Sackville Street: August, 1913
First it was Drogheda Street, long ago, until they widened it and tore it down and built it up again; huge grey buildings on every side, windows blank and faceless, a great European boulevard for Dublin. That was Sackville Street. It changed again, and how could it not, with all it saw and all it knew: the buildings this time not torn down but blown apart and burnt away until nothing remained but shells and shadows. They renamed it again, in 1924, for the King of the Beggars who stood at its feet. A new beginning. A final after. O’Connell Street. Stones have no memory. Statues have no voice.
But we do.
What would he think of it, the Emancipator, to know he’d spend his great bronze afterlife with his back to all who would follow? Big Jim past him, and Parnell beyond. It was 1882 that they raised O’Connell to his plinth, one hundred and seven years after his birth; thirty-five years after his death. Before Sackville Street: August, 1913. Shells swept away: rebuilt, reordered, reworked, remade. Buildings risen and fallen and risen again.
Through it all, he looks away. The shadows crowd behind him.
Time was that an iron railing surrounded him; but then the Liberator was liberated, and now you may pause for breath and take your ease in his company. When you sit on the stones at his feet, do you feel him quiver above you? For more than a century, he has faced away from what did follow. Sackville Street: August, 1913. Does he wish to turn around, to see?
The altar of liberty is not cemented only with blood – but there is so much of it. It seeps from the paving-stones of the street beneath the street, and beneath that, another street. And on all sides every street that leads into this street within a street within a street, and each of those lined with the ghosts of those who fought and those who died, and those who merely lived until they didn’t.
Sackville Street: August, 1913. Larkin appeared on the balcony of the Imperial Hotel and raised his hands to the sky. Sackville Street: 1923. Larkin stood in the road and raised his hands to the sky. O’Connell Street: 1979. Larkin, an image cast in bronze and set upon a stone, now forever raising his hands to the sky. A bloodless monument to the memory of blood.
At the right time of year, at the right time of day, the sun rises in such a way that the shadow of Jim Larkin’s mighty outstretched arms reach across, away from the granite stone on which he stands, nearly to touch the walls of the General Post Office. You can stand beneath as the sun sweeps around him, and sweeps him round; every day, the course of his shadow remains the same. It begins long; it shortens; it nearly vanishes. And then it reappears, to grow and grow again. Sackville Street: August, 1913. The shadow is a memory. And memories here are long.
I see children, smiling, their fingers tracing the wounds that scar the Post Office pillars, as their parents take pictures to share online: ‘Dublin: real bullet holes. Say cheese’. How can they stand it? When they lay their hand upon the cool marble, how do they come away unburnt, unbloodied? Do their hearts not ache? Do their hands not shake?
When you gaze up into the windows of the buildings that look down upon this street, do you not see him – features hardly disguised by a false beard, arms raised above his head? Do you not hear him, shouting with that mighty voice even as he’s pulled away? Is he not there, in every window? Do you not see him?
Archie Black lives and works in London. Her published fiction includes stories about pigeons, bugs, fearsome maiden aunts, secret agents, Lovecraftian monsters and serial killers.