“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, 1 pm, GMT, May 25, 1921, Custom House Quay and Dundrum, Dublin

About 100 Irish Republican Army [IRA] Volunteers who have been milling around outside the Custom House, on the Liffey in Dublin City Centre, rush the building and herd the staff into the main hall. A truck loaded with supplies pulls up, and members of the IRA Dublin Brigade scatter oil and cotton all over the building and set it on fire.

The Custom House on fire

Within about ten minutes, British police arrive in three trucks and exchange fire with the IRA Volunteers inside the building. After about a half hour, the IRA’s ammunition runs out. The rebels are shot by the British as they run away.

Staff inside who have been held hostage by the Volunteers walk out of the building, hands raised, waving white handkerchiefs.

Seven civilians are killed and 11 wounded. 100 people are arrested, mostly IRA members.

The Fire Brigade arrives late because they have been held at their station by other IRA bands. Local government records from throughout the country, dating back to 1600, had been transferred to the Custom House for safekeeping. They are all destroyed.

Tonight, the building, one of the most beautiful in Ireland, called by the IRA the “seat of an alien tyranny,” is still burning.


Six miles south, in the Dublin suburb of Dundrum, Lolly Yeats, 53, co-owner of Cuala Press with her brother, poet William Butler Yeats, 55, is disgusted by this War of Independence raging all around.

Just yesterday she had written to her father in New York City about the horrible IRA ambush ten days ago outside of Galway, of British officers and their friends, which left three dead. The only survivor is Margaret Gregory, 37, widowed daughter-in-law of Lady Augusta Gregory, 69, co-founder with Willie of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.

Margaret and her British friends were leaving a tennis party when the IRA jumped out and began shooting at their car. Lolly can’t understand why on earth Margaret had been keeping company with British military officers?! Might as well wear a target on her back.

Re-enactment of the Ballyturn ambush

Lady Gregory was in England at the time of the ambush, but returned to the west of Ireland as soon as she heard. When the police questioned Margaret about the identity of the attackers, Augusta had cautioned them that Margaret doesn’t recognize any of the local country folk.

Lolly has heard about the IRA’s burning of the Custom House today. What a waste. The IRA calls it a victory but what about the loss of all those killed and arrested?!

She wrote to her father that what upsets her most is her women neighbors having their houses raided by the British, searching for their sons who have supposedly joined the IRA.

And the damned military curfew that the Brits have imposed has totally ended any social life. No more evenings in the theatre.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume 1 covering 1920 is available in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I will be talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.