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 Burning the Custom House

It is always busy here at Kilmainham Tales as we continue to research and publish work covered by the lifespan of Kilmainham Gaol. This is possibly the 'busiest' period of Irish history, with 7 rebellions, the Great Famine and several smaller ones, and political agitation for a free - or, at least, better governed - Ireland.

One of the seminal events of the period, of course, was the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921, and one of the major events which took place during that period was the burning of the Custom House in Dublin on 25 May, 1921.

This was one of the IRA's greatest successes, one of the two major events in the War of Independence according to the British Army, and Liz Gillis and Mícheál Ó Doibhilin have been researching this for some years and, for the past four years they have organised an annual conference on the subject and this year this was held in the Custom House itself.

The Conference was held after a private wreath-laying at the memorial to remember those who took part in the burning. This year Peter Duffy (whose father Leo had been involved) laid a wreath for all who took part, and our Mícheál Ó Doibhilin was asked to lay one for the civilians who were killed also. This was organised by Gary Deering and other relatives, as he has done for the past several years.

 The Conference was hosted by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Sean Hogan represented the Department and welcomed all to the Custom House - "the only building in the world with a monument in its grounds to those who burned it down" as he told us!

The Department supplied light refreshments for all, and the organisers expressed their appreciation of and thanks for all that the Department had done to facilitate the Conference.

Before a capacity audience four talks were given:

1. 'The burning of the Custom House' by Liz Gillis and Mícheál Ó Doibhilin - the story of the burning and the planning that led to it;

2. 'The Firemen's Tale' by Las Fallon - which told the story of the Dublin Fire Brigade's active involvement in this action;

3. 'The Dead' by Des White - the nine who were killed (5 IRA and 4 civilians) remembered;

4. 'Post-Fire Reconstruction of the Custom House' by Sean Hogan - the story of the Irish Government's restoration of the building.

Liz Gillis chaired the conference and Mícheál Ó Doibhilin operated the technical equipment and took photos for this report. All expressed their delight with the Conference, and their appreciation of the Department. It is hoped to have the Conference in the Custom House again in 2016, and to build towards a major commemoration and Conference in 2021.

 The Firemen's Tale

 Las Fallon's research has now been published by Kilmainham Tales as "The Firemen's Tale" and was available at the conference prior to its formal launch later at a date to be finalised.

The burning of the Custom House on 25 May 1921 was a seminal event in the course of the Irish Revolution.

This new book is a companion piece to the author’s ‘Dublin Fire Brigade and the Irish Revolution’ published in 2012 by South Dublin County Libraries.

The amount of new information available throws light on aspects of the role of the Dublin Fire Brigade and specifically of some members  who were also active Volunteers in the Irish Republican Army or the Irish Citizen Army. and Las Fallon has written this book to fully explore the role played by these men and by Republican sympathisers within the Dublin Fire Brigade in the burning of the Custom House.

This was an event where these men became active participants rather than just facilitating attacks on British government property and on the Crown Forces.

This, then, is The Firemen’s Tale, the latest book from Kilmainham Tales. It is available now. Further details here or here.

A Gem of a Book... (Timothy Birr, US Fire Service historian and author)
A work to be proud of (Padraig Yeats, historian and author)

If you want to know what these and others think of the book, read their comments here:

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