With nine fatalities, the Custom House attack took more lives than any other single incident in the Anglo-Irish conflict in Dublin since Bloody Sunday at Croke Park on 20 November 1920. However many other lives were affected as a result of the Burning. Families were bereaved or deprived of bread-winners through arrests, causing financial hardships. In addition, a number of people caught up in the events on 25 May 1921 suffered injuries. We have previously covered the IRA and Auxiliary casualties. Here we have a brief look at the civilians hurt that day, based on names and details in press reports (which were scanty). The Freeman’s Journal published the most comprehensive information.

Caught Up In Chaos

On 25 May, all occupants of the building – staff, DMP police guards and visitors – were rounded up by the IRA raiders for security reasons and their own safety. They were held under guard in a few locations as the fires were set. When crown forces arrived and shooting broke out, the detained people were corralled into an internal yard containing a stationery storage shed. Auxiliaries entering the area assumed the crowd of people gathered there were all hostile and opened fire. Civil servant Mahon Lawless was mortally wounded while several of his Custom House colleagues were hurt.

William M. Geary

The most severe wound among the survivors seems to have been suffered by William Michael Geary, an acting Principal Clerk with the Local Government Board. Originally from Co. Limerick, in 1921 he was aged 58 and married to Kathleen Callanan from Cork. The couple had had 8 surviving children and were living at 4 Grace Park Gardens, Drumcondra.

William was hit by a bullet in his right arm, shattering the elbow. He was tended by colleagues and, after the gun battle ended, he was eventually taken by ambulance to KGV military hospital. The place was full of wounded prisoners and military as well as armed crown forces. The poor man obviously felt very uncomfortable in such surroundings, despite his great pain. He demanded to be moved to a civilian facility and, having been cleared by the British of any Rebel connection, was taken to Jervis Street Hospital. He spent four months under treatment there.

The injury meant he had to retire from his job, which had paid him £927 per year. His annual pension amounted to £412 6s. In January 1922 William Geary made a claim for £5,000 compensation but was awarded just £1,800 plus £130 for medical expenses.

The Gearys later moved house to 197 Howth Road, Clontarf where Wlliam died aged 77 on 22 January 1941 – almost twenty years after his injury at the Custom House (As an aside, a son-in-law of William Geary had lost his life the previous year in another conflict then raging. His daughter Kathleen’s husband, Wexford-born Captain William Walsh, went down with his ship the SS Napier Star of the Blue Star line, torpedoed by U-100 near Rockall. There were only fourteen survivors from the eighty-five on board).

William Geary was buried in Kilbarrack Cemetery – coincidentally the resting place of another Custom House Burning participant, IRA Volunteer Dan Head who was killed at the Burning. His widow Catherine joined him in grave BD28 in 1951.

James McKenzie

He was an Inland Revenue executive grade clerk working in the Custom House. According to the Freeman’s Journal and Evening Herald newspapers, he received a bullet wound in the thigh. He was taken to the Mater Hospital and successfully operated on.

James Daly

Also a Custom House official, the Freeman’s Journal report said he suffered a bullet wound to the arm. He was brought to the Mater Hospital where he underwent an operation.

Peter O’Reilly

A Custom House employee, he was wounded in the side – “but not seriously”. He was transferred from King George V Military Hospital to St Vincent’s Hospital for surgery during the night of 25 May. Mr. O’Reilly was reported as living at 122 Emorville Avenue, off South Circular Road, Portobello.

Michael Cunningham

Employed in the Stationery Office, Mr. Cunningham was reported as slightly wounded. The Freeman’s Journal said he lived on Avoca Road, “South Circular Road” which is actually incorrect. The address is in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

W. H. Wilson

The Irish Independent of 28 May 1921 mentioned that Mr. W. H. Wilson, LGB official had been wounded. It is most likely this referred to William Henry Wilson, a Deputy Principal Clerk with the Local Government Board. Australia-born Mr. Wilson (whose father was from Co. Westmeath) was aged 59, married and living at Neptune Terrace, Sandycove. He had lost his first wife before 1901 and married a second time to Edith Mary Dunne, neé Doyle, a widow. They had one son together to add to children from their previous marriages.

While William survived the Burning and was pensioned after more than 42 years with the LGB, he did not enjoy many days of retirement. Mr. Wilson passed away from cancer on 24 January 1923. His funeral was announced as private. His widow died in 1947.

Mr. Judge

The Irish Independent also listed this name for a Custom House official who had been wounded. It likely referred to Dominick William Judge, a Second Division Clerk in the Stationery Office. He is listed in the 1901 census at 7 Jones’s Road and in 1911 at Belview Terrace, Clontarf. He had been born in Co. Sligo and was married with three surviving children. Mr. Judge died from natural causes in December 1923 aged 62. In another Custom House coincidence, he is also buried in Kilbarrack Cemetery (plot BE23). His widow Bridget followed him 5 years later.

Mr. F. Colin

The same newspaper corrected an erroneous previous report that this Stationery Office official had been wounded.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Illustrated London News, 4 June 1921

Mr. Colin was pictured amongst the ruins and debris after the fire in a well-known photo from 1921. The small bandage near his left eye suggests a small injury at least.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

This official’s full name was Frederick Constant Colin, a Dubliner born in Rathmines. Married to Jemima Fitzmaurice, they had four surviving children. In the 1901 census he is listed with his wife and a sister-in-law at Hume Street. Ten years later the family, with a servant and two boarders, are recorded on Upper Erne Street. His occupation is shown as Porter, HM Stationery Office. At the time of the Burning Mr. Colin was aged 42. Afterwards he lived a long life and had retired many years before he passed away at Terenure in 1958 aged 80.

Capt. Myers

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
At the Custom House, 25 May 1921

Last but definitely not least – the Dublin Fire Brigade Chief Officer John Joseph Myers was hurt by falling masonry while directing the fire-fighting. At about 3am on 26 May he entered the building. A stone ceiling collapsed and falling chunks of masonry knocked him to the ground. He was dragged from the rubble by Station Officer Kelly who was following him. Suffering from facial and shoulder injuries, Myers was taken to Jervis Street Hospital by Fireman Rogers for treatment. He was shortly discharged and brought to his home to recuperate under medical care. He later told a journalist he had escaped more serious injuries thanks to his helmet which was badly damaged.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
In uniform (DFB on X/Twitter)

Capt. Myers had a long and distinguished career with Dublin Fire Brigade, serving as Chief Officer from 1917 to 1927. At the outset of the Easter Rising, then-Lieutenant Myers’ section was called to the fire set by the Volunteers beside the Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park. On the way they were stopped at the Four Courts and advised of the situation by Vol. Paddy O’Daly. Capt. Myers turned around and took his men back to their Fire Station.

From EchoLive.ie

In December 1920, he led his firefighters south to Cork city to help tackle the conflagration set by RIC Auxiliaries. which destroyed most of Patrick Street and other buildings.

And in the summer of 1922, he directed the attempts to extinguish the massive fires started at the Fours Courts and ‘The Block’ in Dublin during the opening phase of the Civil War.

According to Dublin Fire Brigade historian and Group member Las Fallon, [Capt. Myers] was very well thought of within the Republican movement both during the revolution and in the years that followed the Civil War, when he recruited quite a number of republican ex-prisoners into the DFB at a time when these men had great difficulty gaining employment in the new state. His actions at the Rathmines church fire in 1920, when he covered up the discovery of arms during the fire and allowed the local Volunteers to remove the evidence before handing over the fire to the local brigade (the sacristan in the church was also an assistant quartermaster with the local IRA unit), is also evidence of at least some sympathy for the national cause.” (History Ireland, Letters – July-August 2013).

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Capt. John Myers died aged 63 on 19 March 1927 at Tara Street Fire Station after a short illness.

Capt. Myers was very well-known and highly and widely respected, having supervised the Fire Brigade’s response to every fire of note in Dublin over three decades.

There were many obituaries in newspapers around the island of Ireland, including the north and of course Cork where he was remembered as a hero of 1920.

John Myers never married. He was survived by a brother (an ex-RIC man) and sister who requested his funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery (plot AA5, South section) be strictly private.

That seems to be about all the information available at this stage about those unfortunate civilians who suffered injuries but lived to tell the tale. All long gone to the grave with their individual stories from 25 May 1921. RIP.

Des White