The Battle of Dublin (1922)
On O’Connell Bridge crowds gathered to witness the opening scenes in the Battle of Dublin. To the west was the great dome of the Four Courts, shrouded in early morning mist, the building occupied by men, once comrades in arms with the government forces, but now bitter enemies. From the opposite, southern bank of the Liffey, came bursts of gunfire, strafing eerie light across the foggy river, while the sounds of bomb and bullet thundered downstream past the disbelieving Dubliners on the bridge.
The Irish Civil War formally began on Wednesday, June 28th 1922, at ten past four in the morning, when the government, their ultimatum to the Republicans inside the Four Courts unanswered, attacked. At issue was the Treaty, dividing Ireland into the twenty six counties of the Free State and the six counties of Northern Ireland. Men and women, who battled together for independence only a short time before, were sundered into the pro-treaty, Free State side and the Republican dissenters. On Friday, June 30th, Dublin shook to its foundations and an ominous grey cloud mushroomed above the Four Courts. In the eerie quiet which followed, when even the guns went quiet, a paper snow fell upon the city and one thousand years of public records came to rest upon the dusty streets.
Shortly afterwards, the white flag fluttered from a corner of the building and the remaining Republicans inside surrendered. Spectators thronged the quays and bridges watching the flames engulf the Four Courts. Around seven o’clock the great copper dome collapsed into the cauldron of fire below, showering sparks skywards. But the Battle of Dublin was not yet over. Sackville Street took centre stage, heavy guns moved in, snipers claimed the roofs and troops furtively tunnelled their way towards the Republicans, embedded on the northeast side. Checkpoints sprung up. O’Connell Bridge was barricaded. Gun battles erupted and died down again. Ambulances ferried away the wounded from the debris strewn streets. People crouched in doorways or around corners and during lulls in the fighting they dashed to wherever it was they were going.
By Tuesday fires stealthily crept upon the Republicans squeezed into one last stronghold on the street. On Wednesday, July 5th, they surrendered and within days the city was quiet all over. The Republicans took their fight to the rest of the country, then slowly retreated from the towns and villages to mountainous isolation, finally emerging, in April 1923, calling a ceasefire. In Dublin, the curtain came down on the Civil War with one final scene - the detonation of a land mine in Lower Sackville Street - shaking O’Connell Bridge.