Only last week I attended a very interesting meeting in The Cobblestone pub, organised by the Stoneybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project. The historian Liz Gillis spoke about the bombardment of the Four Courts in June 1922, when Free State forces shelled the historic building in an attempt to defeat republican forces who had occupied it. The entire event remains incredibly controversial, as the Public Records Office went up in smoke, damaging priceless Irish historic archival materials.
In the aftermath of the destruction, it was noticed that it wasn’t only archival historical material that had gone missing in the fight. The ceremonial Lord Chancellor’s Mace vanished from the premises, but was recovered within a fortnight, buried under the floorboards of a nearby tenement!
On 12 July 1922, the Freeman’s Journal reported:
A remarkable story of the disappearance of the Lord Chancellor’s mace from the Four Courts was told at the North City Parish Court yesterday, where William Holland, of 8 Arran Quay, was charged with having stolen the article on June 30. The value of the mace was given as £500 on the chargesheet, and it was described as the property of Saorstat na hÉireann.
The paper note that “by some mysterious means” the mace had found its way not only to 8 Arran Quay, but to below the floorboards of 8 Arran Quay! Holland alleged that”he received the mace from an officer of the National Army, who asked him to take care of it until such time as the trouble would have ended, and that after a couple of days the officer along with others returned and told the prisoner he mght keep the article as a souvenir.” The media noted that according to a leading member of the legal profession, the mace “was made in the city about 1773.” Evidence was provided in court that two members of the Free State forces had brought the mace with them while dining in the Four Courts Restaurant, over which Holland lived, and that the mace had not been seen since that time. It was alleged by several members of the Free State forces in court that Holland had stolen the mace, rather than being given it as any sort of souvenir. One woman who lived in the vicinity, Miss Mary Keating, alleged that Holland had told her he expected there would be a large reward, perhaps £1,000, for the return of the mace, but she did not take his talk seriously at the time.
Curiously, while Holland was charged before the courts, the trail in the mainstream press seems to go cold, and I’m unable to figure out just what punishment was handed down, if he was found guilty. Regardless, the mace has the privilege of being a rare historic item that wasn’t lost to the bombardment of the Four Courts.