90 years ago: Order signed by Oscar Traynor with plan for Anti-Treaty forces to detonate mines at the Four Courts, June 1922

Acc/2012/07 - Private Collection of James Ferris, Memorandum ref Four Courts Explosion
Private Collection 625 - Memorandum of Examination

On 14th April 1922, the Four Courts complex, including the Public Record Office, was occupied by Anti-Treaty Forces, under the leadership of Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Paddy O’Brien and Ernie O’Malley among others, as negotiations took place in the wake of the disputed Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. The Anti-Treaty Forces saw the terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty as a betrayal of the ideals of the Republic declared during Easter Week, 1916.


Following unsuccessful calls for surrender of the Anti-Treaty personnel (on 27th June 1922), the National Army opened fire on the Courts complex at 04.15hrs on 28th June, signalling the start of the Irish Civil War. 


The National Army of the new Irish Free State eventually surrounded the Anti-Treaty forces and opened fire on the Four Courts with 18-pounder artillery pieces.  This key episode in the Civil War also saw the destruction of the Public Record Office and the catastrophic loss of Ireland’s public archival legacy back to medieval times, including the 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 Census of Ireland.  The Anti-Treaty Forces had organised their munitions in the Public Record Office, using archival ledgers as improvised cover for firing positions.


Our document of the month for June sheds new light on the contentious issue of the destruction of the Public Records Office and how this might have occurred.  The order, signed by Oscar Traynor (Officer Commanding Dublin Brigade of the Anti-Treaty Forces), forms part of the Joe Clarke Private Collection, which was recently discovered under floorboards during domestic renovations and handed in to Military Archives. 


We are also displaying the gun history sheet for gun 10756 (18-pounder, mark II), one of the National Army artillery pieces that fired on the Four Courts.  These guns were acquired, like much of the technical military hardware used by the Free State, from the departing British Forces, who were organising their evacuation of military barracks and posts throughout 1922.  It would appear that fragmentary rather than high explosive rounds were used in the ‘Four Courts operation’.  The history sheet is preserved at Military Archives in the original Memorandum of Examination file (Colonel Ivor Noone Private Collection) from the Woolwich arsenal, which was handed over to the Free State with the gun in 1922.


For further information and to see our extensive collections on the Civil War, please see our collections page. All of these records are available for research in the public reading room at Military Archives, by appointment.