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Chapter 16

'The 'Troubles' and the End of British Rulespace
Neil Jordan's movie 'Michael Collins'
Michael Collins and Viceroy FitzAlan salute the British Flag as it is
being lowered in the Castle for the last time - as portrayed by actors
Liam Neeson and Alan Stanford in Neil Jordan's movie 'Michael Collins'

During the First World War (1914-1918) parts of Dublin Castle were used as a Red Cross military hospital for British troops wounded on the front lines. Indeed, a huge number of Irishmen fought and almost 50,000 died in the British army in the hope of achieving 'Home Rule' after the war.

However, militant nationalists felt that self-government would not be granted to Ireland and their discontent erupted into another rebellion - that of Easter 1916. Due to internal conflicts it was only the rebel hard core who took part stating that their generation would be disgraced if they failed to seize the moment - 'England's difficulty was Ireland's opportunity'.

The first fatality was at 12.10 p.m. that Easter Monday. A policeman named O'Brien was shot dead as he tried to shut the Cork Hill Gate on an advancing party of ten men and nine women, of the Irish Citizens Army. They took the Guard House and tied up the soldiers (today the Guard House forms part of the Conference Centre dining facilities and the bayonet marks, made by the British Sentries, can be plainly seen). This advantage was not pressed home and they withdrew to the adjacent City Hall, as 'when they found no resistance, they believed it must be a trap to entice them into an ambush and that Ship Street Barracks would be too strong for them'.

The first rebel fatality was Captain Séan Connolly, a professional actor, who had shortly before shot Constable O'Brien. He was hit by sniper fire from the roof of Bedford Tower, while raising the rebel flag on City Hall and died at 2 p.m. City Hall was vulnerable to attack and was heavily shelled from the Castle. Dr. Kathleen Lynn, a Captain in the Citizens Army, surrendered the rebel position that night.

The attack had been a total surprise to the Castle authorities. The Castle was defended by raw recruits that day. The majority of the soldiers were at the Fairy House Races believing the rebellion, which had been planned for the day before, to be cancelled. The normal compliment was a company of two hundred soldiers in the Ship Street Barracks, some of which were billeted detachments of 'Inniskillings' on the way to the Somme. They were later rotated with the 'Shropshires', who were present at final hand over to Irish Free State Forces. In addition there were twenty-four armed RIC sentries and bodyguards to the Viceroy. The Battleaxe Guards (bodyguards) - were similar to the 'Beefeaters' at the Tower of London and were disbanded on grounds of cost in 1831.

Although heavily outgunned and outnumbered the rebellion lasted the week. One of the two principal leaders, James Connolly had been badly wounded in the leg. Following the general surrender he was brought by his men to the Dublin Castle Hospital where he was given a bed in a room previously reserved for royalty (and now the site of the James Connolly Room). He was held there for a week, and court martialed, before being taken to Kilmainham Gaol for execution by firing squad, while tied to a chair.

The series of fifteen executions of leaders of the rebellion, which finished with the death of Connolly, appalled public opinion. Anger against turned to sympathy for the rebels and their cause and they returned from interment in Wales to a heroes' welcome. Michael Collins, who had played a minor role in the rebellion, now rose to prominence within the Republican movement. He became the brilliant military brain behind a new guerrilla war against the British Army and the Police. This continued against the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries, who were brought in when the police system collapsed. The 'War of Independence' and two years of terror began on the 21st January 1919.

Four informants at Detective Headquarters, in the Castle, reported directly to Collins and supplied him with itineraries and photographs. One, Ned Broy, allowed him access to 'G Division' records. An unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on the Viceroy, at Ashtown railway station, adjoining the Phoenix Park, on the 19th December 1919. He, Viscount French, complained that "our secret service is simply non existent".

Collins had also formed a special 'Squad' that systematically assassinated agents of Dublin Castle Intelligence 'G Division'. On Sunday 11th November 1920, they shot dead eleven members of the British Counter-Intelligence network, including members of the infamous 'Cairo Gang'. The effect was devastating. Military officers were now ordered to live in Dublin Castle. Increasing numbers of English civil servants and intelligence staff also took up quarters there and in the adjoining six buildings which had been commandeered for security purposes. The Castle became so overcrowded that no more army wives could be accommodated.

Power rested with the military rather than the Castle civil administration. The regular departure of General Tudor in his armoured Rolls Royce and of the platoon of auxiliaries bristling with guns provided some 'glamour of war'. There was a mantrap outside the Castle Gate and barbed wire and bomb catching mesh works across the archways. The culvert River Poddle was checked daily to ensure that the barbed wire obstructions remained securely in place. Machine gun nests proliferated. The three tennis courts in the garden were strictly reserved for the Viceroy's household and top military personnel and there was little recreational opportunity for the majority. The confined conditions and the imposed curfew, as well as the increasing amount of rebel attacks, made for poor morale.

Two IRA men, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy and an innocent citizen, Conor Clune, were killed on 21st November 1920, while 'trying to escape' from interrogation in the holding cells of the (night-time) Guard House at Exchange Court - behind City Hall which had been taken over for court martials. Their bodies are reported to have had tell tale signs of torture.

Reprisal followed atrocity in the continuing spiral of violence and terror. Eventually a truce was called, which was followed by the Anglo Irish Treaty. This was signed in London on 6th December 1921. Twenty-six counties, of the thirty-two counties of Ireland, became the Irish Free State so ending seven and a half centuries of English rule.

Michael Collins arrived in Dublin Castle on 16th January 1922 to receive the handover of the Castle on behalf of the new Irish Free State Government. Lord Lieutenant FitzAlan is reported to have said, "You are seven minutes late Mr. Collins" to which he received the reply "We've been waiting over seven hundred years, you can have the extra seven minutes". The Dublin playwright Séan O' Casey, described how FitzAlan handed over Dublin Castle and seemed to be doing it as if in a dream: "here's the key to the throne room, and this one's the key of St. Patrick's Hall, my good man".

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