Bomb Outrages in the Four Courts, 1893

From the Globe, 7 May 1893:

“At about 20 minutes to 11 o’clock at night a serious explosion occurred at the Four Courts, Dublin.  The substance, whatever it may have been, and it is generally believed to have been glycerine encased in a metallic vessel, was evidently thrown by some person passing along the quay, who carefully selected the time, and kept a close watch on the movements of the police.”

The scene of the explosion, visited the following day by thousands of people. was the south west corner of the eastern quadrangle of the Four Courts, near the road railings and close to the chambers of the Lord Chief Justice, Mr Justice Johnson, Mr Justice Holmes and Mr Justice Murphy.  Thankfully no one was injured, but over three hundred panes of glass were broken.

The incident, had an interesting sequel, reported in the Dublin Evening Post of the following month.

“On the 2nd June 1893 Mr PA O’Doherty BL of 30 Mespil Road was walking through the Solicitors’ Building in the Four Courts when he found a large coffee canister on the ground, which he handed to a nearby policeman.  The canister was later examined by an explosive expert at Mr Samuel Boyd’s drug store in Mary Street, who said it was a detonator charged with fulminate of mercury.”

As an added touch, the canister contained some brown paper painted in watercolour with the words “Remember Judge Murphy.” Mr Justice Murphy had prosecuted in the Phoenix Park Murder trials, and the earlier explosion had taken place on the anniversary of the murders.

The Irish Independent stated that anyone who had trodden on the canister would have been killed on the spot, and that many additional lives might have been lost had it exploded when the courts had been sitting.   It was also suggested that the canister might have been lying in the rather dark passage for some time, having been left there to explode simultaneously with the earlier bomb. 

There were no more bombs in the Four Courts for another generation, although on one occasion a barrister succeeded in causing a mass exodus from the Law Library fire by dramatically flinging into it a mysterious but innocuous substance initially feared to be explosive. The case of Wilkinson v Downton comes to mind!

We all owe a debt of gratitude to quick-thinking and public-spirited Mr O’Doherty – one of the Irish Bar’s unsung heroes!

Image Credit: Dublin Evening Telegraph, 8 May 1893. The ‘X’ marks the location of the first device.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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