Four Courts in Dublin
The Four Courts in Dublin is the Republic of Ireland's main courts building. The Four Courts are the location of the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court. The building until 2010 also formerly was the location for the Central Criminal Court.
Work based on the design of Thomas Cooley for the Public Records Office of Ireland, began in 1776. After his death in 1784 renowned architect James Gandon was appointed to finish the builing, which we recognised today as the Four Courts. It was built between 1786 and 1796, while the finishing touches to the arcades and wings were completed in 1802. The lands were previously used by the King's Inns. The building originally housed the four courts of Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas, hence the name of the building. A major revision in the court system in the late nineteenth century saw these courts merged into a new High Court of Ireland, but the building has retained its historic name. This courts system remained until 1924, when the new Irish Free State introduced a new courts structure, replacing the old High Court of Ireland, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland with a new Supreme Court of Justice presided over by the Chief Justice and a High Court of Justice, presided over by the President of the High Court. In 1961 the words "of justice" were dropped from the names of both courts when they were belatedly re-established consequent upon the enactment of the 1937 Constitution.
Destruction in Civil War
The Four Courts were seized by Commandant Ned Daly's 1st Battalion during the Easter Rising in 1916. They survived the bombardment by British artillery that destroyed large parts of the city centre.
On 14 April 1922 they were occupied by Republican forces led by Rory O'Connor who opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. After several months of a stand-off, the new Provisional Government attacked the building to dislodge the rebels, on the advice of the Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army, Michael Collins. This provoked a week of fighting in Dublin. In the process of the bombardment the historic building was destroyed. Most dramatically however, when the anti-Treaty contingent were surrendering, the west wing of the building was obliterated in a huge explosion, destroying the Irish Public Record Office which was located at the rear of the building. It has been alleged that the Republicans deliberately booby-trapped its priceless Irish archives, which were stored in the basement of the Four Courts. Nearly one thousand years of irreplaceable archives were destroyed by this act. However, the insurgents, who included future Taoiseach Seán Lemass denied this accusation and argued that while they had used the archive as a store of their ammunition, they had not deliberately mined it. They suggest that the explosion was caused by the accidental detonation of their ammunition store during the fighting.
For a decade, the old courts system (until 1924), then the new Free State courts system, was based in the old viceregal apartments in Dublin Castle. In 1932, a rebuilt and remodelled Four Courts was opened again. However, much of the decorative interior of the original building had been lost and, in the absence of documentary archives (some of which had been in the Public Records Office and others of which were among the vast amount of legal records lost also), and also because the new state did not have the funds, the highly decorative interior was not replaced. Two side wings were rebuilt further from the river to undo the problem caused by excessively narrow footpaths outside the building. However, that change, and the removal of chimney-stacks, has removed some of the architectural unity and effect planned by Gandon in 1796.
Though in the early 1990s, the then Chief Justice suggested building a new purpose-built building to house the Supreme Court, leaving the other courts in situ, the Supreme Court remains in the Four Courts.
Criminal Courts move
The Criminal Court of Justice opened in January 2010, with criminal trials being held there since. The Four Courts will be used for civil cases.<ref name="independent-pantheon"/>