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
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
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".