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One of the landmarks of Dublin with its large drum and shallow dome, and visible all along the Liffey, the Four Courts derives its names from the four divisions that traditionally were the judicial system in Ireland. These were: Chancery, King’s Bench, Exchequer, and Common Pleas.
Originally, part of the building was designed by Thomas Cooley with a revised later scheme being developed by James Gandon to incorporate the earlier work. The original plan of the western block designed by Thomas Cooley consisted of a number of separate ‘houses’, each with its own entrance and stairwell. The eastern block designed by Gandon was one building with complete internal access. This can be seen on the plan below with Cooley’s block on the left.
The building’s main feature is the dome and main portico. The portico and pediment are a shallow projection from the centre block but Gandon created a semi-circular recess under the pediment bringing the entrance into the building.
The interior of the Four Courts was reconstructed after the Civil War and the interior rearranged. The central rotunda above is as Gandon designed it with the four main courtrooms opening off it diagonally. This dramatic public space soars up into the drum creating a sombre and awe inspiring venue for the administration of the law.
Like all of Gandon’s buildings, the Four Courts was completed with excellent sculpture by Edward Smyth. On the main pediment, Moses is flanked by Justice and Mercy with Wisdom and Authority also present. Trophies of arms are placed over the triumphal arches in the arcades but they had been emasculated with the crowns replaced by balls.
Destroyed during the Irish Civil War of 1921-22, the building has since been restored externally although it was remodelled and rearranged internally. The only external changes was the removal of one bay from each of the side blocks so that they no longer project beyond the arcades as was originally intended by Gandon and shown in the plan above.