fascinated by the sight of familiar streets and iconic buildings lying in ruins. This exhibition explores a valuable record of the Rising’s aftermath – one man’s effort to document the havoc wreaked on the architectural fabric of Dublin.

A Relic of the Rising

In the weeks following the Rising the antiquarian and archaeologist Thomas Johnson Westropp took a sequence of 44 photographs of the affected buildings and streets of central Dublin. He shot most of these photographs between the 17th and 18th May 1916, with some additional ones taken in July of the same year. He developed, printed and mounted the photographs into four separate, although similar, albums and three of these were gifted to the following prominent archival institutions: Trinity College Dublin, the Royal Irish Academy and the National Library of Ireland. A fourth set of photographs is held by the Irish Architectural Archive. This exhibition examines the 44 images included in Trinity’s album, the most extensive of the four albums (TCD MS 5870).

The photographer – Thomas Johnson Westropp

Thomas Johnson Westropp (1860-1922) was a Limerick-born scholar and graduate of Trinity College Dublin (BA 1882, MA 1885). He was an antiquarian and a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland; he published widely and spent his life researching and recording the archaeological sites of Ireland. Westropp is especially notable for pioneering the use of photography as a method of recording ancient buildings that were in danger of being lost. In the weeks following the Easter Rising, he found himself surveying ruins of a more recent date.

The album featured here is part of an important and diverse collection of 1916-related archives and publications held by the Library of Trinity College Dublin. These are being explored as part of a year-long blog project, ‘Changed Utterly – Ireland and the Easter Rising’

Photographs begin to appear in Westropp’s published papers from the 1890s onwards. In his framing of photographs he mimics the style of traditional graphic illustration, in which he was especially skilled. The Library of Trinity College Dublin holds other Westropp photographic albums, such as 'The Ancient Buildings of Ireland' (TCD MS 5869), as well as research notes and accompanying drawings. As someone who spent his entire career recording buildings at risk of destruction, he approached his study of the ruins of the Rising as a species of field work. The journalistic impulse to convey reactions or emotions was peripheral to his main objective, which was to document the damage inflicted on Dublin's buildings, from as many angles as possible.

Westropp’s images also communicate the changing nature of the urban landscape in the period immediately following the Rising. The city had many precarious structures on the brink of collapse or demolition. This is conveyed in two before-and-after images taken on Middle Abbey Street: one is labelled ‘Corner house on point of falling’ and another reads ‘Immediately after fall of corner house’. The viewer also gets a sense that work to make the buildings safe was started immediately after hostilities ceased. One image of the Dublin Bread Company (DBC) Luncheon Rooms taken on the 17th May shows the ruin boarded up on the ground floor, whilst another taken on the 24th July shows its upper floors already removed, with workers and scaffolding just visible behind. Westropp notes ‘The remainder of the front was taken down next day’.

Many of the early shots in the album were taken from the summit of Nelson’s Pillar in the centre of Sackville Street (now O’ Connell Street), roughly where the Dublin Spire now stands. This perspective gives a bird’s-eye view down onto the debris, particularly into the shell of the General Post Office. Nelson's Pillar was a focal point of the city and a famous public attraction, until it too was destroyed (by the IRA in 1966). For sixpence visitors could ascend the 168 spiral steps built into its interior – not an easy climb for a middle-aged man carrying his own heavy camera equipment. That Westropp made the effort is a sign of his determination to make good use of the Pillar as a uniquely dramatic vantage point.

The Album

The General Post Office (GPO) from Abbey Street

The staff used to display the flag of the Republic is clearly discernible on the corner of the GPO

The GPO, Sackville Street

The GPO from the summit of Nelson's Pillar

The north wing of the GPO and the corner of Henry Street from the summit of Nelson's Pillar

The east and south wings of the GPO from the summit of Nelson's Pillar

The interior of the GPO was totally destroyed by fire, and staff re-located to temporary offices for a number of years before the building was re-opened in the 1920s

Sackville Street looking south from the summit of Nelson's Pillar

Henry Street from the summit of Nelson's Pillar

Earl Street and Talbot Street from the summit of Nelson's Pillar

The GPO. Trams, as pictured here, along with horses and bicycles, were the most common forms of transport in Dublin in 1916

The GPO and Nelson's Pillar from Henry Street

The corner of Earl Street and Sackville Street

J W Elvery & Co, the Hotel Metropole and GPO, Sackville Street.

Elvery's, known as 'Elvery's Elephant House', was Dublin's oldest sports shop and appears in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. The shop was damaged and looted during the Rising

The Imperial Hotel and Clery's department store, Sackville Street. The Imperial Hotel was one of the first buildings to succumb to fire during the Rising

Liberty Hall and the Custom House

The ruins of 30 Lower Sackville Street, a branch of the Munster and Leinster Bank

The Hotel Metropole. Situated next to the GPO, the hotel was occupied by 22 Irish Volunteers and came under direct fire from British forces. Razed to the ground by fire, the chimney stacks were all that survived

The Royal Hibernian Academy, Abbey Street. The gallery, along with the entire Annual Exhibition, was destroyed by fire during the Rising. The Academy was without a permanent premises until 1939

The corner of Middle Abbey Street, with the corner house on the point of falling

The corner of Middle Abbey Street, immediately after the fall of the corner house

Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, also used as the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army during the Rising

The east face of Liberty Hall. Liberty Hall was bombarded by the British gun-boat 'Helga' from the River Liffey

Eden Quay

Eden Quay from O'Connell Bridge

The south end of Sackville Street and O'Connell Bridge

The south end of Sackville Street and O'Connell Bridge

Liberty Hall and Beresford Place

Clanwilliam Place, the corner of Mount Street, scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the Rising

The Four Courts, showing bombardment on the East face

The Law Library of the Four Courts

The Dublin Bread Company (DBC) Luncheon Rooms, east side of Sackville Street

The interior of the Imperial Hotel and Clery's department store, east side of Sackville Street. Established in 1883 Clery's was destroyed during the Rising and re-opened in 1922

The portico of the GPO

A wrecked house next to Liberty Hall

Clanwilliam House, 1-2 Clanwilliam Place, was occupied by seven Irish Volunteers during the Rising and was the last rebel post to be re-captured after a fierce fire fight with the Sherwood Foresters. The remains of the building collapsed during a storm in 1920

A laneway beside Liberty Hall at Beresford Place

Linen Hall Barracks, home to the British Army Pay Corps, was occupied by Irish Volunteers and set alight as a disruption during the Rising. The remaining buildings were later demolished

Linen Hall Barracks

Linen Hall Barracks

The 1901 census lists around 211 people living at the Linen Hall Barracks, mostly women and children

Linen Hall Barracks

The DBC. Westropp notes 'The remainder of the front was taken down the next day'

The south east corner of the Four Courts

The posters call for recruits to join the First World War

Kelly's Corner, Bachelors Walk

The east face of the Four Courts

This film footage records many of the same scenes as Westropp's photographic survey. It is tempting to think that Westropp himself could be amongst the crowds

Estelle Gittins
Credits: Story

Text and curation: Estelle Gittins, Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Images: Gillian Whelan, Digital Collections, The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Technical Support: Greg Sheaf, Web Librarian, The Library of Trinity College Dublin

With thanks to The Board of Trinity College, the University of Dublin, British Pathe and Clare County Library

For further information see and Mairead Ashe FitzGerald 'Thomas Johnson Westropp (1860-1922) An Irish Antiquary' (Dublin) 2000

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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