The Four Courts
The Four Courts
Four Courts is located in Central Dublin
Four Courts
Location within Central Dublin
General information
Architectural styleNeoclassical
Town or cityInns Quay, Dublin
Coordinates53°20′45″N 6°16′25″W / 53.3459°N 6.2735°W / 53.3459; -6.2735
Elevation4 m (13 ft)
Construction started1786
Completed1802; 222 years ago (1802)
ClientKingdom of Ireland
Technical details
MaterialPortland stone, granite, copper, cast iron, timber, steel, stucco, sandstone
Design and construction
Architect(s)Thomas Cooley (1776-84)
James Gandon (1785-1802)
Jacob Owen - Benchers' and Solicitors' building (1835-39)[1]

The Four Courts (Irish: Na Ceithre Cúirteanna[2]) is Ireland's most prominent courts building, located on Inns Quay in Dublin. The Four Courts is the principal seat 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 building.

Court structure

The building originally housed four superior courts, of Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas, giving the building its name.[3]

Under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877, these four courts were replaced by two - the Court of Appeal, presided over by the Lord Chancellor, and the High Court of Justice, headed by the Lord Chief Justice - but the building has retained its historic name.[4]

Under the Courts of Justice Act 1924, courts were established for the new Irish Free State with the Supreme Court of Justice, presided over by the Chief Justice, replacing the Court of Appeal and a reconstituted High Court of Justice, presided over 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.[5]

A new Court of Appeal was established in 2014, following a referendum in 2013, largely taking over the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the old Court of Criminal Appeal. Its civil division sits in the Four Courts.[6]


Prior to the construction of the modern Four Courts, a previous complex existed close to Christ Church Cathedral on what is today St Michael's Hill which was in use from around 1608 to the opening of the present building around 1796. The Four Courts Marshalsea was also located close by at that time between Winetavern Street and Fishamble Street.[7]

Even after a reconstruction by William Robinson in 1695, there were constant complaints about the buildings condition and location.[8][9]

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 Cooley's death in 1784, renowned architect James Gandon was appointed to finish the buildings. It was built between 1786 and 1796, while the finishing touches to the arcades and wings were completed in 1802,[10] The lands were previously used by the King's Inns.[11] and before that a 13th-century Dominican Friary St. Saviour's was located on the site, confiscated following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.[12]

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 and North Brunswick Street area. At the end of the week, the Four Courts building itself became the headquarters of the 1st Battalion.[13]

Destruction in Civil War

Main article: Four Courts explosion

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, with Rory O'Connor acting as their spokesman. On 28 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.[14] This attack 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 explosion, the ensuing fire, and the water poured onto the fire.[15]

The IRA was 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.[14]

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.[3]

Further development

The Office of Public Works added a modern two-storey extension to the roof of the old Public Records Office in the late 1960s. They also built River House on Chancery Street, which served as Dublin's only motor tax office for a number of years.[16]

Criminal courts

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 building, near the Phoenix Park, opened in January 2010, all criminal trials were transferred there.[17][18] The Four Courts remain in use for civil matters.[17]

Plans for Supreme Court building

There are plans to relocate the Supreme Court to a new purpose-built building near the Four Courts.[19]

See also


  1. ^ "INNS QUAY, FOUR COURTS". Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b "Four Courts". Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland. Archived from the original on 1 November 2020. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  4. ^ "Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877". Irish Statute Book. Archived from the original on 9 November 2019. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  5. ^ "The Courts of Justice Act 1924". Irish Statute Book. Archived from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  6. ^ "Court of Appeal Act 2014". Irish Statute Book. 20 July 2014. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  7. ^ Kenny, Colum (1986). "The Four Courts in Dublin Before 1796". Irish Jurist (1966-). pp. 107–124. Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  8. ^ Kenny, Colum (1986). "The Four Courts in Dublin Before 1796". Irish Jurist (1966-). pp. 107–124. Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  9. ^ "Robinson, Sir William | Dictionary of Irish Biography". Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  10. ^ Maurice Craig: Dublin 1660–1860, page 243
  11. ^ Colum Kenny, King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland: The Irish 'inn of court' 1541–1800 (Irish Academic Press & Irish Legal History Society, 1992), pp. 261–5
  12. ^ "St. Saviour's Dublin".
  13. ^ "Four Courts". RTE. Archived from the original on 9 November 2019. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  14. ^ a b 'The Republic – the Fight for Irish Independence 1918–1923' Charles Townshend ISBN 978-0-141-03004-3
  15. ^ "Ruin of Public Record Office marked loss of great archive". Irish Times. 30 June 2012. Archived from the original on 30 January 2020. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  16. ^ McDonald, Frank (1985). The destruction of Dublin. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. p. 159. ISBN 0-7171-1386-8. OCLC 60079186. Archived from the original on 24 September 2021. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  17. ^ a b New order in court as €140m legal 'Pantheon' opens doors Archived 13 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Dearbhail McDonald, Irish Independent, 24 November 2009
  18. ^ First case set for new criminal courts Archived 31 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Carol Coulter, The Irish Times, 24 November 2009
  19. ^ Gallagher, Conor (12 June 2017). "Supreme Court to get its own building for the first time". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 15 June 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2017.