Early on the afternoon of Monday 16 January 1922, an Irish government took power in Dublin Castle. There was a natural symbolism: Dublin Castle embodied British rule in Ireland more than anywhere else. It had been heavily guarded throughout the War of Independence, but in recent days the security around the castle had been dismantled.

According to the Irish Independent that morning, the new Irish 'Provisional Government' (Rialtas Sealadach) would soon 'be entering Dublin Castle as representatives of the Irish nation to deal with that hotbed of bureaucracy, tyranny, reaction and misrule in accordance with the wishes of the Irish people, now its acknowledged masters, and in their name to end forever the iniquities of "Castle" so-called government.'

Image - John Denton Pinkstone French, former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, arrives at Dublin Castle for the transfer of power, January 1922. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

John Denton Pinkstone French, former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, arrives at Dublin Castle for the transfer of power, January 1922. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The Provisional Government

The Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in December 1921 specified that a 'Provisional Government' be established to oversee the transition from British to Irish rule. On Saturday 14 January 22, a week after the Dáil ratified the Treaty, 66 of the 128 members nominally elected to the House of Commons of 'Southern Ireland' – mainly those TDs who had accepted the Treaty in the Dáil – assembled in the Mansion House and unanimously passed motions approving the Treaty and appointing a Provisional Government. It held its first meeting at 11am on Monday 16 January in the Mansion House.

Michael Collins was its chairman, with the other members being W. T. Cosgrave, Eamon Duggan, Patrick Hogan, Fionán Lynch, Joe McGrath, Eoin MacNeill and Kevin O'Higgins. It was also arranged that they would travel to Dublin Castle that afternoon to meet the Viceroy, Edmund FitzAlan Howard, Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, after which control over the government of Ireland would be officially handed over to them.

Image - British soldiers at the gates of Dublin Castle in 1922 during the withdrawal process. Photo: Independent News And Media/Getty Images

British soldiers at the gates of Dublin Castle in 1922 during the withdrawal process. Photo: Independent News And Media/Getty Images

The meeting was widely anticipated. Crowds gathered outside the castle from an early hour on a cold winter's day, while inside the castle the lower and upper yards were filled with press, security forces, and curious officials. At approximately 1.30pm, amidst cheers, the Provisional Government came through the Palace Street gate in three cars (apparently taxis), eventually stopping outside the chief secretary's office in the upper castle yard.

Image - Michael Collins (centre) and Kevin O'Higgins (putting on glove) arriving at Dublin Castle for the formal transfer of power. Photo: © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Michael Collins (centre) and Kevin O'Higgins (putting on glove) arriving at Dublin Castle for the formal transfer of power. Photo: © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Collins was the first to get out and was unimpressed by an assiduous official admonishing him for apparently being a few minutes late. Inside they were greeted by the under-secretary, James MacMahon, who assured them that 'you are welcome', to which Collins replied, 'like hell we are.'

FitzAlan arrived a few minutes later (to more muted cheers) and met Collins privately before the others, who were also introduced to their counterparts in the Castle administration. The meeting took place in the privy council chamber, located above the arch between the lower and upper yards; the windows offered good views for the spectators outside. Collins apparently sought to defuse any latent tension by vigorously shaking as many hands as possible.

Image - Hamar Greenwood, seen here in 1922, reported the details of the handover to the British cabinet. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Hamar Greenwood, seen here in 1922, reported the details of the handover to the British cabinet. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

In his weekly report to the British cabinet Hamar Greenwood, the chief secretary, wrote that the 'new Government...handed to his Excellency a copy of the Treaty, on which their acceptance of its provisions had been endorsed. His Excellency, after congratulating Mr Collins and his colleagues, informed them that they were now duly installed as the Provisional Government, and that the necessary steps would be taken without delay for the transfer to them of the powers and machinery requisite for the discharge of their duties.

Image - Michael Collins leaving the Castle with Kevin O'Higgins and W. T. Cosgrave after the "surrender" ceremony. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Michael Collins leaving the Castle with Kevin O'Higgins and W. T. Cosgrave after the "surrender" ceremony. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

'The Castle has fallen'

The relatively informal meeting lasted less than an hour. The Provisional Government made their way back to the Mansion House, where Collins sought out Arthur Griffith and announced, 'Griffith! The Castle has fallen!' Statements were released by both sides, with the Provisional Government irritating at least one British official by claiming that they had accepted the 'surrender of Dublin Castle'. The proceedings naturally loomed large in press reports the next day, both at home and abroad. According to the Freeman's Journal,

'the black old fortress of iniquity has fallen ...the Castle as a garrison headquarters was gone; the Castle as a centre of the government of the Irish Free State remained.'

Unpicking the arrangements of Empire

But the Provisional Government would be based in City Hall rather than Dublin Castle, which was not finally handed over to them until the following August. The meeting on 16 January was a procedural formality rather the capture of an enemy citadel.

It did, however, mark the beginning of the process by which the myriad arrangements that the British had used to govern Ireland for centuries began to be unpicked. Unlike Collins and his colleagues, the British may have missed the propaganda value of the event in Dublin Castle, but they were alert to the symbolic importance of something else: as Greenwood argued to his cabinet colleagues,

'there should be no unavoidable delay in carrying through the evacuation of the Crown Forces from Ireland, and thus demonstrating in the most effectual manner to the Irish people that the Treaty is a reality, and marks the renunciation forever of the British Government's claim to interfere in the internal government of their country'.

Image - The new provisional government of Ireland, photographed with supporters in January 1922. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The new provisional government of Ireland, photographed with supporters in January 1922. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The withdrawal of Forces begins

Regardless of the 'surrender' or otherwise of Dublin Castle, the withdrawal of the British military from 'southern' Ireland was the most tangible proof of the change that the Treaty would bring. In the week following the meeting in Dublin Castle brigade headquarters were closed in Sligo, Castlebar, Tipperary, Bantry and Tullamore and the withdrawal of British forces began.

Thousands of tons of supplies and equipment, some of which would be transferred to the new governments in Belfast and Dublin, were secured against a backdrop of intermittent attacks and 'outrages', as units started to leave on an almost daily basis. The early stages of the evacuation were stalled by a rail strike, but even when troop departures by sea were briefly paused in February British units were still transferred to Northern Ireland, or grouped together in key locations such as Cork, Dublin and the Curragh before they left Ireland for good.

Image - The Royal Irish Constabulary evacuating Dublin Castle on 17 August 1922. Dublin Castle was not officially handed over to the Provisional Government until August 1922. Image: RTE Photographic Archive

The Royal Irish Constabulary evacuating Dublin Castle on 17 August 1922. Dublin Castle was not officially handed over to the Provisional Government until August 1922. Image: RTE Photographic Archive

The British General Officer Commanding, General Neville Macready, was aware that the vacuum created by the military withdrawal could allow crime and unrest to flourish. But the British were also wary of being dragged into any burgeoning conflict in Ireland, especially as the capabilities of the remaining garrison were being weakened by the evacuation.

These two maps, based on incomplete reports from the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief to the British Cabinet, indicate the pattern of the British military withdrawal from 'Southern' Ireland in 1922. From late January onwards, some barracks were evacuated in Leinster and Munster, with the evacuation intensifying in February as the British withdrew from military installations across Connacht, much of the midlands and the south-east.

The closing phases saw British forces withdraw from the remaining barracks in Leinster and Munster, to be clustered in Cork, Dublin and the Curragh prior to the completion of the evacuation in May. By then the only permanent British forces remaining in the 26 counties were those in the so-called 'Treaty Ports', though a substantial garrison was retained in Dublin as a precaution until the Irish Free State was formally established in December 1922.'

Map by Mike Murphy, UCC.

Image -

Macready insisted that the withdrawal should continue without delay. The forces under his command abandoned Connacht, Munster and Leinster in turn. The departures of British military units were usually conducted with a degree of ceremony and sometimes accompanied by sales of unwanted material as barracks and installations were vacated. The British also noted that among some of the inhabitants of garrison towns, their departure was met with apprehension.

Image - General Nevil Macready, Commander of British Forces in Ireland, was aware the vacuum created by the military withdrawal could lead to unrest. Source: Getty Images

General Nevil Macready, Commander of British Forces in Ireland, was aware the vacuum created by the military withdrawal could lead to unrest. Source: Getty Images

By 20 May, Macready could report that the only British forces remaining in the twenty-six counties were those stationed in the coastal garrisons at Queenstown (Cobh) and Berehaven, and clustered in the 'Dublin District'. Approximately 4,000 British troops were retained in Dublin until December to offer 'moral support' to the Provisional Government and a potential military foothold in case the British deemed it necessary to intervene in the Civil War.

It was from this remnant of the departed British garrison that a detachment was sent, on 17 August 1922, to oversee the final transfer of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government that had assumed power there earlier in the year.

This article is part of the Civil War project coordinated by UCC and based on The Atlas of the Irish Revolution edited by John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy and John Borgonovo. Its contents do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.