The Easter Rising Part Six – Royal (Collins) Barracks & the Four Courts

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Royal Barracks, as it was known at the time of the Rising, is the second oldest public building in Dublin, after the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham – see last post – dating back to 1701.

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Originally built as a mansion for the Duke of Ormonde, for several hundred years the barracks was used by British forces, at times in the 19th Century up to 1,500 troops of various regiments of foot and horse being stationed here.

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On the first day of the Rising there were 37 officers and 430 men of the 10th Bn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers in residence at Royal Barracks.

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At the time the battalion was under orders to proceed to France, and was undergoing last-minute lectures on trench bombing and the general use of explosives in trench warfare when shots were heard from the city, and before long the Fusiliers no longer had the Western Front on their minds, as they made their way out of the barracks and on to the streets of Dublin to relieve the men holding Dublin Castle against the rebels.

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Other Fusilier companies would soon find themselves facing the Volunteers under Edward ‘Ned’ Daly who had taken the Four Courts, and Séan Heuston, who had occupied the Mendicity Institute, an institution for the city’s homeless on the south bank of the Liffey, and of course the garrison at the GPO.

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captureThis piece from the Irish Times gives a report of the fighting that the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were involved in on the first day of the Rising.  The Fusiliers would lose two officers and ten other ranks killed, and 34 officers and men wounded, during the course of the Rising.

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Of course the very concept of Irishmen in the British Army fighting fellow Irishmen on the streets of Dublin was, naturally, a complex one.

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John Dillon, last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and home rule supporter, was in Dublin during Easter week 1916.  He later told the House of Commons, “I asked Sir John Maxwell* himself, “Have you any cause of complaint of the Dublins [the Royal Dublin Fusiliers] who had to go down and fight their own people in the streets of Dublin? Did a single man turn back and betray the uniform he wears?” He told me, “Not a man.”

*Maxwell arrived in Ireland on Friday 28th April as Military Governor with plenary powers under martial law.

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Ah, children.

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As I said.

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The barracks were handed over to the troops of the Irish Free State in December 1922, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty,…

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…after which they were renamed Collins Barracks after Michael Collins, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Free State, who had been killed earlier that year.

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Ah, no children.

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Directly opposite the barracks, on the south side of the river, this view shows the Guinness Brewery, mentioned in the newspaper report earlier.  Conditions on both sides, as the week progressed, became more and more testing for tired, inexperienced and frightened men.  One of the most tragic incidents of the Rising took place in the brewery when Royal Dublin Fusilier Sergeant Robert Flood succumbed to the pressure, killing two night-watchman and two of his own lieutenants.

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The barracks housed forces of the Free State Army throughout the Irish Civil War in 1922-1923, and you might like to know that 125 years earlier Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion, was convicted of treason here.

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On our way back to the heart of the city I managed to snap a single shot as we passed the Four Courts, mentioned earlier in this post.  The Volunteers 1st battalion, under Edward ‘Ned’ Daly, occupied the Four Courts and surrounding buildings on the north bank of the Liffey on the first day of the Rising, giving them control of the main route between the British barracks on the west of the city, and the GPO.  Several British soldiers were shot when a military convoy, escorted by lancers, passed close by as Daly’s men were fortifying the Four Courts; another group of men under Seán Heuston seized the nearby Mendicity Institute, opening fire on British troops moving along the quayside, “Two shots were fired rapidly and the Commanding Officer dropped.  The column halted right opposite to (sic) us after the two shots and it was a case of fire and one could not miss.”  Daly’s Volunteers would be involved in fierce fighting with British cavalry, South Staffordshire & Sherwood Forester regiments in the area, particularly around North King Street, where at least one bayonet charge took place, and British troops used makeshift armoured trucks, and tunnelled through surrounding houses, in their attempts to advance.  Fourteen British troops were killed, and 33 wounded, during a twenty-four hour battle for just 150 yards of the street, and it was here that the worst atrocity of the week took place, when men of the South Staffordshire Regiment executed fifteen unarmed civilians as suspected rebels as the Rising came to an end.

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And finally this post, children again, of whom 38 were killed during the Rising.  Charles D’Arcy, as this poster that I noticed on a wall near the barracks, says, was just 15 years old when he was killed.  Whatever his age he was not, however, an innocent victim of crossfire, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Charles was a member of the Irish Citizen Army, part of a unit holding the Henry & James clothing store in Parliament Street, opposite Dublin Castle, and he was shot dead on the roof of the store on 25th April, the second day of the Rising.

Next: The tragedy of Northumberland Road.

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