The Four Courts played a major role at the start of the Civil War in 1922.

Battle of the Four Courts

Crowds on the quays watch the battle of the Four Courts

Battle of the Four Courts

On 22 June 1922,  British Field Marshall Wilson, an advisor to the Northern Ireland government, was gunned down by two members of the IRA in London. It incensed the British parliament, which insisted that the months-long Four Courts occupation by Rory O'Connor and his forces be ended. 
On 26 June Commandant Henderson of the anti-Treaty IRA was engaged in a raid on Harry Ferguson’s premises in Baggot Street to requisition cars and lorries when he was arrested by National Army troops. That evening, in retaliation, men from the Four Courts kidnapped General J. J. O’Connell, Deputy Chief of Staff of the National Army. The patience of the Provisional Government regarding the unlawful occupation of the Four Courts and many other disruptive activities t, and the taking of O’Connell was perhaps the last straw.

On 27 June the Provisional Government decided that the occupiers of the Four Courts had to be ousted. Early in the morning of 28 June, the National Army surrounded the courts complex, and two 18-pounder field guns were dug in across the river from the Courts. At 3.45am an ultimatum was issued to the anti-Treaty leaders to evacuate the buildings or face an attack. Rory O’Connor and the other leaders ignored the ultimatum and no reply was made.  At 4am the National Army opened fire on the courts with the eighteen-pounders, machine guns and rifles, and the Irish Civil War began. 

The early exchanges displayed a reluctance to hurt men on both sides who had fought together in the War of Independence.  However, it quickly become clear that the bombardment would not result in surrender, and an infantry assault was carried out. The anti-Treaty occupiers were forced to fortify themselves in the Round Hall. By the morning of 30 June both the National Army soldiers and the garrison in the Four Courts were exhausted and hungry. At lunchtime, a huge explosion in an explosives store - which, remakably caused no deaths - drove Free State Army troops to evacuate the complex.  The fire would spread, destroying much of the Public Records Office and reach the Round Hall. The garrison surrendered at about 4.30pm.

The fires burned for days, leaving the Four Courts complex in ruins. The Civil War would spread nationwide and last until May 1923.

(Photo courtesy of National Library)

Rory O'Connor

Rory O'Connor

Rory O'Connor

Roderick ‘Rory’ O’Connor was born in Dublin in 1883, the son of a well-to-do solicitor. He finished his education at Clongowes Wood College and UCD and moved to Canada where he worked as a railway engineer.

On his return he became involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and worked as a civil engineer with Dublin Corporation. He took part in the Easter Rising of 1916, being slightly wounded, and was imprisoned afterwards. After his release he was made Director of Engineering for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a role he served in during the war of Independence. He also oversaw several prison escapes and IRA operations in England.

O’Connor took a firm stand against the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921, which would lead to the 26 county Irish Free State. He was prominent at an IRA convention in Spring 1922 which rejected the Treaty and renounced the authority of the Dáil. A separate army executive and constutution was set up. When asked by a journalist if the anti-treatyites were proposing a military dictatorship in Ireland, O'Connor responded, "You can take it that way if you want."

Days later O’Connor led a force of anti-Treaty troops to occupy the Four Courts in defiance of the Provisional Government. They hoped to provoke remaining British troops into attacking them, with the aim of reuniting the IRA against their common enemy.

Michael Collins tried to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building, but to no avail. On 28 June 1922, Collins ordered that the Four Courts be shelled and after several days of fighting O’Connor and his men surrendered. He was arrested and held in Mountjoy Jail.

On 8 December, along with fellow republicans Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, O'Connor was executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA's killing of Free State TD Sean Hales.

(Photo courtesy of National Library)

Rory O'Connor's Communiqué - 1922

Rory O'Connor's Communiqué - 1922

“9 a.m. Wednesday, June 28 [1922]. Seventh Year of the Republic.*

At 3.40 a.m. this morning we received a note signed by Tom Ennis* demanding on behalf of “The Government” our surrender at 4 a.m. when he would attack.

He opened attack at 4.07 in the name of his Government, with Rifle, Machine and field pieces.

The boys are glorious and will fight the Republic to the end. How long will the misguided former comrades outside fight those who stand for Ireland alone?

Three casualties so far, all slight. Father Albert and Father Dominic with us here.

Our love to all comrades outside, and the brave boys especially all of the Dublin Brigade.

(signed) Rory O’Connor, Major General, I.R.A.”

*A reference to 1916.