Royal Irish Constabulary

Royal Irish Constabulary

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) (Irish: "Constáblacht Ríoga na hÉireann") was one of Ireland's two police forces in the early twentieth century, alongside the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police. Derry and Belfast had had their own forces, but problems, especially their involvement in sectarian violence, saw them both disbanded by 1870, and the RIC assumed their duties. It was disbanded in 1922 and replaced by two new police forces; the Garda Síochána in the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now the Police Service of Northern Ireland) in Northern Ireland. However, the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force lasted until 1925, when it was incorporated into the Garda Síochána. Reflecting their jurisdiction, the force was predominantly Roman Catholic, although there were fewer Catholics in the higher ranks. The RIC's policing system influenced, for example, the Canadian North West Mounted Police when the Canadian federal government was looking for a plausible way to establish order in the North-West Territories, the Victoria Police force in Australia, and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in Newfoundland.

History of policing in Ireland

The first organised police force in Ireland came about through the Peace Preservation Act of 1814 but the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 marked the true beginning of the Irish Constabulary. Among its first duties was the forcible seizure of tithes during the "Tithe War" on behalf of the Anglican clergy from the mainly Catholic population as well as the Presbyterian minority. The act established a force in each barony with chief constables and inspectors general under the control of the civil administration at Dublin Castle. By 1841 this force numbered over 8,600 men. The force had been rationalised and reorganised in an 1836 act and the first constabulary code of regulations was published in 1837. The discipline was tough and the pay poor. The police also faced unrest among the Irish rural poor, manifested in organisations like the Ribbonmen, which attacked landlords and their property.

The new constabulary demonstrated its efficiency against Irish separatism with the putting down of the Young Ireland uprising led by William Smith O'Brien in 1848. There then followed a spell of relative calm. However, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, founded in 1858, planned an armed uprising against British rule. This rose into direct action in with the Fenian Rising of 1867, marked by attacks on the more isolated police stations. This rebellion was also put down fairly easily, as the police had infiltrated the Fenians with spies and informers. The loyalty of the constabulary during the rising was rewarded by Queen Victoria granting the force the prefix 'Royal' and the right to use the insignia of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick. The RIC presided over a marked decline in crime in the country with the rural unrest of the early nineteenth century (characterised by secret organizations and crimes such as unlawful armed assembly) being replaced by relative misdemeanours such as public drunkenness and minor property crimes.

An exception to this trend was the Land War of 1879-82. Belfast, which had its own separate police force, was marked with sectarian tensions as its population grew fivefold in fifty years, there were serious riots in 1857, 1864, 1872 and 1886. As a result the Belfast Town Police was disbanded and responsibility for policing the city passed to the RIC.

Due to their ubiquity from the 1850s the RIC were tasked with a range of civil and local government duties together with their existing ones, closely tying the constables to their local communities. By 1901 there were around 1,600 barracks and some 11,000 constables. The majority of the lower ranks in rural areas were of the same social class, religion and general background as their neighbours. Through their enforcement of tens of thousands of evictions in rural Ireland and their harassment of Land league leaders, the RIC had attracted widespread opprobrium among the Irish Catholic population during the nineteenth century. However, during the relative calm of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, the RIC won general acceptance as an efficient organisation which served as a model for similar forces elsewhere in the British Empire and was no more unpopular at home than effective police forces generally are. The military ethos of the RIC with its "barracks" (usually simply rented houses), carbines and emphasis on army style drill and smartness distinguished the force from civil police in Great Britain and Dublin. Throughout its history the RIC wore a distinctive dark green uniform with black buttons and insignia, derived in style from the Rifle Brigade of the British army.

The comparative ease of the RIC's existence was however increasingly troubled by the rise of the Home Rule campaign in the period prior to World War I. Sir Neville Chamberlain was appointed Inspector-General in 1900. His years in the RIC coincided with the rise of a number of political, cultural and sporting organizations with the common aim of asserting Ireland's separateness from England, which were often collectively referred to as "Sinn Féin", [Brian Feeney, "Sinn Féin. A Hundred Turbulent Years", O'Brien, 2002, ISBN 0862786959, p. 38] . The potential success of the third Home Rule Bill in 1912 introduced great tensions: opponents of the Bill organised the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913 while supporters formed the Irish Volunteers in response. These two groups had over 250,000 members, organized as effective private armies, although most effort was directed against the nationalists, leaving the UVF a relatively free hand Fact|date=July 2007. In reports to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, and the Under-Secretary, Sir Matthew Nathan, Chamberlain warned that the Irish Volunteers were preparing to stage an insurrection and proclaim Irish independence. [Michael Foy and Brian Barton, "The Easter Rising", Sutton, 2004, ISBN 0750934336, p. 51] However, in April 1916 when Nathan showed him a letter from the army commander in the south of Ireland telling of an expected landing of arms on the south-west coast and a rising planned for Easter, they were both 'doubtful whether there was any foundation for the rumour'. [ Leon Ó Broin, "Dublin Castle and the 1916 Rising", Sidgwick & Jackson, 1966, p. 79] The Easter Rising began on Easter Monday, 24 April, 1916 and lasted for six days, ending only when much of O'Connell Street had been destroyed by artillery fire. Although the Royal Commission on the 1916 Rebellion cleared the RIC of any blame for the Rising, Chamberlain had already resigned his post, along with Birrell and Nathan.

The Irish War of Independence

The Sinn Féin victory in the general election of 1918 and their creation of an independent parliament (Dáil Éireann) created a new situation in Ireland. Two RIC members, Constable Patrick MacDonnell and Constable James O’Connell, were killed in a Volunteer action at Soloheadbeg on 21 January 1919, which marked the beginning of the Irish War of Independence [cite web |title=Gearing up for war: Soloheadbeg 1919 |author=Aengus O Snodaigh |url= |publisher="An Phoblacht" |date=21 January 1999 |accessdate=2007-06-20] . This action was authorised retrospectively by the Dáil. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) with the support from headquarters of Michael Collins carried out systematic attacks on Crown forces, and the RIC as the direct instrument of British rule took the heaviest of the assaults.

From the autumn of 1919, they were forced to abandon their more isolated barracks. Simultaneously a boycott of the police was enforced by the IRA, with alternative courts and police being set up. RIC members were threatened and assassinated in increasing numbers as part of a deliberate strategy intended to make rural Ireland ungovernable by the Crown. In October 1920, RIC wages were increased to compensate for their increased cost of living, as most shops refused to serve them under Dáil Éireann's policy of ostracism of Crown forces.

By October 1920, according to a statement made by the Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, 117 RIC members had been killed and 185 wounded. Over a three month period during the same year 600 resigned from a force that had numbered only 9,500 when the rising began. During the first quarter of 1920, 500 police barracks and huts in outlying areas were evacuated. The IRA had destroyed over 400 of these by the end of June to prevent their subsequent reuse.

The consequence of this was the removal of protection of persons and property in many outlying areas and widespread intimidation, assault, murder and the wanton destruction of property. Large houses were burned, sometimes so that they could not be used for policing or military purposes.

To reinforce the much reduced and demoralised police the British government raised extra forces by recruiting World War I veterans from English and Scottish cities and sent them to Ireland in 1920, to form the notorious "Black and Tans" and Auxiliary Division of the Constabulary.

Paddy O'Shea, the son of a regular RIC sergeant, described these reinforcements as "a plague and a Godsend. They brought help but frightened even those they had come to help". Some regular RIC men resigned in protest at the often brutal tactics of the new recruits.

Others co-operated with the IRA either out of conviction or out of fear for their lives. A raid on an RIC barracks in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in June 1920, was carried out with the help of sympathetic RIC men. The barracks in Schull, County Cork, was captured with similar aid.

In December 1920, the Government of Ireland Act partitioned the country and in July 1921 a truce was agreed. 418 RIC personnel had been killed in two years. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was the cause of the Irish Civil War. In January 1922, it was agreed to disband the RIC, replacing it with the Garda Síochána in the Free State and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland.

Many RIC men went north to join the new RUC. This resulted in a force that was originally 40% Catholic. However, this percentage fell to 8% as these men eventually reached retirement and were not replaced by northern Catholics, who largely rejected the RUC's strongly unionist ethos.

Some RIC men joined the Garda Síochána, having assisted the IRA in different ways. Many retired and the Free State agreed to pay their pensions. Others however, faced with threatened or actual violent reprisals, fled with their families to Britain. A number of these joined the Palestine Gendarmerie, which was recruiting in Britain at the same time, and later the Palestine Police Force.


External links

* [ Jack Slator member of the RIC 1922]
* [;col1 article on RIC 1919-1921]

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