1916 – 2016 How will the Four Courts commemorate?

A photograph taken after the surrender taken from the Judges yard looking out of the Chancery Place gates. framed in the gates is the front door of the Medical Mission. The barricade inside the gates was erected by the rebels. The mattresses came from the Fourcourts Hotel. Some of the furniture they used will look remarkably familiar to current law library members!

So far as I know there is but one single memento to the role played by
the Four Courts during the Easter Rising of 1916. It is a portrait
that hangs in the Irish bay of the barrister’s Law Library. It is of Charles
S. Bevan, the volunteer who helped to relieve the Chancery Place gate-keeper of
his keys and led the rebel force into occupation of the courts for the
duration of the Rising. As portraits go it is rather poor, being an
enlarged and grainy photograph of Bevan in his volunteer uniform, his chest crossed with leather bandoleers.

It is both surprising and disappointing that this the only memento, because the Four Courts was in fact at the centre of some of the most bitter and intense fighting of the whole rising. It was from here that the 1st battalion of the Irish volunteers directed their part in the insurgency. Their
battlefields ran from Ushers quay, where Sean Heuston placed his men
to frustrate attempts by the British to advance along the quays towards the
city centre, to the glorious Four Courts building itself, and then north up
through the slum residential areas of Church Street, North King Street
and Constitution hill.

Whilst the most severe fighting was undoubtedly in the North King Street area, the Four Courts itself saw plenty of heavy action. Rebels on the roof of the Four Courts and in the Liffey windows engaged soldiers all along the South Quays. There were gun battles with soldiers in church towers, soldiers in church cemeteries and with soldiers trying to cross the bridges at Capel Street and Church Street. There were more gun battles with soldiers advancing through Smithfield and attacking the western side of the building

On the Eastern side one can still see contemporaneous
evidence of the intensity of the gun battles. English Lancers,
escorting munitions along the quays, were ambushed in front of the
Four Courts. They wheeled and galloped for cover into Chancery Place
taking refuge in the Medical Mission directly opposite the Chancery
gates. An intense gun battle developed between the Lancers in the
Mission and the Rebels in the courts. Today the front of the Medical
mission is deeply scarred with bullet damage from the battle. The
worst of the damage has been repaired with off white smears of cement
filler, making the building look wounded, as if it were wearing
plasters, but in fact almost every brick in the building is scarred
by gunfire damage giving dramatic evidence to the ferocity of the
battle that raged there. After losing several men the Lancers were
extracted from the Mission by getting into the back of improvised armoured cars made of Guinness boilers.

Edward Daly, commandant of the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Volunteers. He was aged 25 when executed at Kilmainham.

Inside the Four Courts command was in the hands of 25 year old Edward Daly. He was also responsible for capturing the Bridewell to the rear of the courts and he kept prisoner there some of the Bridwell police officers and all of the army pay corps soldiers taken prisoner when the rebels burnt down their barracks at Linenhall, up near the Kings Inns.

Although not a signatory to the proclamation Edward Daly still went to the firing squads at Kilmainham. As yet, at least to my knowledge, no mention of him appears anywhere within what the Courts Service now calls the Four Courts campus.

Lt. Thomas Allen, killed in action, Records Office, Four Courts.Over on the western side of the courts building volunteer Lieutenant Thomas Allen was shot dead in the Records Office, ( now Courts 22 and 23), during a machine gun attack by soldiers advancing through Smithfield. You can still see scarring from the machine gun damage to the building as you walk up Church Street. From Moyville Co. Meath, Thomas Allen left a widow and three children.

Who now, who works in or frequents Courts 22 or 23 knows of Thomas Allen, who gave his life in the creation of an independent Ireland?.

So with the 100th anniversary of the Rising now on the horizon and
with government committees planning commemorations all over Dublin
what are the plans for the Four Courts? The issue has yet to be considered by the Courts Service, or by those who work within it’s environs. But in the spirit of the matter it is not too early to suggest some possible acts of commemoration.

Surely Daly can be remembered. And Allen. We have memorials on the
campus to those who fell in the Great War; to those who took part in
the 1798 rebellion and there is even a memorial, in the Land Registry,
to barrister Francis Henry Browning who was shot dead on Mount Street by rebel forces under the command of De Valera.

So how about one of the two courts in the old Record Office, court 22 or 23, being named as the Allen Court; Should the Irish bay, where hangs the Bevan portrait, be re-named the Bevan Bay?

And in the spirit of the good Friday agreement and the reconciliation of old sores and enmity’s how about naming the Chancery Gates the Lancers
Gates, after the soldiers who fought so hard and withstood constant
rebel fire for three days.

As for Daly, his name must be recorded somewhere within the Campus. We have an ÁrasDhálaigh after the sixth President and former Chief Justice Cearbhall O Dhálaigh, surely we can afford to have a Daly room, a Daly court or a Daly bursary prize, Can we not just cast his name in the doorstep of some prominent entrance. Cannot we just remember him?

For further reading on the role of the Four Courts in the Rising read Paul O’Brien’s book: Crossfire – The battle of the Four Courts 1916, published by New Ireland Press.

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Review of Crossfire – The battle of the Four Courts 1916.

Conscription came in March 1916. By Easter of that year the last of the army’s voluntary recruits were coming to the end of their training for the trenches of France. They knew, those young men, of the risks they faced in Flanders; they knew of the casualty lists. But still they volunteered, to fight, be it in France or Belgium. They were brave young men who make it difficult for us to measure our own ordinary lives.
It would be these ordinary voluntary soldiers, half trained, not yet ready for Flanders soldiers, who would be shipped to Dublin and thrown into the bitter street battles of the Irish Easter rebellion of 1916. Men of the Sherwood Foresters, the South Staffordshires, the Lincolnshire regiment and the Leicestershires, all of them well prepared to die in the trenches of Flanders, but not a single one of them, not one, would have given any thought at all to the idea of dying in Dublin.
They are rarely remembered these men, often treated, especially by Irish republican writers, with scant regard, even scorn and generally given no quarter by Irish history. But Paul O’Brien’s account of their Dublin fighting is scrupulously fair, scrupulously objective. When they gave good account of themselves, where there was courage or valour, then it is noted. And where their performance is lacking, their discipline lost or atrocities committed, it too is fairly and objectively recorded.
This latest book of Mr O’Brien’s focuses upon the fierce battles that raged in and around the Dublin Four Courts. Nowhere was the Easter fighting more intense, more dangerous or ruthless. The urban battlefield ran from ushers Island where rebels took up positions to frustrate the movement of troops along the Liffey quays towards the city centre fighting; it ran into the glorious Four Courts building itself, then north into the residential slum districts of Church Street, North King Street and Constitution Hill.
The rebels too were volunteers. They too knew the risks, the risks of rebellion. They had turned out to create a new nation and they too were prepared to die. To die in Dublin. They were well led, well armed and had an intimate knowledge of the battlefield they had chosen.
We are taken, day by day, shot by shot through the tragedy that now unfolded.
We are with the Lancers, escorting munitions down the quays when they are ambushed in front of the Four Courts; their horses wheeling and turning as they gallop for cover, taking refuge in a side street building next door to the Courts complex where they came under intense gunfire from rebels barricaded in the courts. They were under siege for three days, giving as good as they got until rescued by Sherwood Foresters who backed into the street in improvised armoured cars made of Guinness boilers no less, into which the exhausted, surviving Lancers are retrieved.
We are with the Staffordshires trying to advance along North King Street, from barricade to barricade, or tunnelling through the walls of the terraced houses, taking constant casulties, nine dead in one assault alone.
We are with the rebels on the roof of the Four Courts, firing on soldiers across the river Liffey, soldiers trying to cross the bridges, soldiers in church towers and graveyards. We are with them in their casualty station full of wounded and exhausted rebels.
We are with the army Pay Corps soldiers, arrested by the rebels, their barracks burned down and held as prisoners in a captured police station. And we are with the Staffordshires again, their discipline lost, their officers without control, committing murder on North King Street where fifteen innocents, men and boys were simply shot, some of them bayoneted.
We are back with the Rebels in Reilly’s fort, a public house stronghold from which fierce causalities are inflicted upon the advancing English. Hour by hour, shot by shot, in this brilliant analysis of street fighting, perhaps the first real British experience of street fighting, Mr O’Brien leads us through the blood wet streets of the fair city of Dublin, where half trained soldiers learnt to fight the hard way and Irish rebels threw their all into the fight against England.
A remarkable book. The Irish have never forgotten those Easter days.But what happened to the English soldiers is largely forgotten by English history. Perhaps in embarrassment at the history of the English in Ireland, perhaps because it was “small beer” in the context of the great war. It has been swept under the sandbags of the Western Front, where the casualty list were horrific enough to drown out the experience of Dublin. This, then, is a timely reminder of what we did in Ireland. A timely reminder that there are brave young men lost in Ireland, who deserve to also be remembered.

Crossfire – The battle of the Four Courts 1916 is published by New Island Press.  Author is Paul O’Brien.

Launch of “Crossfire – The Battle Of The Four Courts, 1916”

Remarks of John McGuiggan BL at the Launch of Paul O’Brien’s new book – Distillery Building – Wed 26th March 2012

What dull and ordinary lives we lead when we measure ourselves against those men and women who fought here, in the fourcourts and the streets and buildings nearby, in April of 1916.
This is their story told hour by hour of those Easter days, street by street and shot by shot, a brilliant military and historical analysis of one of the very first urban warfare battlefields upon which raged the Rising.
The fighting hereabouts was much fiercer that that which occurred in the GPO, or even of that at Mount Street Bridge where rebels under the command of De Valera inflicted such savage casualties upon the Sherwood Forester regiment.
Here, around the fourcourts, the action of the Rising was at its most intense – and it’s most vicious.
Mr. O’Brien tells not only the stories of the Irish volunteers who turned out to create a new nation, but also the stories of the English soldiers against whom they fought. He reminds us that they too were young men, working class men, they too were prepared to die; that they had enlisted into a war where expectation of death, in France or in Belgium, was exceptionally high. Battalions of their own regiments were taking, in some cases 50% casualty’s rates. Yes they too were prepared to die. But in France. Not in bloody Dublin.
Mr. O’Brien treats them fairly and with respect, more so than many Irish writers have done in the past. So when acts of valour, bravery or courage occur, as they always do whenever men fight, then it recounted and recorded here. And when the Irish volunteers show courage valour or bravery, as they did in abundance, then it too is recounted and recorded here.
It is a sweeping battlefield, centered on the fourcourts, it runs from Ushers Island on the south quays, where Sean Heuston held the Medicity Institute to prevent soldiery moving down the quays to the fourcourts, it runs to the fourcourts itself, up church street to North King street, constitution hill, down to the Richmond hospital and all the side streets and alleys in which barricades were erected to impede the English. The fourcourts became the head quarters of the first battalion of the Dublin Brigade of volunteers and it was principally from there that the rebel actions were directed. Commandant Edward Daly was in command- god rest his soul = for he went to the firing squad at Kilmainham for his troubles. We know the name of the armed volunteer who relieved the fourcourts gateman of his keys and who led the rebel force into the courts. He was Charles Bevan. A portrait of him hangs in the Irish bay of the law library – probably the only memento in the whole place to its role in the Rising. Maybe we should rename the Irish bay to the Bevan Bay.
They closed the Chancery gates behind them and set about barricading the building using law books and old ledger as makeshift sandbags. The fighting here was almost constant with gun battles raging with soldiers over on the south quays, soldiers in Smithfield soldiers on Capel Bridge and soldiers on Church street Bridge.
If you were to stand today outside the Chancery gates and look across to the red faced building known as the Medical Mission you will observe the brickwork splattered with gunfire damage. The worst of the damage has been patched up with smears of off white cement filler, making it look as if the Mission is wounded and wearing plasters. But almost every brick in the building bears the scars of battle and stands as evidence of how fierce was the gun fight that erupted there between the rebels in the fourcourts and a group of English lancers who, ambushed on the quays, had galloped into Chancery Place and taken refuge in the Mission, their horses set loose to run wild around the barricades.
You can see from the windows of that small corridor running to courts 27 and 28, the room with the spiral staircase within it, that that must have been one of the principal vantage points for the rebels to pour rifle fire into the mission. It is part of the law library now, although it was not so in 1916. Patrick Keane SC sits by the window there where rebels once sought to change the law. A college has suggested to me that the window is still held by rebels!
The lancers in the Mission held out for three days under constant fire, giving as good as they got and were only rescued by Sherwood Foresters, soldiers from my home town, who backed into chancery Place in one of those improvised armoured cars made up of Guinness boilers mounted on the back of wagons.
But the most intense of the fighting was not at the fourcourts but up here, on Church street and North King Street. The Staffordshire regiment, which faced the brunt of it all, were losing men almost constantly in the barricaded streets and houses. 9 dead in one assault alone. They lost their discipline under the ferocious defensive gunfire of the rebels. Atrocities were committed. Within walking distance of where we now stand, 15 young men, some of them boys, entirely innocent, with no role whatsoever in the Rising where shot and killed, some bayoneted. Murdered is the appropriate word. That too is recorded here for as I said, Mr. O’Brien is very fair in his treatment of the English soldiery. He always has been. It is one of his qualities as a writer. He constantly pauses in the heat and smoke of battle to record a detail of those who fell; thus, on a machine gun assault from Smithfield on the western end of the fourcourts, you can still see some of the damage to the stonework there, a volunteer in the Record office is killed and Mr. O’Brien pauses to tell us “”Thomas Allen was 30 years old, attached to ‘C’ Company of the 1st Battalion and was a native of County Meath. His death left a widow and four children”
He does that whenever he can. For the English too. For this is not a gung ho all action writing. It a poignant history, a respectful history, a thrilling history a history of the streets that we, of the fourcourts walk everyday of our lives.
This is Mr. O’Brien’s third book examining in detail, the battles of the Rising. His first, BLOOD ON THE STREETS, looks at the Sherwood Foresters at Mount Street Bridge, his second, UNCOMMON VALOUR, at the fighting at James’s Hospital or as it was known then, the Dublin Union, A forth is in production that examines the battles in Ashbourne, County Meath. His growing reputation as a military historian is already evident and surely we will see him in years to come as the principal historian of the military battles of the Rising.
The irony is not lost, at least not upon me, that Mr. O’Brien has invited an Englishman to launch a book on the Irish Rebellion. I take it as a compliment although it occurs to me that maybe he has forgotten that I am an Englishman. I have been here 28 years now and I cannot pretend that I understand the Irish any better now than when I did 28 years ago when I married one, even though I work here in the fourcourts, the very cockpit of Irish life. But I know this about the Irish and about Mr. O’Brien; He toils by day in the OPW and devotes every spare moment to research and to writing and has by his own sheer energy earned a considerable reputation making a real contribution to our history. Or should I say your history. I know this of him. I know this of the Irish. He is amongst the best of you. I commend his book to you all.