Military Rule in Ireland

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FourCourtsHotelIn May 1920, Erskine Childers published a booklet entitled Military Rule in Ireland, which was a collected edition of eight articles he contributed to The Daily News paper between March and May of that year. He added some explanatory notes and an additional chapter but essentially the booklet reproduced the articles as they had originally appeared, describing the terrible pressures on the citizens of Dublin as a consequence of the manner in which the British forces were running the country.

He explained that he had been asked to give his opinion of the military regime as one who lived in the country and was also a soldier. Of course, he was also a well-known writer but he did not mention that in his articles. Lead photo - Four Courts Hotel in the 1960s (Dublin City Library and Archives).

This is Childers’ description of a “typical night”, published on 29th March 1920:

As the citizens go to bed, the barracks spring to life. Lorries, tanks, and armoured searchlight cars, muster in fleets, lists of “objectives” are distributed, and, when the midnight curfew order has emptied the streets – pitch dark streets – the weird cavalcades issue forth to the attack. Think of raiding a private house at dead of night in a tank, whose weird rumble and roar can be heard miles away! The procedure of the raid is in keeping, though the objectives are held for the most part by women and terrified children. A thunder of knocks: no time to dress (even for a woman alone) or the door will crash in. On opening, in charge the soldiers – literally charge – with fixed bayonets and in full war kit. No warrant shown on entering, no apology on leaving, if, as in nine cases out of ten, suspicions prove to be groundless and the raid a mistake.

bookletJust two months later, on 25 May 1920, an Evening Herald report about soldiers operating in the Arran Quay area of the city shows that the behaviour described by Erskine Childers was indeed typical of the British military regime. Residents of Lower Bridge Street, Church Street and the “adjoining thoroughfares” were very alarmed when multiple shots were fired by soldiers, said to be enforcing the curfew in the city (imposed from 12 midnight).

Several people who were returning to their homes before the curfew reported being stopped by a party of soldiers, who appeared to be searching for someone. The residents were frightened by the sound of more shots being fired “from the direction of the Four Courts”. Later, at about one o’clock in the morning and again at 3 and 4 a.m. armoured cars and motor wagons visited Lower Bridge Street but no arrests were made. Picture opposite - Front cover of Military Rule in Ireland (Dublin City Library and Archives)

Mrs. Cushen, the manageress of a boarding house at 169 Church Street was trying to get her baby to sleep at about 11.45 pm when she heard a shot. She heard footsteps in the street and her hall door being forced open. She ran downstairs in her nightdress and met a number of armed soldiers, who had fixed bayonets on their rifles. They claimed that shots fired at them had come from her house, which she denied. They spent about an hour searching the house but found nothing. They then went across the street to an empty house, broke the door and windows with their rifles but again found nothing. A man living on Church Street was chased by soldiers while he was on his way home and had to take shelter in the Four Courts Hotel for the night.

The Evening Herald report went on to say that the police denied that anything out of the ordinary had happened and insisted that the soldiers were only carrying out the curfew regulations.

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Mary Muldowney, Historian in Residence Dublin City Council, Central Area

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