The General Post Office (GPO) is the symbol of the Irish Republic, first proclaimed in the 20th century by Patrick Pearse at the 1916 Easter Rising against the British. This classical building dominates Dublin’s main thoroughfare alongside the Spire, and the idea is for an enlarged Abbey Theatre to be located in it. The Abbey, Ireland’s ‘national theatre’ together with the GPO building and the 1916 Centenary Exhibition would appear to be a perfect match. It would provide a huge contribution and help reinvigorate O’Connell Street as the heart of Dublin and Ireland.
Our design study has been prepared at the initiative of Ian Ritchie, principal of Ian Ritchie Architects and architect of Dublin’s Spire in O’Connell Street. Ian’s idea to house the Abbey Theatre in the GPO building came in 2006 with the thought that symbolically, politically and culturally there is no better location in Ireland. This was with the knowledge that the theatre was planning to move to Dublin’s Docklands, and of the level of costs that this might entail. However, in 2008, with the global economic upheaval, Ian, through his practice, began to investigate seriously the idea’s potential.
An article appeared in the Irish Times in March 2008 which commented that “…the GPO building may become the setting for future presidential inaugurations, following its transformation to accommodate a museum commemorating the 1916 Rising”. This suggested that the combination of Ireland’s political theatre – The Abbey, and The 1916 Centenary Exhibition may well provide not only a new national centre but also the idea of a self-financing strategy for the theatre.
This project could become a sensational destination in 2016 for Irish people from around the world, where every Irish man and woman who has ever “appeared on stage”, would want to be part of the nation’s centenary celebrations. Ian Ritchie and Fiach MacConghail, the Abbey’s director happened to meet after the January 29th 2009 performance of ‘Playboy of the Western World’ and MacConghail explained the scale of the Abbey’s ambitions and facilities, though the idea of the Abbey in the GPO building was not mentioned.
Our feasibility report is the first hard evidence of the idea. It has also sought to demonstrate a practical, exciting and very economic solution for the Abbey Theatre, and one which is in the range of private sponsorship and funding.