‘Epochal’ – how The Irish Times reported the handover of Dublin Castle, 100 years ago today

Britain’s 1922 ‘surrender’ of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins was a hugely symbolic moment

Kevin O’Higgins, Michael Collins (marked with an ‘x’) and Éamonn Duggan leaving Dublin Castle after the British ‘handover’,  on January 16th 1922. Photograph:  Joseph Cashman, NL1 Civil War Prints, NPA CIVP4; courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Kevin O’Higgins, Michael Collins (marked with an ‘x’) and Éamonn Duggan leaving Dublin Castle after the British ‘handover’, on January 16th 1922. Photograph: Joseph Cashman, NL1 Civil War Prints, NPA CIVP4; courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

 

The handing over of Dublin Castle, the seat of British rule in Ireland for centuries, was a moment of great symbolic importance.

Dublin Castle had been founded by King John in 1205 and was completed in 1213. It had hosted countless events but none as extraordinary as its handing over from British to Irish control.

The Irish Times understood the significance of the moment. “Dublin Castle in all its history, has experienced no scenes comparable to those which took place within its ancient walls yesterday,” the unnamed reporter wrote.

“After its fluctuating history of seven centuries Dublin Castle is no longer the fortress of British power in Ireland. Having withstood the attacks of successive generations of rebels, it was quietly handed over yesterday to eight gentlemen in three taxi-cabs.”

The handover took place under Article 17 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty following the ratification of the Treaty by Dáil Éireann on January 7th and by the parliament of Southern Ireland (set up under the Government of Ireland Act 1920) on January 14th.

Michael Collins also understood the importance of the moment. The Dáil had bitterly disputed whether the Irish Free State was an independent country or not. Collins and his colleagues in the Provisional Government were having none of it.

An official statement from Collins read: “The members of Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann (Provisional Government of Ireland) received the surrender of Dublin Castle at 1.45 p.m. to-day. It is now in the bands of the Irish nation.”

As was usual at the time, the article did not appear on the front page of the newspaper, which in those years carried only advertising. It was the main story on page 5. Newspapers in 1922 were smaller than they are now and crammed in many more stories into a single paper.

A flavour of the time is captured in articles on the same page that reference Mahatma Gandhi in India, and problems for the British mandate in what is now Iraq.

Outside the imperial context, The Irish Times of 100 years ago reported that a pilot and two men had been arrested for trying to illegally smuggle rum from Mexico into Texas.

Closer to home a shoot-out – described in the report as a “duel” – took place along the banks of the Royal Canal in Phibsboro between three men with revolvers and the police.

The following is an edited extract from The Irish Times of January 17th, 1922.

PASSING OF THE CASTLE
DAWN OF NEW EPOCH
Dublin Castle, in all its history, has experienced no scenes comparable to those which took place within its ancient walls yesterday, when the rains of government were formally handed over to the Irish Provisional Government.

Few, probably, of the crowd that waited patiently outside the Lower Castle Yard for hours throughout a cold, raw winter day realised the full import of the events which they were about to witness.

Now and again it raised a sarcastic cheer as a military despatch rider or a tradesman’s messenger picked his way cautiously through the narrow avenue cleared by some stalwart representatives of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in front of the gate.

Inside the Lower Yard were gathered groups of Auxiliary police, military police, and soldiers, who were there out of curiosity to see the passing of British authority to Irish control. A host of journalists and photographers also took up positions inside the entrance awaiting events. Nobody seem to know what arrangements had been made for the historic ceremony and everybody contented himself with watching the arrival and departure of motor vehicles, some heavily laden with official documents, furniture, and stores, and others bearing important officials busy superintending the duties of transference.

A fatigue party of Royal Engineers was occupied in dismantling the last of the barricades, and finished the job promptly. Then another agreeable interlude. A machine-gun squad was paraded in the upper yard, and it, too, impressed one by its business-like methods. It was rumoured that this was to be the last guard to be mounted in the Castle; but this was not so as the State apartments are still reserved for the Lord Lieutenant.

At last, about one o’clock, word came that His Excellency was to arrive within half an hour, and other members of the Provisional Government would come about the same time. The police officers proceeded to get the crowds back onto Dame Street, and inside there was activity in the Chief Secretary’s office, where a red carpet was laid down in the passage leading to the Privy Council Chamber. Here a number of journalists awaited the arrival of the principles of the drama, and they had not long to wait.

A volley of cheering came from Dame Street and immediately three taxicabs bearing Mr. Michael Collins and his seven colleagues in the Provisional Government whisked through the eastern archway and swung round to the entrance of the Chief Secretary’s office pursued hot-foot by numerous photographers. Mr. Collins bounded from his car through the hospitable portals, and was lost to view, to the chagrin of the camera men. Swift at his heels were Mr Cosgrave, Mr Duggan, and the others. They had all passed through before most of the officials, anxious to catch a glimpse of their new “chiefs”, were aware of their arrival.

A separate section “By Our Political Correspondent” read as follows.

FROM OLD TO NEW.
The taking over yesterday of Dublin Castle and all that it stands for in Ireland by the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State is something more than an important event in Irish history; it is epochal. It marks the end of the Act of Union after its existence for over 122 years.

Legal hair-splitters will, of course, deny this. In their view – and they are technically correct – everything that was done yesterday was illegal. So it is, until an Act by the British Parliament makes these things legal, but that can, and, no doubt, will, be done in due course. The great fact is that the 16th January, 1922 will be written in history as a day on which the old regime ceased to exist and the Irish Free State took possession of Dublin Castle.

From what could be gathered as to the actual proceedings, they appear to have been informal. Lord FitzAlan first received Mr Michael Collins in private, and received from him the formal ratification of the Treaty. Other members of the Provisional Government were subsequently received and took their seats on one side of the Council table. The heads of the departments of the Local Government Board (Sir Henry Robinson), the Department of Agriculture (Mr T. P. Gill), the Registrar-General (Sir William Thompson), and others, were introduced.

Afterwards Lord FitzAlan made a short speech, in which he wished the new Government success, congratulated them on their action regarding the threatened railway strike, and expressed hope that they would lead Ireland into new and prosperous days.

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