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Visiting the Four Courts, Dublin: neo-Classicism by Thomas Cooley and James Gandon, completed 1802

Updated on February 18, 2016
Flag of the Republic of Ireland
Flag of the Republic of Ireland | Source
The Four Courts, Dublin
The Four Courts, Dublin | Source
Map location of Dublin, Ireland
Map location of Dublin, Ireland | Source

Imposing symbol of the Republic's (and, formerly, the Crown's) laws

The legal function of this sedate and monumental, neo-Classical building in Dublin (Irish: Baile Átha Cliath), known as the Four Courts (Irish: Na Ceithre Cúirteanna), has been preserved for over two centuries, across the different constitutional traditions which Ireland has experienced over this period.

Some history and features

James Gandon (1743-1823)(1) is often — rightly — cited as architect of this remarkable edifice. In fact, the originally designated architect was Thomas Cooley, who worked on the building from 1776 until his death in 1784, when he was replaced by Architect Gandon.

Among the most prominent features of the Four Courts is a massive, circular, domed colonnade. Its portico with six Corinthian columns is also highly conspicuous.

The name Four Courts is derived from the former presence, under the British Crown, of the following four institutions: the Court of Chancery, the Court of King's Bench, the Court of Exchequer and the Court of Common Pleas. Today, under Ireland's Republican constitution, the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court are based at the Four Courts; the Central Criminal Court was also formerly based here.

In the decade prior to 1932, the venue of the Four Courts' legal functions removed to Dublin Castle, following damage sustained during the Irish War of Independence. In 1922, anti-Treaty Republicans occupied the Four Courts and the Free State government, under heavy British pressure, sought successfully to dislodge them, but not before major damage had been sustained by the building, which took years to repair. While the Four Courts had previously been strongly redolent of British Crown symbolism, it also features in the annals of Irish Republican history, not only because of its occupation by Republicans in 1922, but because at Easter, 1916, the Republican 1st Battalion, led by Commandant Edward Daly (1891-1916) — later executed — , also occupied the building. In 1970, an event, often referred to as the Arms Trial (Irish: Triail na nArm) was held with the Four Courts as a backdrop, with several defendants (2) charged with running arms to Northern Ireland.

The Four Courts are situated at Dublin's Inn's Quay (Irish: Cé Na Gcúirteanna). The building overlooks the Liffey River (Irish: An Life), and, floodlit at night, offers an imposing spectacle, viewed from the riverside.


(1) Other of Architect Gandon's works include the old Parliament Building (Irish: Tithe na Parlaiminte) —now occupied by the Bank of Ireland —, the Custom House (Irish: Teach an Chustaim) —also situated beside the Liffey —, and Abbeville, former residence of the late Irish Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey.

(2) Defendants included former Finance minister and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who was acquitted, former minister Neil Blaney, charges against whom were dropped, and Irish army officer Captain James Kelly, also acquitted.

Also worth seeing

Among Dublin 's many visitor attractions are included: Dublin Castle (Irish: Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath), Trinity College (Irish: Coláiste na Tríonóide), Leinster House (Irish: Teach Laighean), Government Buildings (Irish: Tithe an Rialtais), Merrion Square (Irish: Cearnóg Mhuirfean), the General Post Office (Irish: Ard-Oifig an Phoist) on O'Connell Street (Irish: Sráid Uí Chonaill), and many others.


How to get there: Aer Lingus flies from New York and Boston to Dublin Airport (Irish: Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath), from where car rental is available. Car parking can be difficult in Dublin City centre and a good way to get around the city is by Dublin Bus (Irish: Bus Átha Cliath) Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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