Monday, November 13, 2017

Royal Irish Constabulary of Athenry (Revised 2017) by Ronan Killeen

Above: Old Barracks Resteraunt present day (ref: Old Barracks Resteraunt facebook page)
If you feel like dining out why not look up the Old Barracks opening hours see
Above: The photo is of Cross street c. 1911 on the right hand side is an RIC constable where the Old Barracks Resteraunt is to day (ref :

As next year is the European Region of Gastronomy 2018 and the richness of heritage in Athenry,
Co. Galway. I have decided to write about the Royal Irish Constabulary of Athenry. I would like
to thank the 'South East Galway Archaeological and Historical Society'.

In the early nineteenth century Sir Robert Peel MP successfully introduced a Peace Preservation Force (1814-22), A permanent national constabular had finally been established, which in turn became the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) - the ‘Royal’ element being added 150 years ago.
Athenry (the RIC were based at Abbey Row, before moving to where the Old Barracks Restaurant is now).

Recruitment and Training
From the 1840s the Constabulary in Ireland were trained in a similar manner to the military. New recruits were drilled as soldiers, for six months or more, and were even trained in the use of arms and in military movement. The ‘day room’ or ‘orderly room’ in every station differed little from a squad room in a military barracks.

In the force, Constables were to be of: ‘Sound constitution; able-bodied; and under the age of 40 years; be able to read and write; and of good character for honesty, fidelity, and activity’.
The new officers would take the following oath ‘I ________ do swear that I will well and truly serve our sovereign lord, in the office of (rank) without favour or affection, malice or ill will, that I will see and cause his majesty’s peace to be kept and preserved, and that I will prevent, to the best of my power, all offences against the same, and that whilst I shall hold said office, I will not, while I shall hold the said office, join, subscribe, or belong to any political society, whatsoever, unless the society of Freemasonry’.

The age of new recruits ranged between 18-27 years, and candidates were ideally to be at least 5ft 9in, with a chest measure of 37 inches. After training, recruits were allocated a uniform and a modest allowance for boots and other necessaries. They were then appointed to counties, as prescribed. Constables would reach a maximum rate of £70 per annum after twenty years of service, sergeants a maximum of £86. Men in the constabulary were to have seven years service before permission to marry was granted.

Inspection & Promotion

There were monthly inspections by the District Inspector, periodical other inspections, and a quarterly visit from HQ. During inspections, Constables were expected to be found proficient in drill, have a good knowledge of the police duties, and demonstrate the efficient discharge of their duty. County Inspections were responsible for the efficiency of their county; District Inspectors for their district; and Head Constables/Sergeants for their stations.

Alcohol (‘intoxicating drink’) was a source of much trouble for the men and strict rules were applied. ‘Drunkenness’ was defined as the ‘slightest departure of sobriety’; tippling, or having an appearance of recent tippling was regarded as an offence. Up to the 1880s it was an offense to enter a public house whether on or off duty for the purpose of drinking; but this rule was modified to allow for reasonable refreshments.

The entire system of promotion was the cause of sourness and resentment. Religion was evidently an issue in the background of many promotions, and Catholics felt that Protestants relied more on religion and Freemasonry then on merit. It is unclear how much matters like this within the force played in the antipathy some of the public  held toward the force, and how large an element that was in its demise in the twentieth century.


The rigidity of rules, the military-style training, and other issues in the force would contribute to its downfall. Using Athenry as a typical barrack-area, the following are some of the issues faced, and some of the failures.

The inevitable ‘protect our own’ culture within the force (something we have heard a great deal of lately) would play no small part in its downfall by 1922.


Fatigue, frustration and issues with regard to unreimbursed expenses were among the regular issues that ordinary RIC members faced in Athenry.


There was often little room for constables to use their discretion with regard to some minor crimes. Pictured right is a force of RIC Constables in Athenry in 1915.


 The shooting of Colonel Lopdell in 1906, wherein a Constable O’Halloran was shot when protecting him, was increasingly typical. O’Halloran had been on the list for early promotion to the rank of sergeant.


 The following year, a charge of embezzlement against Sergeant Kearney was dismissed as there was insufficient evidence that he was wilfully and corrupt of perjury.


During this period, delegates from the GAA were said to be ‘shadowed’ and photographed by the RIC as division and suspicion grew around Athenry.


 Increasing in popularity, in 1897 the GAA instituted ‘Rule 21’ after it became apparent that some RIC members were joining GAA clubs to spy on members' political activities.

Poor Public Relations:

 A grievance highlighted in the Connacht Tribune, 17 August 1912, wherein mass goers
were obliged ‘to go deep in the mud while the footpath was occupied by [those] idle fellows.
Poor Management: Neglect on behalf of the government was arguably as destructive as the later IRA guerrilla campaign. The importance of central barracks like Athenry or rural policing was never appreciated.

Collapse of Intelligence Network:
Long a strength of the force, over time fear of being branded an ‘informant, or worse, began to out-weight any financial reward.

As indicated, despite three quarters of the force being Catholic, the majority of the senior officers were Protestant. In Athenry, a Church of Ireland officer led a force of 8 ‘RC’ the night of the 1901 census.


 On 31 Aug 1913, the DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police) and the RIC rioted in O'Connell Street, attacking what they mistakenly thought were a crowd of Larkin supporters. 500 people were injured, and two were killed.

Above: A newspaper article from early 20th century newspaper

Misplaced Loyalty: Unlike to their subsequent approach in Dublin, the Belfast Newsletter of 2 Aug 1907 (right) confirms the force sided with their Belfast counterparts who mutinied rather than take action against striking Protestant dock workers.

Evictions: Enforcement of eviction orders caused the force to be despised by the poorest of the population. Evictions in Athenry are evident in the EPPI and referenced in the variousnewspapers during this period.

The RIC faced considerable challenges in the early twentieth century and proved incapable of adopting to the evolution of those they were seeking to police. Listed were just some of the challenges that the force failed to meet, though there are many more reasons for that failure (macro and micro). It is a case however that the issues of ‘estrangement’ long before the war of independence were not capable of being managed by their existing rules or training.

References: House of Commons debates 1907-1912; Connacht Tribune; and The Royal Irish Constabulary by Thomas Fennell.

List of Publicans and Hotel Owners/Managers 1856-1936 by Ronan Killeen (Merry Christmas!)

1846 [1] Margaret Barrett, (Hotel and Posting House); Matthias Cannon; John Dunleavy; John Holleran; John Whelan. 1856 [...