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The Four Courts ( ) in Dublinmarker is the Republic of Irelandmarker's main courts building. The Four Courts are the location of the Supreme Court, High Court, Central Criminal Court and Dublin Circuit Court.

Gandon's Building

The Four Courts was built between 1786 and 1796 by renowned architect James Gandon, while the finishing touches to the arcades and wings were completed in 1802. The lands were previously used by the King's Innsmarker. 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 legal structures in the late nineteenth century saw these courts replaced, but the building retained its historic name. The new courts system remained until 1924, when the new Irish Free State which had replaced British rule 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 presided over by the Chief Justice and a High Court of Justice, presided over by the President of the High Court.

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.In 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 Irish 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 that the explosion was caused by the accidental detonation of their ammunition store during the fighting.

Reopened 1932

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 Castlemarker. 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.

In 1937 a new constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, introduced a remodelled courts system. Again the highest court was called the Supreme Court, with a slightly changed High Court (minus the words 'of Justice'). Though in the early 1990s, the then Irish Chief Justice suggested building a new purpose-built building to house the Supreme Court, leaving the other courts in situ, the Supreme Court for the moment remains in the Four Courts.

Its exterior still shows the effects of the events of 1922, with its façade containing bullet holes, which deliberately were not removed to remind people of its complex history.

Criminal Courts move

The Criminal Court of Justice will open fully in January 2010, with future criminal trials being held there. The Four Courts will be used for civil cases.


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