Wexford Courthouse Burned

Wexford Courthouse late 19th/early 20th Century

On the 18th of June 1921 the early morning silence was broken in Wexford town by the sound of a terrific explosion emanating from the Courthouse. The building was situated along the quays, opposite todays Wexford bridge and the explosion was the result of an operation planned by Francis Carty, who up until this point was dissatisfied with the success of the IRA. Subsequently he decided to destroy Wexford courthouse, which he considered ‘…the symbol of English law in Wexford town.’

On the night Francis describes how himself and Gerry O Brien, gained entry into the courthouse through it’s windows and proceeded to sprinkle petrol throughout the building. When they then exited the building other men outside flung paraffin torches through the windows. The resulting explosion was so strong that one of these men was carried from the top step of the building where he stood and lifted into the air and over the buildings 10ft iron railings. Fortunately he managed to land safetly and escape without any injuries. Francis, who lived nearby in the town did not attempt to return home following the explosion, instead opting to sleep away from home that night. Meanwhile his friend Gerry O Brien, who also lived in the town, was halted by the RIC as he made his way home, but managed to persuade them he was going to get the fire brigade!

Unbeknown to the IRA the buildings caretaker, a Mrs. McNally was sleeping inside with her 12 year old niece. Luckily upon being awoken by the explosion they managed to escape the building unharmed. The fire brigade, together with members of the public, arrived quickly on the scene and after four hours managed to extinguish the inferno. The flames had managed to engulf the entire building including the crown court, two judges chambers, council chamber, crown solicitor’s rooms, the petty and grand jury quarters and finally the prisoner’s rooms. Only the petty sessions court remained intact as well as the former county council’s offices. Despite the fire the police managed to save nearly all the records of the Clerk of Crown and Peace. The damage to the building was estimated at £15,000 which today would be somewhere in the region of €778,000.

The building was originally built in 1806 to replace another courthouse on the bullring and was designed by Richard Morrison who also designed St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin. In the decades that followed the building fell into a dilapidated state that it was decided to no longer invest money towards it’s repair. It was eventually demolished with a petrol station built on the site. This too has since been demolished and the site is now used as a car park.

Site of the former courthouse as it looks today from opposite Wexford Bridge (Credit: Google Street View)

Sources

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Francis Carty #1040

Enniscorthy Guardian, 25th June 1921, p3

https://wexfordhub.com/history/wexford-courthouse/

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