The Magazine Fort.
Harry Warren writes:
On a fine Spring day, I was strolling along near the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park. Some children playing football kicked their ball near me and with a quick instep kick I tapped the ball back. It brought to mind a historic raid on the Fort that involved of all things a game of football but more of that anon.
Dating back to the 18th century the Duke of Dorset directed that a powder magazine be provided for Dublin. The Phoenix Lodge built in 1611, standing on top of St. Thomas Hill (The Phoenix Park took its name from the lodge) was demolished so that the Magazine Fort with its five feet thick walls and surrounding dry moat could be built on the same spot.
The new fort was designed by the architect John Corneille and it was constructed in 1734 to 1736 for storing munitions for the Crown in Ireland. The Fort was never properly utilised for this purpose and early on, was seen as a symbol of British occupation. In 1737 Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) satirised the fort suggesting that there was nothing worthwhile to defend in an impoverished Dublin at that time anyway so why waste time building it?
He wrote: “Now’s here’s a proof of Irish sense, here Irish wit is seen, when nothing’s left that’s worth defending, we build a Magazine!”
In 1801, a barracks was added to the fort to accommodate troops. And in 1830, an older and larger earthwork fort that stood nearby was demolished.
The Magazine fort was a British garrison until 1922 until it was handed over to the National Army (1922-1924) after the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Irish Army (1924 -) continued to operate the site as an ammunition store until it was demilitarised during the late 1980’s and it is now in the care of the Office of Public Works.
Unsurprisingly the fort was raided on two occasions in its history. Now about that football I mentioned earlier. On Easter Monday 1916 the IRA raided the fort, with one recalling:
“We arrived at the outside of the Fort, pretending to be a Football Team, and by passing the ball from one to the other got near enough to the outside sentry to rush and disarm him, while the remainder of the unit doubled into the Fort with pistols and revolvers drawn. The Guard Room was rushed, the soldiers there were covered and their rifles, which were stacked, were collected.”
An attempt was made to explode the fort by the laying of mines but the IRA discovered that it did not contain any high explosives that could have demolished the building. The fort had a store of only a small supply of firearms and ammunition. After the mines detonated, modest explosive damage was done to the fort and a blaze broke out. Later the fire brigade subsequently succeeded in extinguishing the fire and the fort was restored to service.
Years later on the 23rd of December 1939, a daring raid was made by the IRA on the fort, now in the control of the Irish Army. The “Christmas Raid” as it became known, resulted in the successful seizure of a huge quantity of weapons and ammunition. The reason for the raid was, that although the IRA had copious amounts of Thompson submachine guns, the .45 calibre rounds used in the guns were difficult to come by. By coincidence the Irish Army also used the Thompson and the same ammo. So, a raid was planned and soon took place.
At 8:30pm on the 23rd of December 1939, a civilian called to the fort saying he had a parcel to deliver to the officer-in-charge. At his court martial, a military policeman then on guard duty at the entrance gate, said he bent down to unbolt the gate to take the parcel and when he stood up there was a muzzle of a revolver pointed in his face. He was told to open the gate and put his hands up. At this point the IRA members appeared from both inside and outside the fort and with the rest of the soldiers caught unawares they were taken captive.
The raid resulted in the huge theft of 1.2 million rounds of ammunition and cases of Thompsons arms being taken away in thirteen lorries with no casualties inflicted on either side. Though the raid was initially successful the majority of the ammunition and arms were recovered in the next two weeks turning it into a major PR disaster for the IRA. The day after the raid the Irish Minister for Justice, Gerald Boland, introduced the Emergency Powers bill to reinstate internment, Military Tribunal, and executions for IRA members.
Today the Magazine Fort stands somewhat dilapidated but it is being renovated and when the pandemic restrictions are eased it will open reopen as an important military historic site on view to the public. It is part of our history as a nation and well worth a visit.
All pics by Harry Warren
Harry’s Dublin appears here regularly, often on a Friday.