January Document of the Month, 2022
The ‘handover’ of Dublin Castle, 16 January 1922
The Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed in December 1921 and accepted by the Dáil amidst great acrimony, established a Provisional Government that would oversee the transition of power until the Irish Free State formally came into being on 6 December 1922. On the afternoon of Monday, 16 January 1922, the members of Ireland’s new Provisional Government (‘Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann’), led by Michael Collins, made their way from the Mansion House to Dublin Castle to be formally installed by the outgoing viceroy, Lord FitzAlan.
Dublin Castle had a real and a symbolic importance, as the centrepiece of the British administration in Ireland but also as the complex of buildings that was seen to symbolise British misrule in Ireland. Crowds had assembled near the Castle from early on the morning of 16 January in expectation of the meeting which had been widely reported in the press that morning. The lower yard of the Castle was filled with press, security forces, and the families of officials, all reported to be waiting curiously. Cheering was heard from the direction of Dame Street as the Provisional Government made their way through the streets. They arrived at approximately 1.30pm in three cars (evidently taxis). They pulled up to the door of the chief secretary’s office in the upper yard and Michael Collins was first out; he entered swiftly, trying to evade photographers and apparently chastising an unfortunate British official who had complained that he and his colleagues were late. Lord FitzAlan arrived a few minutes later, to more muted cheers.
The proceedings were private, but FitzAlan met Collins before meeting the others, ‘some of whom’, as one official present noted, ‘had six months before a price fixed on their heads or were spending a leisured existence in the wall of Mountjoy Prison’. The Provisional Government confirmed that they accepted the terms of the Treaty and FitzAlan made a short speech ‘in which he wished the new government success… and expressed the hope that they would lead Ireland into new more prosperous days’. The meeting lasted less than an hour. Members of the new government departed at around 2.30pm amidst cheers and a welter of press photography. FitzAlan left the castle after 3pm, without any of the ceremonials that one might expect would accompany such an occasion. And that, as they say, was that.
It is often assumed, and it was claimed at the time, that the brief procedural meeting that took place between the Provisional Government and the viceroy constituted the ‘surrender’ or ‘handover’ of Dublin Castle. It was nothing of the sort, for the Provisional Government would not finally take possession of the Castle until the following August, but the meeting on 16 January had an undeniable resonance, as a milestone in the British withdrawal from (‘Southern’) Ireland and the establishment of an independent Irish Free State. The selection of documents presented here cast some light on what happened that day, and on its implications for the formation of an independent Irish state. They comprise some of the earliest documents in the Department of the Taoiseach collection retained in the National Archives.
Dr John Gibney and Dr Kate O’Malley are historians and assistant editors with the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series, a partnership project of the Royal Irish Academy, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Archives. They are the authors of The Handover: Dublin Castle and the British withdrawal from Ireland, 1922 (RIA, 2022).