Dublin Castle ceremony marks 100 years since British handover of power

Transfer of power came after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921

President Michael D Higgins inspects the Guard of Honour 3 Infantry Battalion  at the State commemoration to mark the centenary of the handover of Dublin Castle, at Dame Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

President Michael D Higgins inspects the Guard of Honour 3 Infantry Battalion at the State commemoration to mark the centenary of the handover of Dublin Castle, at Dame Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

President Michael D Higgins has unveiled a plaque marking 100 years to the day since Dublin Castle was handed over by the British administration to the Provisional Irish Government.

The plaque, in Irish and English, is located over the archway between the lower and upper yards of Dublin Castle, where the handover ceremony took place.

The inscription reads: “In a room above this archway, Dublin Castle was formally handed over by the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Viscount FitzAlan of Derwant to the Provisional Government of Ireland led by its chairman Michael Collins. ”

President Michael D Higgins inspects the Guard of Honour 3 Infantry Battalion at the State ceremony marking the handover of Dublin Castle exactly 100 years ago. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
President Michael D Higgins inspects the Guard of Honour 3 Infantry Battalion at the State ceremony marking the handover of Dublin Castle exactly 100 years ago. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The handover of power 100 years ago was recalled in a reconstruction of the events of that day by actor Phelim Drew.

The original ceremony, on January 16th, 1922, was to have taken place at midday, but was delayed because Michael Collins was not in Dublin.

When he arrived in the city, he went to the Mansion House and was duly elected chairman of the Provisional Government.

At 1.20pm, the Provisional Government telephoned Dublin Castle and told the British there that they were on their way.

At 1.40pm, eight members of that government arrived in three taxi cabs and made their way to the Privy Counsel suite above the archway in Dublin Castle to meet FitzAlan.

One anecdote – that FitzAlan had chastised Collins for being seven minutes late, to which Collins allegedly responded that the British had kept the Irish waiting for seven centuries – was most likely apocryphal, Drew told the assembled crowd.

“This seems unlikely, as he and his colleague were an hour and 40 minutes late,” he said.

Later, Collins told his fiancée Kitty Kieran of the handover: “I am as happy a man as there is in Ireland today.”

President Michael D Higgins unveils a plaque at the State commemoration to mark the centenary of the handover of Dublin Castle. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
President Michael D Higgins unveils a plaque at the State commemoration to mark the centenary of the handover of Dublin Castle. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The original day of the handover was described as a “cold, raw January day”, but the centenary ceremony, the first State commemoration held since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, was conducted in beautiful winter sunshine.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, members of the Government, members of the Council of State and relatives of those who had negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 were present.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Labour leader Alan Kelly and Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy were guests, as were former taoisigh Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern. Former presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson also attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live on RTÉ.

The event, which was held at the same time as the events of 100 years ago, was also attended by UK ambassador in Ireland Paul Johnston.

Mr Martin said it was appropriate to honour the achievements of the revolutionary generation, and “we do so with pride that the State they helped to create is entering its second century of independent, democratic government”.

Earlier, President Higgins hosted a reception at Áras an Uachtaráin for relatives of the Irish delegation that attended the negotiations around the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, speaks at the State commemoration to mark the handover of Dublin Castle by British forces 100 years ago. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, speaks at the State commemoration to mark the handover of Dublin Castle by British forces 100 years ago. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

President Higgins said those who negotiated the treaty “all had the most honourable intentions, were concerned to interpret what could not be anticipated in terms of a definitive mandate, and did their very best in an extremely challenging context”.

British prime minister David Lloyd George’s threat of “immediate and terrible war” was a “defining aspect of the treaty negotiations”, President Higgins added.

‘Complete independence’

Nevertheless the treaty negotiators were able to secure “complete independence for the new State in its domestic affairs, powers to levy all taxes, regulate foreign trade, raise an army, and considerable freedom on foreign policy”.

The people too gave their blessing to the treaty for a “settlement that was seen, both at home and abroad, as the best hope for what might be a long road to peace”.

The treaty also had to be seen from the perspective of the British, who had conceded much to Ireland, and the Irish example would provide “an inspiration, as indeed it did, throughout the emancipatory decolonisations of the 20th century”, the president concluded.

The actual handover of power to the Irish Provisional Government 100 years ago was a low-key, hurried affair that was the culmination of years of war and revolution in Ireland. It also came following the partition of the island and the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921.

The State is coming towards of the end of a so-called “decade of centenaries”, which have seen the events leading up to Irish independence remembered and publicly discussed.

In the months to come, the State will also remember the Civil War, which was sparked by divisions over the contents of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. – Additional reporting: PA