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Veritas and 1916: Three Historic Sites

 

The Veritas shop on Lower Abbey Street has been a fixture in Dublin city centre for generations, but before Veritas found its permanent home, the company was associated with a number of historic sites that are connected to 1916 and the revolutionary period.

Veritas was founded as the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (CTSI) in 1899, and opened its first modest premises at 2 Lower Abbey Street, a stone's throw away from Veritas' current Abbey Street shop. It was from here that the CTSI produced and sold its first one hundred and fifty or so titles - mostly pamphlets costing one penny. During 1916 this building (recently occupied by J. J. Kelly's cycle shop) was destroyed, along with the whole north-west corner of the street. This photograph taken in the wake of the Rising, shows a pile of rubble where the buildings once stood, opposite the remains of Wynn's Hotel.

 

In 1903 the CTSI moved to 27 Lower Abbey Street. This building was on the opposite side of the road from their previous location, next door to the Abbey Theatre.

 

The Abbey's connection with the 1916 Rising is well documented, with many members of the acting company and staff fighting in the conflict. Although the former CTSI premises and the original Abbey building both survived the Rising, the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1951. When it was rebuilt in the 1960s, the Abbey expanded into the site of 27 Lower Abbey Street.

 

   The Role of Faith in 1916

September 1908 saw the CTSI installed in their first permanent home - 24 Upper O'Connell Street. This building had been the headquarters of the Gaelic League, and was located near the corner of what is now Cathal Brugha Street. These were important years for the CTSI; by 1914,the Society had distributed almost seven million pamphlets, and had its first million-selling publication, the Penny Prayer Book. The advent of the First World War made things more difficult, with the cost of paper soaring and the Society reluctant to increase its prices.

 

A number of publications in the early part of 1916 dealt with the experience of Irish Catholics in the war, including Under the Red Cross: The Story of a Brave Irishman and Roger Bellingham: A Catholic Irish Officer in the European War, 1915. Irish patriotic themes were not neglected, with pamphlets covering topics such as the Penal Laws and the voyage of the Erin's Hope, a ship that tried to run guns and ammunition to the Fenian Brotherhood in 1867.

 

The Abbey's connection with the 1916 Rising is well documented, with many members of the acting company and staff fighting in the conflict. Although the former CTSI premises and the original Abbey building both survived the Rising, the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1951. When it was rebuilt in the 1960s, the Abbey expanded into the site of 27 Lower Abbey Street.

 

   When fighting broke out in Easter 1916, the CTSI was fortunate; its location at the northerly end of what is now O'Connell Street meant that it was just out of range of most of the artillery fire. While a neighbouring block on the south side of Cathedral Street was destroyed, the buildings on the north side of the street were left standing. Although the CTSI's shop and offices were left intact, the Society lost stocks of pamphlets and sets of plates held by their printers, whose premises were damaged during the fighting.

 

The first pamphlet to be published by the CTSI in 1917 was the text of a lecture delivered on 16 April 1916, mere days before the Easter Rising. The author, Rev. JamesMcGlinchy, was Dean of St Columb's College, Derry, and he took as his topic 'The Spirit of Irish Nationhood':

 

The spirit of Irish nationhood is the spirit of Gaelic Ireland; the spirit that animated the Irish Gael when Ireland was a nation - when she spoke her own language, thought for herself, had her own distinct Irish character, acted for herself and governed herself. The spirit of Irish nationhood is not merely the political spirit; and it is not the mere hatred of England; but it is Ireland conscious, from her very nature, of having a soul, a life, and an individual existence of her own.

 

While the CTSI premises survived the events of 1916 without significant damage, they were burned to the ground in July 1922, during the Civil War. Nothing was saved from the fire, including the Society's records, accounts and stocks of the pamphlets. The fire destroyed most of the block, including the original Gresham Hotel, which was rebuilt in 1927, partly on the site of the CTSI building. For the next two years the Society operated from a temporary 'hut' on the site of their former premises.

 

 

 

The Civil War caused property prices in Dublin city centre to drop, allowing the CTSI to make their biggest move to date. In 1924 the Society received enough money in compensation to purchase 7 and 8 Lower Abbey Street, subsequently named 'Veritas House'. The buildings at this corner of the street had been destroyed in Easter 1916 and rebuilt; before the Rising, number 7 had been home to Ireland's Own - a magazine that is still being published today. It this building in Lower Abbey Street that still houses Veritas' head office and its flagship store.

Lir Mac Cárthaigh

 

 


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