May Document of the Month, 2021
On Wednesday May 25th 1921, during the War of Independence, members of the Dublin Fire Brigade of the Irish Republican Army set fire to Custom House with the aim of disrupting the British administration of Ireland. The Custom House was the headquarters of the Local Government Board and a fierce attack on the premises was expected to throw the administration into havoc. The Custom House included the Assay Office, Inland Revenue and Local Government Board, it also stored thousands of local government records dating from the 1600s, they were all destroyed in the blaze started by the IRA.
Our document of the month comes from the John Chaloner Smith papers (ref. PRIV 1388). Chaloner Smith was an engineer with the Office of Public Works and was appointed Officer in charge of Salvage Work after the Customs House fire. The collection mainly relates to the salvage operation but include some personal correspondence and material of his father John Chaloner Smith Snr, Civil Engineer and writer.
John Chaloner Smith, was born in County Mayo on 7 November 1870. He served his articles with Thomas Benjamin Grierson from 1888 until 1891 and with Berkeley Deane Wise, of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway, from 1891 to 1892, remaining as Wise’s assistant until the end of 1893. He was then employed by the railway contractor Robert Worthington on the Achill extension line and other works until July 1896, when he became an assistant to Edmund Keville Dixon, who was then engaged on alterations and additions to the district lunatic asylum at Castlebar, County Mayo. At the end of 1896, he joined the engineering department of the Office of Public Works, a post which he held for the rest of his life.
He became a leading expert in the subject of water levels and rainfall, and his private hydrological research into the flow of the Shannon over a thirty year period formed the basis of the Shannon Hydro-Electric scheme. Like his father, he was an active member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland. He died on 14 October 1932.
Gerard Byrne, Archivist
NAI, PRIV 1388/1/2 (1)
NAI, PRIV 1388/1/2 (2)
NAI, PRIV 1388/1/7
NAI, PRIV 1388/1/3