On April 14, 1922 a column of 200 men led by Rory O’Connor occupies the Four Courts, hoping to provoke an armed confrontation with British forces which are in the process of evacuating from Ireland following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty the previous winter which had split the Irish Republican Army (IRA) into two opposing factions. The occupation is a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the Provisional government who seeks a smooth transition to a viable independent Irish state in the 26 counties of southern Ireland.
On June 22 Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson is gunned down by two IRA assassins and on June 26, the Free State Army Deputy Chief of Staff General J.J. O’Connell is kidnapped by the Four Courts IRA garrison. Michael Collins has also shipped guns issued by the British to arm the new Irish Army to Northern IRA units to defend themselves from Ulster loyalists.
Collins, no longer able to resist British pressure, receives two 18-pounder artillery guns and a stock of 200 artillery shells from the store at Kilmainham. The guns are set up at Parliament Street and Winetavern Street and Bridgefoot Street and Usher’s Quay across the River Liffey from the facade of the heavily fortified Four Courts where the Anti-Treaty IRA has barricaded themselves. Free State troops establish a cordon around the building, closing streets with riflemen and machine gunners occupying windows and rooftops. Among the IRA leaders inside are Chief-of-Staff Joe McKelvey, Director of Engineering Rory O’Connor, Quarter Master General Liam Mellows, commander of the IRA’s 2nd Southern Division Ernie O’Malley, Commandant Paddy O’Brien, Commandant Tom Barry and many others. The IRA mostly drawn from 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 1st Dublin Brigade are armed with rifles, five Thompson submachine guns and two Lewis machine guns as well as an armoured car nicknamed “The Mutineer.”
The bombardment begins on June 28 as artillery guns supervised by Emmet Dalton begin blasting the Four Courts at point blank range every fifteen minutes from across the River Liffey. The complex of buildings also comes under a hail of rifle and machine gun fire. However the strong stone walls of the 18th century Four Courts hold out. A number of the shells overshoot their target and land near General McCready’s British Army headquarters. IRA leader Ernie O’Malley later claims to have witnessed a gun crew fighting a duel with a sniper in the dome of the courts. The failures of the first day lead the impatient British to offer two more 18-pounders as well as heavy howitzers and aircraft in order to destroy the Four Courts once an for all.
On the 29th, Free State troops storm the eastern wing of the Four Courts, suffering three fatalities, 14 wounded and taking 33 prisoners. The republicans’ armored car, “The Mutineer,” is disabled and abandoned by its crew. Early the following day Paddy O’Brien is injured by shrapnel and Ernie O’Malley takes over military command in the Four Courts. By this time the shelling has caused the Four Courts to catch fire. In addition, orders arrive from Oscar Traynor, the anti-treaty IRA commander in Dublin, for the Four Courts garrison to surrender, as he is unable to reach their position to help them. At 3:30 PM on June 30, O’Malley surrenders the Four Courts to Brig. Gen. Paddy Daly of the Free State’s Dublin Guard unit.