The Four Courts (Irish: Na Ceithre Cúirteanna[1]) is Ireland's main courts building, located on Inns Quay in Dublin. The Four Courts is the location of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court. Until 2010 the building also housed the Central Criminal Court; this is now located in the Criminal Courts of Justice.

Court structure

The building originally housed the four courts of Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas, giving the name to the building.

Under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877, these four courts were replaced by the Court of Appeal, presided by the Lord Chancellor, and the High Court of Justice, presided by Lord Chief Justice, but the building has retained its historic name.

Under the Courts of Justice Act 1924, courts were established for the new Irish Free State with the Supreme Court of Justice, presided by the Chief Justice, replacing the Court of Appeal and a reconstituted High Court of Justice, presided by the President of the High Court, continuing the jurisdiction of the old High Court. The Constitution of Ireland in 1937 provided that courts would be established in a manner provided by the Constitution; this did not in fact occur until the implementation of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act 1961. The Supreme Court and High Court (now dropping "of Justice" from their title) established under this act continued the jurisdiction of the courts established under the 1924 Act.

A new Court of Appeal was established in 2014, following a referendum in 2013, taking over the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the old Court of Criminal Appeal. Its civil division sits in the Four Courts.

Gandon's Building

Part of the original Gandon-designed interior decoration of the dome, lost in the 1922 destruction

Work based on the design of Thomas Cooley for the Public Records Office of Ireland, began in 1776. After his death in 1784 renowned architect James Gandon was appointed to finish the building, which we recognise today as the Four Courts. It was built between 1786 and 1796, while the finishing touches to the arcades and wings were completed in 1802.[2] The lands were previously used by the King's Inns.

Easter Rising

The Four Courts and surrounding areas were held by Commandant Edward Daly's 1st Battalion during the Easter Rising in 1916. Some of the most intense fighting of Easter Week took place in the Church Street/North King Street/North Brunswick Street area. At the end of the week the Four Courts building itself became the headquarters of the 1st Battalion.

Destruction in Civil War

The Four Courts on fire during the Civil War

On 14 April 1922 the courts complex was occupied by IRA forces opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, led by Rory O'Connor. On 27 June the new National Army attacked the building to dislodge the rebels, on the orders of the Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy, authorised by President of Dáil Éireann Arthur Griffith.[3] This provoked a week of fighting in Dublin. In the process of the bombardment the historic building was destroyed. The west wing of the building was obliterated in a huge explosion, destroying the Irish Public Record Office at the rear of the building. Nearly a thousand years of archives were destroyed by this.

O'Connor's forces were accused of mining the records office; however, those present, who included future Taoiseach Seán Lemass, said that, while they had used the archive as a store of their ammunition, they had not deliberately mined it. They suggest that the explosion was caused by the accidental detonation of their ammunition store during the fighting.[3]

Reopening in 1932

The Four Courts, Dublin.
The Four Courts at Inns Quay

For a decade after the destruction of the Civil War, the courts sat in the old viceregal apartments in Dublin Castle. In 1932, a rebuilt and remodelled Four Courts was opened. However, much of the decorative interior of the original building had been lost and, in the absence of documentary archives (some of which had been in the Public Records Office and others of which were among the vast amount of legal records lost also), and also because the new state did not have the funds, the highly decorative interior was not replaced. Two side wings were rebuilt further from the river to undo the problem caused by excessively narrow footpaths outside the building. However, that change, and the removal of chimney-stacks, removed some of the architectural unity and effect planned by Gandon in 1796.

Criminal Courts of Justice

Prior to 2010 both civil and criminal trials were heard in the Four Courts, which was also the location of the Court of Criminal Appeal. When the Criminal Courts of Justice near the Phoenix Park opened in January 2010 all criminal trials were transferred there.[4][5] The Four Courts remain in use for civil matters.[4] The criminal division of the Court of Appeal also sits in the Criminal Courts of Justice.

The are plans to relocate the Supreme Court to a new purpose-built building near the Four Courts, to open in 2020.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Michal Boleslav Mechura (10 December 2006). "Uimhreacha Na Gaeilge" (PDF) (in Irish). p. 12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 June 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011. Original historic use of the plural form: use of the singular form is a relatively new habit. Even at the beginning of the twentieth century speakers had the choice of using the plural form also, and many survivals of that usage are seen at the present time, particularly in proper names: na Ceithre Cuirteanna, for example, is said, even though na Ceithre Chúirt would be more correct according to current language rules. 
  2. ^ Maurice Craig: Dublin 1660–1860, page 243
  3. ^ a b 'The Republic - the Fight for Irish Independence 1918–1923' Charles Townshend ISBN 978-0-141-03004-3
  4. ^ a b New order in court as €140m legal 'Pantheon' opens doors, Dearbhail McDonald, Irish Independent, 24 November 2009
  5. ^ First case set for new criminal courts, Carol Coulter, The Irish Times, 24 November 2009
  6. ^ Conor Gallagher (12 June 2017). "Supreme Court to get its own building for the first time". The Irish Times. Retrieved 1 July 2017. 

External links

Coordinates: 53°20′45″N 6°16′25″W / 53.3459°N 6.2735°W / 53.3459; -6.2735

Preceding station   Luas   Following station
towards Connolly or The Point
  Red Line   Smithfield
towards Tallaght