Four Courts

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The Four Courts
The Four Courts along the River Liffey quayside
Four Courts is located in Central Dublin
Four Courts
Location within Central Dublin
General information
Type Courthouse
Architectural style Neoclassicism
Town or city Inns Quay, Dublin
Country Ireland
Elevation 4 m (13 ft)
Construction started 1786
Completed 1802; 215 years ago (1802)
Client Kingdom of Ireland
Technical details
Material Portland stone, granite, copper, cast iron, timber, steel, stucco, sandstone
Design and construction
Architect Thomas Cooley, James Gandon

The Four Courts (Irish: Na Ceithre Cúirteanna[1]) is Ireland's main courts building, located on Inns Quay in Dublin. The Four Courts are the location of the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court. Until 2010 the building also housed the Central Criminal Court.

Gandon's Building[edit]

Part of the original Gandon-designed interior decoration of the dome, lost in the 1922 destruction

Work based on the design of Thomas Cooley for the Public Records Office of Ireland, began in 1776. After his death in 1784 renowned architect James Gandon was appointed to finish the building, which we recognise today as the Four Courts. It was built between 1786 and 1796, while the finishing touches to the arcades and wings were completed in 1802.[2] The lands were previously used by the King's Inns. The building originally housed the four courts of Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas, hence the name of the building. A major revision in the court system in the late nineteenth century saw these courts merged into a new High Court of Ireland, but the building has retained its historic name. This courts system remained until 1924, when the new Irish Free State introduced a new courts structure, replacing the High Court of Ireland, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland with a Supreme Court of Justice presided over by the Chief Justice and a High Court of Justice, presided over by the President of the High Court. In 1961 the words "of justice" were dropped from the names of both courts when they were belatedly re-established consequent upon the enactment of the 1937 Constitution.

Four Courts in 1916 Easter Rising[edit]

The Four Courts and surrounding areas were held by Commandant Ned Daly's 1st Battalion during the Easter Rising in 1916. Some of the most intense fighting of Easter Week took place in the Church Street/North King Street/North Brunswick Street area. At the end of the week the Four Courts building itself became the headquarters of the 1st Battalion.

Destruction in Civil War[edit]

The Four Courts on fire during the Civil War

On 14 April 1922 the courts complex was occupied by forces opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, led by Rory O'Connor. On 27 June the new National Army attacked the building to dislodge the rebels, on the orders of the Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy, authorised by President of Dáil Éireann Arthur Griffith.[3] This provoked a week of fighting in Dublin. In the process of the bombardment the historic building was destroyed. The west wing of the building was obliterated in a huge explosion, destroying the Irish Public Record Office at the rear of the building. Nearly a thousand years of archives were destroyed by this.

O'Connor's forces were accused of mining the records office; however, those present, who included future Taoiseach Seán Lemass, said that, while they had used the archive as a store of their ammunition, they had not deliberately mined it. They suggest that the explosion was caused by the accidental detonation of their ammunition store during the fighting.[3]

Reopening in 1932[edit]

The Four Courts, Dublin.
The Four Courts at Inns Quay

For a decade, the old courts system (until 1924), then the new Free State courts system, were based in the old viceregal apartments in Dublin Castle. In 1932, a rebuilt and remodelled Four Courts was opened. However, much of the decorative interior of the original building had been lost and, in the absence of documentary archives (some of which had been in the Public Records Office and others of which were among the vast amount of legal records lost also), and also because the new state did not have the funds, the highly decorative interior was not replaced. Two side wings were rebuilt further from the river to undo the problem caused by excessively narrow footpaths outside the building. However, that change, and the removal of chimney-stacks, has removed some of the architectural unity and effect planned by Gandon in 1796.

In the early 1990s, the then Chief Justice suggested building a new purpose-built building to house the Supreme Court, leaving the other courts in situ. For the present, however, the Supreme Court remains in the Four Courts.

Criminal courts move[edit]

Prior to 2010 both civil and serious trials were heard in the Four Courts which was also the location for the Court of Criminal Appeal. With the opening of a new criminal courts complex in January 2010 – the Criminal Courts of Justice beside the Phoenix Park – all criminal trials were transferred there.[4][5] The Four Courts remained in use for civil matters.[4] The Court of Criminal Appeal also moved to the new building, but it also occasionally sits in the Four Courts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michal Boleslav Mechura (10 December 2006). "Uimhreacha Na Gaeilge" (PDF) (in Irish). p. 12. Retrieved 19 May 2011. Original historic use of the plural form: use of the singular form is a relatively new habit. Even at the beginning of the twentieth century speakers had the choice of using the plural form also, and many survivals of that usage are seen at the present time, particularly in proper names: na Ceithre Cuirteanna, for example, is said, even though na Ceithre Chúirt would be more correct according to current language rules. 
  2. ^ Maurice Craig: Dublin 1660–1860, page 243
  3. ^ a b 'The Republic - the Fight for Irish Independence 1918 - 1923' Charles Townshend ISBN 978-0-141-03004-3
  4. ^ a b New order in court as €140m legal 'Pantheon' opens doors, Dearbhail McDonald, Irish Independent, 24 November 2009
  5. ^ First case set for new criminal courts, Carol Coulter, The Irish Times, 24 November 2009

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°20′45″N 6°16′25″W / 53.345937°N 6.273537°W / 53.345937; -6.273537

Preceding station   Luas   Following station
towards Connolly or The Point
  Red Line   Smithfield
towards Tallaght