Battle of Dublin

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Battle of Dublin
Part of the Irish Civil War
Four Courts Conflagration.jpg
The Four Courts ablaze during the battle, 30 June 1922
Date 28 June – 5 July 1922
Location Central Dublin (mostly)
Result Decisive Provisional Government victory
Belligerents
Irish Republican Army National Army
Commanders and leaders
Rory O'Connor
Ernie O'Malley
Oscar Traynor
Michael Collins
Paddy Daly
Tom Ennis
Strength
200 troops in Four Courts,
~500 more in city
4,000 troops
Casualties and losses
49 killed, 158 wounded,
over 400 taken prisoner[1]
16 killed, 122 wounded[2]
more than 250 civilian casualties[3]

The Battle of Dublin was a week of street battles in Dublin from 28 June to 5 July 1922 that marked the beginning of the Irish Civil War. It was fought between the forces of the new Provisional Government, which supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and a section of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who opposed the Treaty. The fighting began with an assault by Provisional Government forces on the Four Courts building, which had been occupied by the Anti-Treaty IRA, and ended in a decisive victory for the Provisional Government.

Background[edit]

On 14 April 1922, about 200 anti-treaty IRA militants led by Rory O'Connor occupied the Four Courts in Dublin, resulting in a tense stand-off.[4] They wanted to spark a new armed confrontation with the British, which they hoped would bring down the Anglo-Irish Treaty, unite the two factions of the IRA against their former common enemy and thereby restart the fight to create an all-Ireland Irish Republic. At the time the British army still had thousands of soldiers concentrated in Dublin, awaiting evacuation. However, for those who were determined to make the Free State into a viable, self-governing Irish state, this was an act of rebellion that would have to be put down by them rather than by the British. The Provisional Government came under pressure from the British to take action against the Four Courts Garrison following the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in London on 22 June 1922, and when Free State Army General and Deputy Chief of Staff J.J. O'Connell was arrested by Four Courts troops, the government decided to move against them.[5]

Collins accepted a British offer of artillery loaned by Winston Churchill for use by the new Irish Army, along with 200 from their store of 10,000 shells at Kilmainham, 3 miles away. It is possible that some British troops were also covertly loaned.[6] Two 18 Pounder field guns were placed on Parliament Street and Winetavern Street, across the Liffey from the Four Courts complex, and after a final ultimatum they began their bombardment on 28 June.

The assault on the Four Courts[edit]

The Four Courts, seen from its eastern side.

Inside the building were twelve members of the Irish Republican Army Executive, including Chief-of-Staff Joe McKelvey, Director of Engineering Rory O'Connor, and Quarter Master General Liam Mellows. The garrison consisted of roughly 180 men drawn from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the IRA's 1st Dublin Brigade, commanded by Commandant Paddy O'Brien, armed for the most part only with small arms, (rifles, five Thompson submachineguns and two Lewis light machine guns) apart from one captured armoured car, which they named "The Mutineer". The members of the IRA Army Executive were the political leaders of the garrison, but served as common soldiers under the command of Ernie O'Malley, commander of the IRA's 2nd Southern Division. The Anti-Treaty side fortified the Four Courts to some extent, planting mines around the complex and barricading the doors and windows, but their leadership ordered them not fire first, to retain the moral high ground and so the Free State troops were allowed to surround the Four Courts.[7]

After the first day's bombardment proved ineffective, the British gave the Free State two more 18 pounder cannon, and offered 60 pounder howitzers and even to bomb the Four Courts from the air. Collins turned down the latter two offers because of the risk of causing heavy civilian casualties.[8] On the 29th, Free State troops stormed the eastern wing of the Four Courts, losing 3 killed and 14 wounded and taking 33 prisoners. The republicans' armoured car, 'the Mutineer' was also disabled and abandoned by its crew. Early the next day, Paddy O'Brien was injured by shrapnel and Ernie O'Malley took over military command in the Four Courts. By this time, the shelling had caused the Four Courts to catch fire. In addition, orders arrived from Oscar Traynor, the anti-treaty IRA commander in Dublin, for the Four Courts garrison to surrender, as he could not reach their position to help them. At 3:30pm on 30 June,O'Malley surrendered the Four Courts to Brigadier General Paddy Daly, of the Free State's Dublin Guard unit. Three of the republican garrison had died in the siege[9]

Explosion in the Four Courts[edit]

Several hours before the surrender, at either 11:30, or 2:15 the Irish Public Record Office located in the western block of the Four Courts, which had been used as an ammunition store by the Four Courts garrison, was the centre of a huge explosion, blowing to pieces one thousand years of Irish state and religious archives. Forty advancing Free State troops were badly injured.[10] It was alleged by the National Army Headquarters that the Anti-treaty forces deliberately booby-trapped the Public Record office to kill advancing Free State troops. Tim Healy, a government supporter, later alleged that the explosion was the result of land-mines laid before the surrender, which exploded after the surrender.[11] However, a study of the battle concluded that the explosion was caused by fires ignited by the shelling of the Four Courts, which eventually reached two truck loads of gelignite in the munitions factory. A towering mushroom cloud rose 200 feet over the Four Courts.[10] Calton Younger (1968) identified 3 explosions; ".. two beneath the Records Office at about 2.15 [pm] and another at the back of the building at about 5 o'clock.."[12]

At this stage in the war, troops on each side still had a sense of kinship with the other, as most of them had fought together in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence. By appealing to friends on the Free State side, several anti-Treaty leaders among the Four Courts garrison, notably Ernie O'Malley and Sean Lemass, escaped from captivity to continue fighting elsewhere.[13]

O'Connell Street fighting[edit]

Guests of the Edinburgh Hotel in O'Connell Street make their way from the hotel on 5 July 1922.

Despite the Free State force's success in taking the Four Courts, fighting continued in Dublin until 5 July. On the 29th anti-Treaty IRA units from the Dublin Brigade led by Oscar Traynor had occupied O'Connell Street to try to distract Free State attention from their attack on the Four Courts. Not all of the IRA units in the capital were prepared to fight against the new Irish government however and their numbers were probably about 500 throughout the city.

The republicans occupied the north eastern part of O'Connell street, with their strongpoint at 'the block', a group of buildings which the Anti-Treatyites had connected by tunnelling through the walls. they had also taken over the adjoining Gresham, Crown, Granville, and Hammam Hotels. Their only position on the western side of the street was in the YMCA building. Additionally they had an outpost south of the Liffey at the Swan Pub on Aungier street. Oscar Traynor apparently hoped to receive reinforcements from the rest of the country but only Anti-Treaty units in Belfast and Tipperary replied and both of them arrived too late to take part in the fighting.[10]

The Provisional Government troops, commanded by general Tom Ennis started by clearing the outlying anti-treaty garrisons, which they had done by 1 July. They then drew a tighter cordon around O'Connell street. Artillery was used to drive the Anti-Treaty fighters out of positions on Parnell street and Gardiner street, which gave the Free State troops a clear field of fire down O'Connell street.

The republican outpost in the YMCA was eliminated when Free State troops tunnelled underneath it and detonated a bomb. Traynor's men in "the block" held out until artillery was brought up, under the cover of armoured cars, to bombard them at point blank range. Incendiary bombs were also planted in the buildings. Oscar Traynor and most of his men (70 men and 30 women) made their escape when the buildings they were holding caught fire. They mingled into civilian crowds and made their way to Blessington.

Left behind was Republican leader Cathal Brugha and a rearguard of 15 men, who stayed behind in the Hamman hotel after Traynor and most other IRA men had left. At 5 pm on 5 July, when the fires made the hotel untenable, Brugha ordered his men to surrender. He however, stayed behind, only to emerge from the building alone, armed with a revolver. He was shot in the thigh when he left the burning building alone to confront the Free State troops and died later from blood loss.

There were some further sporadic incidents of fighting around the city as Free State troops dispersed anti-treaty IRA groups.

Cathal Brugha was the last casualty in the battle for Dublin which had cost both sides sixty-five killed and two hundred and eighty wounded. In addition, the Free State took over 400 Republican prisoners. The civilian casualties are thought to have numbered well over 250. The high civilian casualties were doubtless the result of the use of heavy weapons, especially artillery, in a densely populated urban area.

Cathal Brugha, Anti-Treaty leader killed during the fighting on Dublin's O'Connell St

Aftermath[edit]

When the fighting in Dublin died down, the Free State Government was left firmly in control of the Irish capital and the anti-treaty forces dispersed around the country. "Round-ups" after the fighting captured more Republican prisoners and resulted in the death of prominent anti-Treaty activist Harry Boland who was shot dead in Skerries on 31 July.

Oscar Traynor, Ernie O'Malley and the other anti-Treaty fighters who had escaped the fighting in Dublin, regrouped in Blessington, around 30 km south west of the city. An anti-Treaty IRA force from county Tipperary had arrived there but was too late to participate in the Dublin fighting. Instead this force headed south and took a string of towns, including Enniscorthy and Carlow, but quickly abandoned them when faced with superior Free State forces. Most of the Republicans then retreated further south again to the so-called Munster Republic -territory south west of a line running from Limerick to Waterford. This in turn was taken by the Free State in an offensive from July to August 1922. (See also Irish Free State offensive).

Four of the Republican leaders captured in the Four Courts, Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett were later executed by the government in reprisal for the Anti-Treaty side's killing of TD (member of Parliament) Seán Hales. (see Executions during the Irish Civil War). The street where Cathal Brugha was killed was later renamed Cathal Brugha street in his honour.

Destruction of Irish historical records[edit]

On 22 June 1922, in an attempt to dislodge Anti-Treaty forces holed up there, Pro-Treaty salvos launched into the complex housing stored Anti-Treaty munitions led to an enormous out-of-control fire. The massive conflagration spread rapidly, destroying the buildings and, with them, it led to the almost total destruction of the mass of Irish historical records archived in the Public Records Office of Ireland (and in other parts of the Four Courts). As this closely followed the 1921 destruction of centuries of other important Irish record fonds kept in the Custom House, Dublin, the cumulative effect was the devastating annihilation of a huge swath of Ireland's historical resources, to the loss of all future researchers seeking to document many aspects of Irish history. Subsequent efforts by archivists and other interested parties have played an extremely important role in attempting to replace what was lost, but, though an impressive inventory of material has been amassed, continues to accumulate, and is now housed in the National Archives of Ireland, much of what was lost in the 1922 fire was irreplaceable.[14] Which side bore the burden of the blame for the fire led to recriminations in the fire's aftermath, but the question of which side was ultimately responsible remains unresolved.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paul V Walsh, The Irish Civil War 1922–23 -A Study of the Conventional Phase, gives a total of 65 combatants killed, leaving 49 anti-treaty once the 16 pro-treaty are subtracted
  2. ^ Niall Harrington, Kerry Landing, August 1922, p167
  3. ^ Paul V Walsh, The Irish Civil War 1922–23 -A Study of the Conventional Phase, though the distributioon of killed and injured is not given
  4. ^ Calton Younger, "Ireland's Civil War", Muller, London 1968; pp.258–259.
  5. ^ Eoin Neeson, The Civil War, pp. 109–110
  6. ^ Presenter: Mike Thomson (29 October 2012). "The British Gunner and the Irish Civil War". Document. BBC. Radio 4.
  7. ^ Paul V Walsh, The Irish Civil War 1922–23 -A Study of the Conventional Phase [1]
  8. ^ Michael Hopkinson, The Irish Civil War, p120-121
  9. ^ http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/28711
  10. ^ a b c Paul V Walsh, The Irish Civil War 1922–23 -A Study of the Conventional Phase
  11. ^ TM Healy memoirs, chapter 46
  12. ^ Calton Younger, "Ireland's Civil War", Muller, London 1968; p.321 and p.326.
  13. ^ Ernie O'Malley, the Singing Flame
  14. ^ http://www.courts.ie/Courts.ie/Library3.nsf/pagecurrent/C405A2905C07523880256DA900495EE2

Sources[edit]

  • Ernie O'Malley, The Singing Flame, Dublin 1978.
  • M.E. Collins, Ireland 1868–1966, Dublin 1993.
  • Michael Hopkinson, Green against Green – the Irish Civil War
  • Eoin Neeson, The Irish Civil War
  • Paul V Walsh, The Irish Civil War 1922–23 -A Study of the Conventional Phase [2]
  • Meda Ryan, The Real chief, Liam Lynch
  • Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera, Long Fellow, Long Shadow

Coordinates: 53°20′34″N 6°15′58″W / 53.3428°N 6.2661°W / 53.3428; -6.2661