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Monday 20 November 2017

How 100 rebels held off British for two days at the Four Courts

Analysis

Destruction at the Four Courts in Easter Week
Destruction at the Four Courts in Easter Week
Commandant Edward Daly
Major General John Maxwell

At the junction of North King Street and Church Street in Dublin you will find The Tap pub, a convenience store and Kevin Barry House.

In 1916 this intersection was much narrower and included streets that have since disappeared, such as New Lisburn Street.

It was at this spot that around 100 Irish Volunteers held off British forces for two days in what the British commander General Maxwell considered - with the exception of the battle at Mount Street Bridge - "by far the worst fighting that occurred in the whole of Dublin".

At 11am on Easter Monday the 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, under Commandant Edward Daly, had gathered on Blackhall Street.

The battalion was usually 400 strong but numbered around 130, which increased to 330 by the end of the Easter Week as more Irish Volunteers and the women of Cumann na mBan joined what became known as the Four Courts Garrison.

Events in the area are, of course, not to be confused with the occupation and shelling of the Four Courts in 1922 - an incident which marked the beginning of the Civil War.

Neglect

In 1916 the Four Courts building was only one part of a wider area of action, which spread along Church Street, past North King Street, North Brunswick Street and up to Broadstone Station, then a working railway station.

Once a fashionable area of Dublin, by the early years of the twentieth century it had fallen into neglect and was home to many tenements, some of which had collapsed in 1913.

The mission of the garrison during Easter Week was to occupy a line from the Four Courts to Cabra to meet up with the 5th Battalion, under Thomas Ashe, to control main approach routes from the west.

On Easter Monday arms and ammunition were recovered from safe houses in the area and rebels began setting up positions and erecting barricades with material taken from houses and local businesses.

During the week various engagements took place, including attacks on British Lancers who were forced to seek shelter in the Medical Mission on Chancery Lane - a building which is still pockmarked with bullet holes to this day.

On the south quays, Sean Heuston led a company of men that resisted fierce attacks until Wednesday. There were also attacks on Broadstone Station and at Cabra Bridge.

Father Mathew Hall, which still stands on Church Street, was used as a rebel HQ, infirmary and prison. Captured British Army prisoners held here later commented on how the Volunteers they fought against were disciplined, fought clean and treated them well.

On Wednesday the Linenhall Barracks, at Constitution Hill, was set alight to prevent its use by British troops.

Oils and flammable goods made a huge fire with fumes and black smoke that burned for four days, lighting up the area as bright as day during the night. Sniper fire came from British troops on nearby rooftops, Smithfield and as far as Dublin Castle.

On Thursday the British plan to complete a cordon around the city unknowingly cut across one of the rebels' strongest defensive positions, at the junction of North King Street and Church Street.

Volunteers held excellent positions on the tops of buildings including 'Reilly's Fort' (now The Tap pub), Clarke's Dairy, Monks' Bakery (near the present Kevin Barry House), Langan's Public House and the Jameson malthouse tower.

Snipers

Snipers were able to fire down on troops who approached from their base in Bolton Street to the east and from Smithfield to the west.

As a result of this British forces suffered losses and were forced to retreat a number of occasions. Eventually they changed tactics and began to use improvised armed personnel carriers, smashing through the rooms of tenement houses to inch closer to Reilly's Fort.

On Friday night, British troops, in frustration at their losses, killed 15 civilians in what became known as the North King Street Massacre.

By Saturday the Volunteers were low on ammunition and food. Reilly's Fort was evacuated, with rebels retreating back to the Four Courts.

A company of around 50 volunteers stationed in Clarke's Dairy on the opposite side of the narrow street continued the fierce fighting. They refused to accept a surrender until given notice from Padraig Pearse.

In a despatch sent afterwards General Maxwell stated: "Owing to considerable opposition at the barricades, especially in North King Street, it was not until 9am on [Saturday] that the Four Courts area was completely surrounded".

Most of the Four Courts garrison surrendered at 7pm on Saturday, except for 60 rebels at North Brunswick Street who had lost contact with the others.

A truce was agreed from 7.30pm that evening until 10am on Sunday when Pearse's surrender order was confirmed.

Volunteer Michael O'Flanagan later recalled: "Commandant Daly emphasised the fact that, while we were beaten by a superior military force, we were not, however, cowed."

By Sunday morning all those attached to the garrison had surrendered.

Ciaran Holahan is a member of the 1916 Four Courts Relatives Association. His grandfather, Patrick Hugh Holohan, and granduncle, Gearoid O hUallachain, served at the Magazine Fort and the Four Courts in 1916

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