Compliments from a Four Courts’ Prisoner, 1916

From the Irish Independent, 15 May 1916:


Captain RK Brereton, JP, Ladywell, Athlone, relating his experiences in Dublin during the rising, states that he motored through the Phoenix Park on Easter Monday evening, and was taken prisoner by the Sinn Feiners at a barricade near the Four Courts, being informed that “war had been declared with the British;” that “three contingents of Germans were landing in Dublin” and “that the Irish regiments had refused to turn out.” 

He and his chauffeur were received at the Four Courts by Captain Fahey, and were confined in King’s Bench Court No 2, where they were joined by other prisoners – an officer; an army chaplain, a retired militia officer in plain clothes, three DMP constables, a private soldier, and 3 civilians.  They were allowed accommodation in the Judges’ room, and were given “tea” and bread.

The prisoners were kept in the same quarters until the following Friday, their captors being, said Captain Brereton, “increasingly kind and civil”.  The shutters on the windows were closed most of the time, and the electric light was turned on. 

On Friday they were removed to a passage to save them from expected shell fire.  Later they were placed in a room looking across to the Metropolitan Bridewell.  Their release came at 6 p.m. on Saturday, when Captain Brereton found the insurgents with a Friar, who was very active, passing their rifles to the soldiers outside the railings, where they were duly piled on the street. 

The insurgents – about 150 – afterwards formed up and were moved off under military escort. The Captain and his fellow-prisoners went, also under escort, to the Royal Barracks, where they were hospitably entertained.  He recovered his motor car, which was looted – but not, he says, by the Sinn Feiners.

What impressed Captain Brereton most was “the international military tone adopted by the Sinn Fein officers.”   “They were not” he declares “out for massacre, for burning or for loot.  They were out for war, observing all the rules of civilised warfare and fighting clean.  So far as I saw they fought like gentlemen.  They had possession of the restaurant in the Courts stocked with spirits and champagne and other wines, yet there was no sign of drinking.  I was informed that they were all total abstainers.  They treated their prisoners with the utmost courtesy and consideration – in fact, they proved by their conduct what they were – men of education, incapable of acts of brutality, though, also misguided and fed up with lies and false expectations.

To Captains Daly and Fahey, Lieutenants McGuinness and Duggan and their Sergeant-Major, Captain Brereton expressed gratitude for their generous treatment of him and his fellow prisoners.”

You can read more at the wonderful Bar of Ireland 1916 Heritage Project which explains the background to the 1916 Rising, and gives the names of a number of descendants of the Sinn Fein officers above who subsequently became members of the Law Library.

For those looking for a longer read, Professor Paul O’Brien’s book ‘Crossfire: the Battle for the Four Courts, 1916,” contains a comprehensive account of the events that took place in the Four Courts and its vicinity during the 1916 Rising.

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.