A visit to Dublin is not complete without seeing the site of one of Ireland’s most important battles for independence from Great Britain – the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street. This massive building was the headquarters of the Easter Rising in 1916, and its facade withstood the bombs, bullets, and projectiles that were thrown at the building by the British and is still standing today. Many of the revolutionaries that I discussed in my review of Kilmainham Gaol were stationed here during the battle before surrendering and being taken to the jail.
The GPO is still a working post office but is also the site of the GPO Witness History museum. The post office itself sits right at the heart of the busy O’Connell Street, just a couple of blocks north of the River Liffey and the O’Connell Bridge. The impressive facade of the building is quite beautiful and according to some, still bears bullet holes and mortar scars from the battle.
Enter at the door marked with the “GPO Witness History” flags to begin your tour. Tickets do sell out in advance so I recommend purchasing them online before your visit. Don’t forget to pick up your audio guide before you descend the stairs into the exhibit area.
The tour of the exhibits is self-guided so you can go as fast or as slow as needed. There is a 1-hour guided tour available, along with special children’s events in the summer, so be sure to check the web site for more information on those. The exhibits are housed in the basement of the building and the rooms are fairly dark so you will want to make sure to hold your little ones’ hands!
The exhibits themselves contain fascinating details and stories about the people who were involved in the Easter Rebellion in 1916, from the children unfortunately caught in the crossfire to the women on bicycles who slipped through the lines to deliver messages all around the city. There is even a replica of a bike that was used that you can view.
There are some interactive exhibits to capture your children’s attention, including my son’s favorite exhibit – an electronic game that had him evading capture on a bicycle to get a message to a different part of the city. Kind of like Pac-Man! He kept wanting to play it over and over so he could make it through all of the British checkpoints.
There are also examples of the furniture and items in the headquarters for children to explore such as desks or phones used during the battle. You can even try your hand at sending a message in morse code! You will also be able to see an original copy of the Irish proclamation, which was read by Patrick Pearse outside of this very building.
Some of the exhibits do contain some things that may be hard to discuss with your children, such as the 40 children who died in the crossfire, so be aware of those exhibits and avoid if you don’t want to have that discussion.
The most innovative part of the exhibit is the movie experience, housed in a circular theater. The movie immerses you in a map of 1916 Dublin and does a fantastic job explaining the people involved, the actions they took, and the battle that raged for days. The way the movie swoops in and out of the map is a little vertigo-inducing but it really does give you a better understanding of what all was happening around Dublin and how the GPO was the center of the struggle. Unfortunately during our visit, my youngest son was a little too jet-lagged to stay awake but he still talks about how he wants to go back so he can see this movie! It is truly the centerpiece of the museum.
After spending time in the exhibits, head upstairs to finish your tour in the courtyard, which contains a very moving memorial to the children who died in the rising. You will also find some very interesting pictures here of the GPO before, during, and after the battle. I love comparing the old photos to how it looks today – remarkably the same!
Don’t miss the cafe where you can grab a quick bite, including a slice of apple pie specialized with GPO in whipped cream!
After heading out of the museum part of the building, you can shop in the small gift shop which had lots of great books for kids. Also be sure to stop in the still-working post office part of the building that was rebuilt after the destruction of the battle. You can just imagine how this room appeared in 1916 after seeing the exhibits downstairs. There are also statues here that represent and memorialize Ireland’s troubled history.
For more information on the 1916 Easter Rising, check out The Irish Times’ comprehensive 1916 site. While only a little over 100 years ago, the Easter Rising is an important and pivotal moment in history, and the GPO Witness History museum does an excellent job at educating adults and children about the events of that important time and how they are still impacting us today.
- Cost: Online pricing – 12.50EUR/adults; 8.50EUR/youth; 6.50EUR/kids; free/5 and under
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Allow 1 hour for self-guided tour; additional time for guided tour or children’s events
- Gift shop and cafe located on site
- Transportation: The museum is in the heart of Dublin’s city center and is within walking distance from most hotels. It is also easily accessible from several forms of public transportation – Dublin Bus, Luas light rail, and DART commuter rail.
- Dining options nearby: There are several fast food chains on O’Connell Street. For traditional Irish pub food, try The Oval Bar or Grand Central Dublin. A quick 5-minute walk west is The Church cafe, which is located in an old church and has a rich history itself!
- Nearby hotels: See my Dublin review for ideas!
- Nearby attractions: O’Connell Street walk (see Rick Steves’ guidebook for more info), Trinity College/Book of Kells/Old Library, National Leprechaun Museum, and the Garden of Remembrance.
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up:
Do you think there are still bullet holes in the columns of the GPO? Comment below!