Burning of Custom House

THE BURNING of the CUSTOM HOUSE in DUBLIN as told by Seamus Kiely.

John Beresford was the first commissioner of revenue for Ireland in 1780 In 1781 he appointed James Gandon as architect of the Custom House after Thomas Cooley the original architect on the project had died. A masterpiece of European Neo-Classicism It took 10 years to build and was completed in 1791. It was a fine reminder of Georgian Dublin with its impressive green dome which dominated the architecture of the city’s quays. The building was an iconic centre of British administration in Ireland.The Decision to launch an attack on the Custom House was the result of a call by Eamon DeValera for the I.R.A. to carry out a “Spectacular” Designed to strike at the heart of the British Empires Administration in Ireland.DeValera always believed publicity above all, was the most important way to succeed in a propaganda coup for Ireland and the I.R.A. His call was not supported by his arch Rival “Michael Collins” who saw no value what-so-ever in such an attack. Collins maintained it would place many I.R.A .volunteers in unnecessary danger and that any such attack was at odds with the organisations agreed policy of avoiding prolonged engagements with the much better armed crown forces.For over two years of the on-going War of Independence, Collins controlled all of the various instances around Ireland with his team of dedicated followers, Burning over 400 R.I.C. barracks. His “special squad “sorting out British spies and a multitude of other problems too numerous to mention. Working 14 to 16 hours a day to achieve the main goal, “The removal of the British Establishment out of Ireland once and for all.”However despite Collin’s protestations’, DeValera as usual got his way. Over 100 I.R.A. men took part in the operation. The vast majority of them belonging to the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade and some of Michael Collin’s infamous “special squad”. The burning of the Custom House was a total disaster for the I.R.A. in Dublin . 5/6 were killed in the operation and over 80 were arrested. The lives were needlessly lost and the I.R.A. numbers in Dublin were seriously depleted, leaving a sense of bitterness towards those who ordered the attack. The result did not sit well with many in the I.R.A. in Dublin all of whom felt they had been sacrificed on a fanciful DeValera whim who was, in their view, A Political Leader, who was very good at writing documents etc, but a man devoid of military acumen and realities. From that day onwards DeValera was NOT involved in any further military decisions during the War of Independence.The 2nd Battalion of the I.R.A. Dublin Brigade were decimated and it would take a long, long time to recover. There is no doubt that the attack was totally unnecessary and served no real military purpose. The Custom House was more or less totally destroyed as were hundreds of years of Valuable local government documents some of which were census of Ireland.Today the Majestic Custom House has been rebuilt by successive Irish governments to its present glory and still occupies a distinct and impressive position on the quays of Dublin and in now the Headquarters of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.DeValera the man who ordered the attack , went on to become a controversial figure during the final stages of the War of Independence The Treaty and the Civil War etc. etc. However on this day 24th May 100 years ago 1921 ,The Custom House was the epicentre of a confrontation between the I.R.A. and the forces of the Crown.