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Thread: Today in Irish History - May 25 1921 - The Burning of the Custom House

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    Default Today in Irish History - May 25 1921 - The Burning of the Custom House

    On this day in 1921, over 100 IRA Volunteers stormed the Custom House in Dublin, the centre of Local Government and burnt it.

    A great propaganda stroke for the Irish Republic's cabinet, who were engaged in behind the scenes talks for a truce.

    But also a rather cynical action that targeted an undefended building, one of the finest in Dublin, and which put at risk a large number of inexperienced and badly armed Volunteers and also the civilians who worked there. Five Volunteers and three civlians were killed. Over 80 Volunteers were captured.

    Article on it here Today in Irish History, The Burning of the Custom House, May 25, 1921 | The Irish Story

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    SeamusNapoleon
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    It's hard to judge, isn't it?

    A massive propaganda victory - aside from the actual destruction of administrative records - but at what cost; some of the best volunteers in Dublin were captured after that operation. Coming as late as it did in the conflict, it is hard to tell whether the amalgamation of the ASU-Squad men led to more effectiveness or not, particularly given the losses.

    Some close escapes as well, if I recall - Vinnie Byrne, for example, stuck a pencil behind his ear and took to the side-streets, playing the part of an apprentice tradesman (which he was) in a hurry; explaining to the Auxiliary who searched him that the note with '200 rs' on it found in his pocket meant 'roundels'.

    Ultimately, I think the operation - and Jordan's Michael Collins wasn't actually far off in this one - was down to De Valera's vanity in wishing to have 'his' army engage in respectable operations against the most powerful empire in the world. As he reportedly said not long before this assault:

    Ye are going too fast This odd shooting of a policeman here and there is having a very bad effect from the propaganda point of view, on us in America. What we want is one good battle about once a month with about 500 men on each side.

    Dwyer, T.R., The Squad, p.200
    Good article, by the way, setting the scene and then dipping into the broader context of the war.

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    My grandmother's brother and future brother-in-law were captured that day. Far from being inexperienced they were both ASU members and were both involved closely in Bloody Sunday; the brother-in-law as a trigger man and her brother in dumping the arms used in a Liberties safe house. A local Volunteer and member of the St. Josephs GAA club Edward Dorrins was killed in Beresford Place in attack on Auxiliaries who were on their way to the Custom House. There was unsucessful attempt to have Custom House Quay named after him at some stage. I think he is the body shown in the first photograph. Beresford Place was crescent terrace at the time.


    Excellent article by the way. Gives some flavour of the daily war of attrition waged by the Dubs against a massive occupation force. Espeically when one considers that there were swathes of the country with little or no military presence where hardly a shot was fired. Dubs and Munster boys won it
    Last edited by Seanie Lemass; 25th May 2012 at 12:20 PM.

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    Thanks. Yes for a change I think Michael Collins (the film) got this one largely right - it was de Valera who pushed for it.

    One other thing is that the desctruction of the building wiped out all local government records going back centuries, which, along with the Four Courts explosion, left a big hole in the historical records.

    I wonder if the experience of the Squad and ASU in this op had anything to do with them siding with the Free State in the civil war? I mean they were close to Collins anyway but the episode would hardly have endeared them to Dev.

    Tom Ennis and Paddy Daly and Paddy O'Connor, who are mentioned in the article, were all important National Army officers in the civil war. Daly infamoulsy was behind Ballyseedy.
    Last edited by JohnD66; 27th May 2012 at 01:33 AM. Reason: spelling

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seanie Lemass View Post
    My grandmother's brother and future brother-in-law were captured that day. Far from being inexperienced they were both ASU members and were both involved closely in Bloody Sunday; the brother-in-law as a trigger man and her brother in dumping the arms used in a Liberties safe house. A local Volunteer and member of the St. Josephs GAA club Edward Dorrins was killed in Beresford Place in attack on Auxiliaries who were on their way to the Custom House. There was unsucessful attempt to have Custom House Quay named after him at some stage. I think he is the body shown in the first photograph. Beresford Place was crescent terrace at the time.


    Excellent article by the way. Gives some flavour of the daily war of attrition waged by the Dubs against a massive occupation force. Espeically when one considers that there were swathes of the country with little or no military presence where hardly a shot was fired. Dubs and Munster boys won it
    They never seem to be remembered but the Longford brigade acquitted itself well too under the leadership of Sean McEoin !

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    It was probably one of the stupidest acts in the war.

    1. The British local government system was already barely functioning. So it was unnecessary.

    2. It did catastrophic damage to the IRA in Dublin, costing so many members. The aim may have been to damage British rule but as British rule in local government by then was hardly functioning on much of the island, the bigger damage was done to the IRA itself.

    3. It was a vanity project pushed by de Valera against all advice and proved as was predicted a Pyrrhic victory at best.

    4. It wiped out priceless records that were of no use in local government anymore but which were of immense importance to Ireland's heritage.

    5. It destroyed one of Dublin's finest buildings. As with the Four Courts, all we are left with now is the restored facade. The entire Gandon-designed interior was lost, along with all the records of what the interior was like.

    It was a classic example of the line 'with victories like that, who needs defeats?'
    "In [Ireland] a wife is regarded as a chattel, just as a thoroughbred mare or cow." Mr Justice Butler in the Irish courts. 'Traditional Marriage' in the 1970s.

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    A De Valera ego trip to prove he was doing something. A Phillistine act, priceless records destroyed like the Four Courts later.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SeamusNapoleon View Post
    It's hard to judge, isn't it?...

    Ultimately, I think the operation - and Jordan's Michael Collins wasn't actually far off in this one - was down to De Valera's vanity in wishing to have 'his' army engage in respectable operations against the most powerful empire in the world. As he reportedly said not long before this assault
    I'd be very much with you about the motivation of the operation. Dev never really "got" the war on the ground, from 1916 on. His sojourn in the US, while he learned much from it (of the politicking sort, that he later used very effectively) left him quite out of touch with the fighting as it had developed.

    There is a great psychological study waiting to be written about Dev. His innate longing for "respectability" was an enormous weak spot, which JC McQuaid later exploited, and for which the country suffered a great deal in many ways.

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    Quote Originally Posted by toconn View Post
    They never seem to be remembered but the Longford brigade acquitted itself well too under the leadership of Sean McEoin !


    I shall give you that! My Dub granny had instinctive dislike of people she considered to be 'draft dodgers'. All of Leinster outside of Dubline with the exemption maybe of Ballinalee!

    People do forget though that we Dubs fought them for 5 years in the face of huge odds. Every day from January 19 to the actual hour of the ceasefire in 21. Up the Dubs

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    Indeed. And while it is easy for people to slag us off now. We took them on. Several times. Easter, Bloody Sunday, Custom House. Full on. And evey day in between.

    We fkn beat them.


    Sent them home with their tail between their legs

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