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Thread: 30th June 1922 - The day a part of Irish History vanished forever

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    Default 30th June 1922 - The day a part of Irish History vanished forever

    This Thread is not intended for the debate of the pro or anti Treaty aspect of the Irish Civil War (1922-23). That can be done elsewhere.

    On 30th June 1922, following the prior occupation of the Four Courts by anti Treaty forces and subsequent shelling of the location by pro Treaty forces, an explosion occurred at the Irish Public Records Office located in the western block of the Four Courts, resulting in the permanent destruction of centuries of Irish state and religious archives.

    This (though of course at that particular point in time would have have been overshadowed by the crisis the country was facing) was a terrible and saddening day - when centuries of documentation vanished as can never be replaced.

    Looking at this unfortunate occurrence purely from the view of significant genealogical documentation which became non-existent within "seconds", as far as I know the following were lost;

    1. The surviving 19th century census returns,
    2. Approx 2/3 of pre-1870 Church of Ireland parish registers
    3. All surviving wills probated in Ireland.

    However, what did survive were I believe;

    1. Records as had been contained in the Public Records Office Reading Room before the outbreak of hostilites.
    2. Records as would not have been exclusively or indeed possibly contained in the Public Records Office, such as non-Church of Ireland parish records, civil records of births, marriages and deaths, property records and later censuses.
    3. Abstracts, Transcripts and Fragments of the originals (which said originals vanished forever).

    No doubt to those of you interested in Family History, Genealogy, etc, you may have come across in your endeavours the fact of various "links" not being ascertainable due to this reason. Personally and being from the South and having researched the family history for many years (the existence of O'Kief, Coshe Mange has been invaluable) but when it came to checking Census Returns for the 1800s, which would have been somewhat helpful, the spectre of the Four Courts unfortunately manifested itself.

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    A very sad loss.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ah Well View Post
    This Thread is not intended for the debate of the pro or anti Treaty aspect of the Irish Civil War (1922-23). That can be done elsewhere.

    On 30th June 1922, following the prior occupation of the Four Courts by anti Treaty forces and subsequent shelling of the location by pro Treaty forces, an explosion occurred at the Irish Public Records Office located in the western block of the Four Courts, resulting in the permanent destruction of centuries of Irish state and religious archives.

    This (though of course at that particular point in time would have have been overshadowed by the crisis the country was facing) was a terrible and saddening day - when centuries of documentation vanished as can never be replaced.

    Looking at this unfortunate occurrence purely from the view of significant genealogical documentation which became non-existent within "seconds", as far as I know the following were lost;

    1. The surviving 19th century census returns,
    2. Approx 2/3 of pre-1870 Church of Ireland parish registers
    3. All surviving wills probated in Ireland.

    However, what did survive were I believe;

    1. Records as had been contained in the Public Records Office Reading Room before the outbreak of hostilites.
    2. Records as would not have been exclusively or indeed possibly contained in the Public Records Office, such as non-Church of Ireland parish records, civil records of births, marriages and deaths, property records and later censuses.
    3. Abstracts, Transcripts and Fragments of the originals (which said originals vanished forever).

    No doubt to those of you interested in Family History, Genealogy, etc, you may have come across in your endeavours the fact of various "links" not being ascertainable due to this reason. Personally and being from the South and having researched the family history for many years (the existence of O'Kief, Coshe Mange has been invaluable) but when it came to checking Census Returns for the 1800s, which would have been somewhat helpful, the spectre of the Four Courts unfortunately manifested itself.
    Thank you for posting that. I regard what happened as a war crime. I am not commenting on the occupation or the bombardment. The Public Records Office were stored in a sealed basement that was designed to survive even if the Four Courts above went on fire, was bombed, or whatever. Frankly the basement was so well sealed that apparently it could have survived the entire destruction of the building above. It practically would have survived a nuclear explosion. According to historians who interviewed the Irregulars, an order was given by Rory O'Connor to go down to the basement and boobytrap the records, placing bombs against the shelves in the expectation that after the Free State bombardment Free State Troops would enter the archives to make sure there were no Irregulars down there, and be killed in the explosion.

    I know one historian who researched the issue, and who is himself a Republican, said that the bombardment was only authorised after it had been established that the bombardment could not impact on the priceless archives stored below. It was presumed also that no-one in the Irregulars would touch them either. There was disbelief among Republican leaders when they heard that O'Connor had ordered the boobytrapping of the records. It was only when they got to talk to those in the building a long time afterwards that it was confirmed that it had been a deliberate act of in effect cultural genocide by O'Connor, some of whose men pleaded with him not to boobytrap the country's irreplaceable records. De Valera told Cosgrave years later that if he had had his way (in reality in the civil war de Valera was powerless), and O'Connor would have been courtmarshalled and shot for the crime he had perpetrated. (O'Connor was executed anyway by the Free State in reprisal for the assassination of a TD.)

    I know the destruction has caused major problems for me in doing family research. I can trace my mother's family back to 1688 because my a fluke some documentation from my mother's parish somehow survived the destruction, one of only a handful of things to survive. (A local Church of Ireland rector did regular local censuses of Catholics and Protestants, being an amateur historian. A friend who owned the local estate paid for them.) Somehow in the firestorm that resulted when the bombs went off the box containing his local census records survived. The heat was so intense metal boxes melted, but his box was cardboard and survived!!!) In contrast I can go back on my father's side only to the early 19th century.

    It is important to mention though that the absence of census returns is not entirely the fault of that destruction. Some numbskull of a civil servant in the Chief Secretary's Office for some reason had authorised the destruction of census records from 1821 to 1871 during World War I. (Apparently the idiot thought that some space could be saved by destroying the records. With that sort of stupidity he belongs in the Pantheon of Idiots alongside Kevin Boland - for his authorisation of the destruction of Georgian houses in Dublin -and more recently the idiots r(Ahern, Roche et al) responsible for building a motorway through the Tara-Skyrne Valley.) The actions of O'Connor destroyed the 1881 and 1891 records, all other parish census returns, wills, treaties, and almost everything else.

    Bosnia suffered a similar calamity in the 1990s when its records were all burnt.

    One important fact to remember for today: our National Archives (formed by Garret FitzGerald from the merger of the Public Records Office and the State Paper Office) is housed in a converted biscuit factory. It is no longer suitable. There is insufficient room, and there is a serious danger that a fire might break out and destroy our remaining records. FF in the last 10 years refused to spend money repairing the building or moving them to a more suitable location that has 21st century storage facilities. If our surviving records are destroyed by a fire or something, Cowen and his imbecilic government will go down in history alongside O'Connor for an act of criminal stupidity that will never be forgotten.
    Last edited by TommyO'Brien; 10th May 2009 at 03:32 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TommyO'Brien View Post
    Thank you for posting that. I regard what happened as a war crime....O'Connor had ordered the boobytrapping of the records.... a deliberate act of in effect cultural genocide by O'Connor, some of whose men pleaded with him not to boobytrap the country's irreplaceable records......
    Is this true?

    The anti-treaty forces in the Four Courts maintained that the explosion was caused by an accidental detonation of the explosives that they stored in the archives. The only sources stating that it was a deliberate booby trapping was the Irish Army who would have been keen to use the accident as propaganda against the IRA and also avoid allegations that they were in some way responsible/ Oh, and there was TM Healy, rabidly pro treaty.

    Also, the lack of Army casulties in the assault on the four courts suggests that there wasn't many or indeed any booby traps set. As to how well the basement was sealed, well we don't know what was left lying around in the corridors lead up to the doors etc. Presumably fire proof doors would presumably have been left open to allow ease of access during the fighting.

    I think that to say the use of artillary on the building, including incindary shells definately had nothing to do with it is a partisan falsehood at worst or inadvertantly perpetrating anti-IRA propaganda from the 1920's at best. It takes two to tango as they say and there is a destint lack of unbiased evidence one way or the other. So get down off your cross or provide more convincing evidence that unsubstantiated anecdotes. The Dev/Cosgrave conversation in particular is very interesting to me. I'd love to know where this was supposed to have happened.
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    Quote Originally Posted by shutuplaura View Post
    Is this true?

    The anti-treaty forces in the Four Courts maintained that the explosion was caused by an accidental detonation of the explosives that they stored in the archives. The only sources stating that it was a deliberate booby trapping was the Irish Army who would have been keen to use the accident as propaganda against the IRA and also avoid allegations that they were in some way responsible/ Oh, and there was TM Healy, rabidly pro treaty.

    Also, the lack of Army casulties in the assault on the four courts suggests that there wasn't many or indeed any booby traps set. As to how well the basement was sealed, well we don't know what was left lying around in the corridors lead up to the doors etc. Presumably fire proof doors would presumably have been left open to allow ease of access during the fighting.

    I think that to say the use of artillary on the building, including incindary shells definately had nothing to do with it is a partisan falsehood at worst or inadvertantly perpetrating anti-IRA propaganda from the 1920's at best. It takes two to tango as they say and there is a destint lack of unbiased evidence one way or the other. So get down off your cross or provide more convincing evidence that unsubstantiated anecdotes. The Dev/Cosgrave conversation in particular is very interesting to me. I'd love to know where this was supposed to have happened.
    The source of information is an academic I know who interviewed people who had been there for a book he in the end didn't publish on the issue of the conduct of the Civil War. Too many people gave him too much information that they would not let him use except for personal insight to enable the book to proceed. (So much of what happened in that war is surrounded by 'you can't quote me but . . .' background knowledge it is frustrating for historians. The war time generation didn't want to stir old memories, and re-open old emnities by going on the record about things.) The academic in question is quite republican - I'd guess he would have been an anti-treatyite if alive in the 1920s! - but gets really angry when discussing what men in the garrison told him, specificially how they were ordered to attach boobytraps to the wooden shelving storing the records. He was left in no doubt but that it was a deliberate action. O'Connor presumed the Free State soldiers would have to go down there and would all be massacred in the inferno that would result. He was more interested in killing Free Staters than in any concern for the priceless records in the building.

    He was also told that the records were in perfect nick when the shelling ended and the destroyed building was evacuated. It seems that one of the boobytraps was triggered possibly by something falling off a shelf - it could have been a bit of dust or something. It set off others and set off the stored explosions (as had been the plan). No-one as far as I know was physically in the place when the explosion happened, but 1000 years of archives were blown to smithereens. One piece of a parchment roll with the year 1401 crashed into a street way up in Stoneybatter but was unsalvageable - a kid who saw it burning saw the year written on a casing around it.

    The conversation between de Valera and Cosgrave occurred circa 1963 in Áras an Uachtaráin. The two men had been very close friends (practically best friends) before the treaty but were barely on speaking terms for decades afterwards. In the early 1960s they once again became friends, shocking people who knew them and didn't know they were friends again when at a reception in the Áras the two of them stood laughing and joking together. (The room apparently went quiet as everyone turned to see what was all the laughter about, and saw to their disbelief Cosgrave and de Valera almost crumpled up in laughter as they discussed a close escape the Republic's cabinet had when the army raided the house they were in. De Valera was joking to Cosgrave about looking back and seeing Cosgrave desparately trying to run carring a pile of papers that one by one he was dropping, while Cosgrave was slagging off de Valera about how Brugha was in such a state of frenzy over something that he almost forgot to run til Collins grabbed him and dragged him to the exit.)

    He didn't tell me who his source was for the conversation. It may well have been one of de Valera's sons - he knew Vivion well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TommyO'Brien View Post
    The source of information is an academic I know who interviewed people who had been there for a book he in the end didn't publish on the issue of the conduct of the Civil War. Too many people gave him too much information that they would not let him use except for personal insight to enable the book to proceed. (So much of what happened in that war is surrounded by 'you can't quote me but . . .' background knowledge it is frustrating for historians. The war time generation didn't want to stir old memories, and re-open old emnities by going on the record about things.) The academic in question is quite republican - I'd guess he would have been an anti-treatyite if alive in the 1920s! - but gets really angry when discussing what men in the garrison told him, specificially how they were ordered to attach boobytraps to the wooden shelving storing the records. He was left in no doubt but that it was a deliberate action. O'Connor presumed the Free State soldiers would have to go down there and would all be massacred in the inferno that would result. He was more interested in killing Free Staters than in any concern for the priceless records in the building.

    He was also told that the records were in perfect nick when the shelling ended and the destroyed building was evacuated. It seems that one of the boobytraps was triggered possibly by something falling off a shelf - it could have been a bit of dust or something. It set off others and set off the stored explosions (as had been the plan). No-one as far as I know was physically in the place when the explosion happened, but 1000 years of archives were blown to smithereens. One piece of a parchment roll with the year 1401 crashed into a street way up in Stoneybatter but was unsalvageable - a kid who saw it burning saw the year written on a casing around it.

    The conversation between de Valera and Cosgrave occurred circa 1963 in Áras an Uachtaráin. The two men had been very close friends (practically best friends) before the treaty but were barely on speaking terms for decades afterwards. In the early 1960s they once again became friends, shocking people who knew them and didn't know they were friends again when at a reception in the Áras the two of them stood laughing and joking together. (The room apparently went quiet as everyone turned to see what was all the laughter about, and saw to their disbelief Cosgrave and de Valera almost crumpled up in laughter as they discussed a close escape the Republic's cabinet had when the army raided the house they were in. De Valera was joking to Cosgrave about looking back and seeing Cosgrave desparately trying to run carring a pile of papers that one by one he was dropping, while Cosgrave was slagging off de Valera about how Brugha was in such a state of frenzy over something that he almost forgot to run til Collins grabbed him and dragged him to the exit.)

    He didn't tell me who his source was for the conversation. It may well have been one of de Valera's sons - he knew Vivion well.
    Hi Tommy, thanks for your reply. Don't get me wrong, If the Anti-Treaty side really caused the explosion I'd like to know but so much of the evidence sounds like propaganda put about by the pro-treaty side that I feel obliged to question it. I mean without a definitive statement from someone saying that yes they booby trapped the lace or yes they heard someone give an order then its always massively open to question.

    You mention that you've heard sources but you can't name them. Now you'll have to understand that I'm not obliged to take your word for it.
    Given the other factors known (the building was on fire and after being shelled. there was chaos in the building for hours before surrender and lots of stuff could have been left lying all over the place etc) its as least likely that the explosion was not caused by booby traps. Its even possible that the explosion was cause by an accidental detonation of unstable explosives. Basically, it seems in the absence of this evidence you claim to have heard that it was either a terrible accident or the joint responsibility of both parties involved in the fighting (this by the way is the answer I perfer, not blaming O'Connor on his own)..

    You mention that O 'Connor trying to kill as many soldiers as possible - well he did a bad job to begin with. Why did he surrender if his sole intention was to kill free state soldiers?
    Then there is the whole reasoning behind it. Why surrender and leave booby traps in place when your captors will be in an excellent position to exact retribution for any losses they incur in defusing them? In the desert campaign in WW2 after Bardia fell to the Australians the Aussie brigadier told the captured German commander that he knew that the town was heavily mined and one German would be kiled for each of his men lost to these mines unless the commander gave details of where they were planted. In the messy Civil war in '22 then O'Connor and his men would have expected the same treatment and we know the Irish Army was well capable of doing such things.

    Then there is the fact noone was inside the building at the time. Now fair enough it seems logical that the army would have pulled back if they knew the place was mined but did they try and find out where the mines were set. But really, why would a trap have gone off on its own with noone even in the same building? A shelf falling? Do archival shelves just fall?

    I knew Dev and Cosgrave became friends in later life. The thing about Dev and O'Connor seems not so clear cut though. At the beginning of the Civil war the Anti-treaty forces were fragmented with the Four Courts Group being effectively outside of the ordinary IRA structure. Dev was struggling for control of the Anti-Treaty side and wasn't getting too much support from those guys in there so he wouldn't have much time for placing O'Connor in a good light. We know from Dev's actions in sending others off to negotiate the treaty that he wasn't fond of taking the blame for anything. He sounds to me like someone trying to shift the blame for the Civil War onto the shoulders of those loose cannons in the Four Courts in 1922.
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    Quote Originally Posted by shutuplaura View Post
    You mention that O 'Connor trying to kill as many soldiers as possible - well he did a bad job to begin with. Why did he surrender if his sole intention was to kill free state soldiers?
    The belief apparently was that in surrendering he could expect that they would go to the basement to see if any of the archives had been damaged, and to see if there were any Irregulars hiding out down there, trigger off the boobytrap and kill all the Free State soldiers anywhere down below or above, as the basement collapsed in. It was apparently intended to kill a large number of unsuspecting soldiers who he presumed would have presumed that no-one would have been as stupid and reckless as to boobytrap Ireland's priceless archives.

    Then there is the whole reasoning behind it. Why surrender and leave booby traps in place when your captors will be in an excellent position to exact retribution for any losses they incur in defusing them? In the desert campaign in WW2 after Bardia fell to the Australians the Aussie brigadier told the captured German commander that he knew that the town was heavily mined and one German would be kiled for each of his men lost to these mines unless the commander gave details of where they were planted. In the messy Civil war in '22 then O'Connor and his men would have expected the same treatment and we know the Irish Army was well capable of doing such things.

    Then there is the fact noone was inside the building at the time. Now fair enough it seems logical that the army would have pulled back if they knew the place was mined but did they try and find out where the mines were set. But really, why would a trap have gone off on its own with noone even in the same building? A shelf falling? Do archival shelves just fall?
    Shelves don't fall, but the building had taken a pounding. All it would take is for one thing to fall, one sheet of paper that was on the edge to tumble, one bit of stonework from the vaulted roof to fall, a few grains of dried concrete from the ceiling to drop down, at the wrong spot and it would trigger one boobytrap to go off. Or the bomb could have malfunctioned. The historian (sorry, I am not posting his name simply because I'd have to check first with him as he has never written it up, but he once showed he is early draft of something he wrote but never published.)

    I knew Dev and Cosgrave became friends in later life. The thing about Dev and O'Connor seems not so clear cut though. At the beginning of the Civil war the Anti-treaty forces were fragmented with the Four Courts Group being effectively outside of the ordinary IRA structure. Dev was struggling for control of the Anti-Treaty side and wasn't getting too much support from those guys in there so he wouldn't have much time for placing O'Connor in a good light. We know from Dev's actions in sending others off to negotiate the treaty that he wasn't fond of taking the blame for anything. He sounds to me like someone trying to shift the blame for the Civil War onto the shoulders of those loose cannons in the Four Courts in 1922.
    Yes that was how de Valera often operated. The claim that it was O'Connor is not based on de Valera's word alone, but on people who had been there among the Irregulars and who the historian had spoken to. They said the boobytrapping was deliberate. They said it was O'Connor's decision. One of them supposedly said his biggest regret in his life was not stopping it, or of warning the Free State army that the place was boobytrapped and see if they could have somehow disarmed them without blowing up the records. He said to the historian he felt ashamed as he was a lover of history and that his colleagues had done to Irish history what Henry VIII did to the monasteries and would always have it on his conscience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TommyO'Brien View Post
    The belief apparently was that in surrendering he could expect that they would go to the basement to see if any of the archives had been damaged, and to see if there were any Irregulars hiding out down there, trigger off the boobytrap and kill all the Free State soldiers anywhere down below or above, as the basement collapsed in. It was apparently intended to kill a large number of unsuspecting soldiers who he presumed would have presumed that no-one would have been as stupid and reckless as to boobytrap Ireland's priceless archives.
    That as I said before doesn't ring true - you want to kill them so you set boopby traps and surrender?? Also, like I said its a big risk planting booby traps then placing yourself at the mercy of your enemy by surrendering.



    Quote Originally Posted by TommyO'Brien View Post
    Shelves don't fall, but the building had taken a pounding. All it would take is for one thing to fall, one sheet of paper that was on the edge to tumble, one bit of stonework from the vaulted roof to fall, a few grains of dried concrete from the ceiling to drop down, at the wrong spot and it would trigger one boobytrap to go off. Or the bomb could have malfunctioned. The historian (sorry, I am not posting his name simply because I'd have to check first with him as he has never written it up, but he once showed he is early draft of something he wrote but never published.)
    So the place had been affected by the artillary after all??? Then why couldn't this pounding have been responsible for causing a fire - a candle or electrial fault etc? Then the blame becomes that of the national Army. I don't think the army were as concerned about the archives as you suggest, and having started the sholoting war and used artillary on the place, don't se how you can't at least conceed that they should shoulder some responsibility at least.

    That being said though, if you have any proof through your academic friend that they did booby trap the archives then I stand corrected. I'll take you at your word that you believe this to be the case but personally, I don't think this evidence exists, at least not in the manner you are suggesting - that someone was given clear cut instructions to booby trap the archives in such a way as to ensure their destruction. I guess in the absense of this evidence though there is little more to be said.

    About O'Connor though, he had his enemies thats for sure. He was a politician, what pol doesn't? I'm sure others besides Dev had their reasons for attacking him, rightly or wrongly.
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    Whatever happened, it was a tragic event in Irish history. A real shame.

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    I remember coming across a note in the Mulcahy Records out in UCD [held on microfilm] that the Free State forces planned to shell the building and blow the Republican ammo depot sky high.Why does no one ever mention that?

    But ******************** happens in wartime and IMO this was one of them.

    Anyway as someone above has pointed out a lot of the Census returns were pulped anyway esp during the Great War in order to save paper!


    Britain also lost priceless information of historical importance because of this mind boggling decision making


    However one question that does tell against the Republicans wilfully setting off such a huge Explosion and that is of course they were right on top or beside it.


    As they were not engaged in a fight to the death why on Earth would anyone wilfully trigger such an that could very well have sent them all to Eternity?
    Last edited by Catalpa; 28th March 2012 at 09:31 AM.

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