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.
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.
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 Áras Uí Dhálaigh 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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