PAULA REDMOND on the birth of the Rotunda and its central role in Irish history
The Rotunda Rink, located in the grounds of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, was the location of some significant events in the history of the Irish State. The Rink served as the meeting place for the first recruitment drive for the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and later was destroyed by arson in the Civil War in 1922.
The Rotunda has many other Nationalist connections. The Round Room was used as a meeting room by the United Irishmen and Sinn Féin was founded at a meeting in the Rotunda in November 1905.
The Rotunda Hospital was founded by Dr. Bartholomew Mosse in 1757. Located in Parnell Square at the top of O’Connell Street, the building consists of the original hospital section and rounded reception rooms, the Round Room (now the Ambassador Event Centre) and Assembly Hall (now the Gate Theatre).
These rotund architectural features give the building its name. Mosse believed that these rooms could be used for functions such as balls and meetings to raise funds for the hospital.
The Rotunda’s ‘pleasure gardens’ were located where the Garden of Remembrance is now. The intention behind the gardens was also to raise funds for the maternity hospital. A temporary building, known as the Rotunda Rink, was erected in the gardens and used as a hall.
Originally built in the 1870s, the asphalt skating rink was updated in 1909 with a new steel framework, 260 feet long and 100 feet wide. The rink was at one time the largest meeting room in Dublin.
Incidentally, many of the leaders of the 1916 Rising were held in the Rotunda Gardens before being transferred to Kilmainham Gaol where they were later executed. The hospital was occupied by the British army during the Rising.
The Irish Volunteers were a military nationalist organisation set up in 1913. Founding members included Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Sinn Féin, Gaelic Legaue and Ancient Order of Hibernia members.
The IRB in Dublin had been secretly drilling in 1913. Member Bulmer Hobson asked well-known nationalist Michael O’Rahilly, known as ‘The O’Rahilly’, to approach Eoin MacNeill. MacNeill was a professor of Early and Mediaeval History in University College, Dublin (UCD). He had written an article for the Gaelic League’s newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis where he stated that the only solution for the British Empire in relation to Ireland was “either to make terms with Ireland or to let her go her own way.”
The IRB planned to use MacNeill as a figurehead for a new nationalist army.