A labyrinth of history. A medieval city under the shadow of a 13th century fortress. The centre of British rule in Ireland for 800 years and seat of British government since 1801. And yet, it is an Irish story and an Irish place – with a past that stretches back to Celtic times.
Located in the city center, not far from Dublin’s two main streets (O’Connell Street and Dame Street) and near Trinity College, it formed the administrative center of British rule in Ireland for centuries. For this reason Dublin Castle has been described as “the true centre of Irish political life”. Indeed it provided armed resistance to Britain during several Anglo-Irish wars before being captured during Easter Week 1916 after a prolonged siege involving heavy bombardment by artillery on one side and machine gun fire on a wide front from the other (Australian).
Dublin Castle forms the backdrop to the opening chapter in Bram Stoker’s gothic horror masterpiece, Dracula. It is also where, in 1941, British soldiers killed and buried an Irish republican youth during the Dublin “Bloody Sunday” massacre.
The castle was first built as a major defensive work around 1204 by Hugh de Lacy at the time of King John of England.
On entering the city at Kilmainham via O’Connell Street one still catches a glimpse of it between Nelson’s Pillar and Parnell Street – albeit apart from its keepers’ houses, only ruins remain today. It is one of the strongest surviving fortresses from that era.
The newest parts of the Castle (including St Patrick’s Hall) were built by James VI & I in the early 17th century, when he decided to construct a fortified town in front of the city walls, which were by then in an almost ruinous condition. The work was completed in 1684 and cost £230,000. It was during this time that the village of “Aphaelfa” – which later became “Ardee” – was founded to provide accommodation for English civil servants and their families.
The castle enclosure was bordered by almost a mile of city streets, mostly to the north, including Duke Street (now Pearse Street), Castle Street (now Castle Avenue), Church Street (now Rialto Street) and Dame Street. The southern part of the enclosure originally contained the barracks.
Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, it was agreed that Dublin Castle would become the base for the new Provisional Government led firstly by George Plunkett and then by W. T. Cosgrave. Éamon de Valera, President of the Republic, did not recognise the authority of the government by this time based in the castle. He instead chose to decommission his army and leave. The treaty was eventually ratified by both the British and Irish parliaments, resulting in the formal creation of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922. This day is now celebrated as “Republic Day”.
Following de Valera’s departure, Henry Mulcahy took over as Commandant until he was replaced in May 1922 by Sean MacEoin. This period saw a huge decline in activity at Dublin Castle. Those members of the government who were still using it had to work in makeshift quarters, such as members of the Council who met in a cold room at the back of a local business premises.
Early Government buildings were located between Oxmantown Mall and D’Olier Street. Members of Parliament also sat at St Patrick’s Hall when passing laws. The Civil War saw much fighting in Dublin and especially around Dublin Castle. One of the first casualties was the newly elected Lord Mayor Laurence O’Neill, gunned down by Free State troops while he was standing at a window in the castle lodge. As Dublin Castle fell, members of the Republican Executive escaped to the Four Courts where they resisted and were besieged until their surrender on 29 June 1922.
Many Irish nationalist leaders were imprisoned in Dublin Castle from 1916 to 1923. Those imprisoned there during Easter Week included: Éamon de Valera (then President of Dáil Éireann and now President of Ireland), Cathal Brugha, Patrick Pearse (who was Commandant-General), Constance Markievicz and James Connolly. They were released in the general amnesty which followed the war.
Some prisoners of later periods, such as Michael Collins and Harry Boland, were held here for a considerably longer period. At various times, Dublin Castle served as an army barracks (including during the Irish Civil War), police barracks, tax office, City Hall and seat of government. In 1970 it became the headquarters of the Dublin Corporation (now Dublin City Council).
In recent years Dublin Castle has featured heavily in television programmes such as “The Tudors”, “Moll Flanders”, “Love/Hate”, “The Borgias” and more recently “Vikings”.
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