Relocating the Encumbered Estates Court, 1850-60

The exterior of 14 Henrietta Street, former home of the Encumbered Estates Court, as it appeared some years ago, via Google Streetview. Now refurbished, it currently enjoys a new existence as a museum of Georgian and Dublin tenement life.

From the Freeman’s Journal, 5 February 1850:


By one of those blunders peculiar to English government in Ireland the machinery of a vast revolution was set up for the sale of property, and no provision whatever made for the court which was to work the machine.  The Commissioners were cast loose on the city, without a place actually to hold a court, file petitions, or transact the various business connected with the operations of the commission.  One day read more

The Mysterious Folding Doors of the Supreme Court, 1937-73

From the Evening Echo, 8 January 1973, this wonderful article about the Irish Supreme Court and its former Chief Justices:

For a whole decade – 1923-1932 – the Four Courts building was not in use and the Courts sat in the room in Dublin Castle which now comprise the State Apartments.

When the repaired Four Courts were opened the Supreme Court looked elegant as befitted the highest tribunal in the land. Directly opposite the Bench, in line with the approach from the Quay through read more

The Square Hall Scandal, 1947

From the Evening Herald, 9 August 1947:


In the interior of the famous building on Inns Quay there is a corridor leading to the law library. The Library is strictly reserved for the gentlemen of the law, but in the corridor their clients are graciously permitted to hold converse with the wearers of wig and gown.   Even when they are not attired in working costume, it is always easy to distinguish the barristers by the nonchalant grace with which read more

A Day in the Four Courts, 1890

From Irish Society (Dublin), 8 November 1890:



For those who cannot spare time for a corporeal visit to the Temple of Justice, let them come with me now in spirit, and I will be their guide, philosopher, and friend in an imaginary personally-conducted tour through the noble pile of buildings in Inns Quay, which forms the material home and domicile of Irish law.

Let us be at the courts by a quarter to eleven of the clock, and read more

The Four Courts as a Sightseeing Destination, 1816-1919

The interior of the Four Courts might not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of a tourist destination, but once upon a time it was unmissable for sightseers visiting Dublin. J & W Gregory’s ‘Picture of Dublin’ (1816) describes the ‘new’ Courts of Justice as ‘one grand pile of excellent architecture’ and the read more

The Dome(s) of the Four Courts, 1785-2020

The original Record Office designed for the Four Courts site by Thomas Cooley did not include a dome, but Cooley’s early death in 1784 coincided with an official decision to expand his design to include the Irish Four Courts, previously situate at Christchurch. His successor James Gandon achieved this by incorporating a central hall at the front of Cooley’s partly built pile, and crowning it with not one but two domes, one on top of the other, with a void between containing a large read more

Manager of Four Courts Coffee Room Prosecuted for Adulterating Spirits, 1921

From the Dublin Evening Telegraph, 7 April 1921:

Today in the Northern Police Court, before Mr Lupton KC, Mr John Barror, Coffee Room Bar, Four Courts, was summoned, at the suit of Mr Tannam, Inspector of Food, for having, on the 15th February last, sold him four glasses of whiskey adulterated by the addition of 4 percent of water.

Mr W J Sheridan, solicitor, for defendant, said he admitted the fact.  His client was totally unable to account for it.  He got his whisky from Jameson’s.  read more

No Palles: Health Crisis in Court 3, 1877

When cleaning out the cesspit below the Court of Exchequer in 1854, no one seems to have thought that it might refill even before future barristers conceived in that year had emerged from their chrysalis of devilling.

Certainly not Christopher Palles, when he took on the job of Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer at the ridiculously young age of 42. In 1874, everyone was more concerned with the general Liffey stench and, in any event, Palles was perfectly healthy.

The death of at least one previous read more

Letting off Steam: Heating Problems in Court 2, 1860

From the Irish Times, 17 January 1860:


Previous to the commencement of the business of the court, Mr Serjeant Fitzgibbon complained of the constant steam that was coming up from the pipes underneath the table close to which the gentlemen of the inner bar were obliged to stand. He declared it was equal to a warm bath, and was likely to be attended read more

Down by the (neglected) Four Courts Gardens, 1904

From the Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1904:

“FOUR COURTS GARDENS: Sir – Having had occasion to visit the Four Courts I sauntered round the new buildings, and as I reached the rere opposite to the police offices I was forcibly struck with the neglect and apathy of the surroundings. Here there is a considerable extent of high, uncut, tufted grass, over which is scattered dirty papers etc. If these grass plots were, as they ought to be, kept as similar plots surrounding the read more

A Most Offensive Stench: Court 3, 1831-54

No one was ever quite sure what lay below the Four Courts, other than the following: the Dominican monks of the Priory of St Saviour’s were reputed to have installed an extensive network of subterranean passages, and a hidden river, the Bradogue, flowed underground from Constitution Hill to Ormond Quay, its exact route shrouded in mystery.

Whether due to this secret tributary, the smell of Anna Livia herself, or something awry in the sanitary arrangements, all four of the Four Courts were read more

Life-Threatening Law Library Lavatories, 1874

From the Freeman’s Journal, 18 June 1874:

“The life of a barrister practising in the Four Courts is imperilled by two distinct sets of circumstances. In the first place there is in summer the all-pervading Liffey stench. In the second place there is all the year round the noisesome den known as the Library. The Library is the place where barristers work up their cases, and it is also the place where it is understood that attorneys will find the barristers whom they want. During read more

The Problem of Paging Barristers, 1846

From Saunders’s Newsletter, 20 November 1846:

“SIR- In consequence of the numerous complaints by respectable solicitors against the present system of calling barristers’ names at the door of the library, and the uncertainty in which inquirers leave the ante-room, after suffering ten minutes’ crushing among clerks, idlers, &c., when the return of non est is given by the importunate functionary, who continually howls forth name after name through the library, read more

Round Hall Ablutions Averted, 1808

From Saunders’s Newsletter, 22 October 1808:

“The alterations now making in the New Courts upon the Inns Quay, consist of raising the floor of the great hall up to the level of the platform at the great entrance, which has been somewhat lowered in order to meet the newly raised floor and by this alteration there will not be any descent from the great entrance into the hall, and the ascent from thence into each of the four courts will only be by two risers instead of five… read more

Mr Finn’s Four Courts Coffee-Room, 1839

From the Freeman, 22 January 1839:

“John Finn, Henrietta-street, applied for a license for the coffee-room of the Four Courts. Mr Walsh opposed the application, on the part of the Vintners’ Society, and dwelt on the impropriety of such an establishment in the courts.

Mr Curran replied in favour of the application, and said that as it was always in the power of the benchers to move their tenant, in case he abused their trust, there could be no danger of any impropriety being carried read more

Bookstalls, Showmen and Dancing Dogs, 1821-1840

From the Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail, 26 September 1840:

“THE FOUR COURTS:- Although law is very busy in the interior, and the lawyers are not idle in their vocation, the exterior of the building resembles an unfortunate criminal, debarred the privilege of counsel and left to his fate. It is not sufficient that the Bar should have a “law library” intra muros, but the public must have a “reading room” rent free extra muros. Almost the entire front of this splendid read more

The Pill Lane Fishwives, 1835

From Saunders’ Newsletter, October 1835:

“SIR – I beg, through the medium of your valuable Paper, to again call the attention of the Commissioners of the Paving Board to the intolerable nuisance, which has been so long suffered to continue in Pill Lane. Nearly from the corner of Arran Street to that of Charles Street, stands of putrid fish, tripes &c., are in the street, and on the flagging, to the great annoyance of passengers, particularly during the law term, when read more

Health and Safety Issues in the Round Hall, 1853

On 4 August 1853, an anonymous barrister, ‘J.P.P’, felt compelled to write to Saunders’ Newsletter complaining about the dangerous condition of the Four Courts:

“SIR – During one of the late heavy showers, as I was passing through the hall of the Four Courts to the dark cellar where we barristers put on and off our wigs and gowns, I heard, to my great surprise, a sharp sound… of falling water. I looked up and perceived a stream of no small size descending read more

A Pressing Communication, 1881

‘Pneumatic’ is not a word commonly used in relation to the Four Courts. However, for a brief period in the 19th century, the Sub-Post Office in the Four Courts was served by the longest pneumatic mail tube in the world.

The operation of this system of delivery, based on the transmission of letters and telegrams by air pressure within a tube, was summarised in the Freeman’s Journal of 5 September 1871:-

“a piece of paper rolled up in what is called a ‘carrier’ read more

The Corridor between the Four Courts and Rear Yard Extension, 1857

The 1836 works to the Four Courts not only included fitting a new Law Library, Rolls Court and Nisi Prius Court into the back of the original building, but also involved the erection of an additional rear building comprising a Solicitors Building (situate where the current Law Library is today), Benchers’ rooms and coffee room and various Chancery offices and courts.

The construction of this rear edifice as a separate building linked to the main Four Courts by a small open passage caused read more

The First Barristers’ Robing Rooms, 1851

From the Dublin Weekly Nation, 14 August 1875, an illustration of the Liberator Daniel O’Connell exiting the original robing room of the Four Courts.

This room’s situation below the Round Hall rendered it vulnerable not only to flooding, but also to incursions by curious members of the public, one of whom was bold enough to publish the following letter of complaint in the Freeman’s Journal of 6 November 1851:

“During Term Time a person anxious for the encouragement read more

The Zoo Next Door, 1821

From Saunders’ News-Letter, 21 April 1821:


The Public are respectfully informed that Polito’s Grand Menagerie, is removed from Abbey Street, to Ormond-Quay, near the Four Courts, where they will be exhibited for a short time previous to their final removal from this kingdom, and in order that all classes may have an opportunity (which may not occur again) of witnessing this rare assemblage of Natural productions – the admission for Ladies and Gentlemen read more

The Original Judges’ Car Park, 1852

The annual State Trials for conspiracy and treason were a very exciting time at the nineteenth-century Four Courts.

Many members of the public of all political persuasions attended to observe and comment.  All tried to put their best face forward.  None more so than the Judges.   The style of their arrival on such occasions was so impressive as to merit the above illustration in the popular press.   Not only were the judicial means of transport slightly different from today, read more