Gregory Allen a former member of the Garda Siochana and curator of the Garda Museum had written an accomplished and a very readable account of the first sixty years of the Garda Siochana. There has been a number of books produced on the same subject since my good friend the criminologist Seamus Breathnach published his book the “ The Irish police from the earliest times to the present day” in 1974.
The story of the Garda Siochana is an interesting one. Following the Anglo Irish Treaty the members of the Provisional Government were concerned to ensure that a properly trained police force would be in position to take the place of the soon to be disbanded R.I.C. The R.I.C. Barracks in Athy had been located in Whites Castle up to 1889 when due to the unsatisfactory accommodation in that building arrangements were put in place to relocate to the vacant Military Barracks in Barrack Lane. The move did not find agreement with local Town Commissioners who petitioned Dublin Castle on several occasions to have the police Barracks relocated to the centre of the town. In 1895 the Members of Parliament for Co. Kildare were asked to put a question in the English House of Commons “Relative to the removal of the Constabulary to their present out of the way location and to have the authorities change them to a more central position”. All to no vail, as the authorities had spend the not in considerable sum of £500 in renovating the former Military Barracks and the police inspector asked to review the Commissioner’s request was able to report that “The peace of the town is well maintained”. The R.I.C. were still in the former Military Barracks when the Irish Independent newspaper carried a report of the intended formation of the Garda Siochana or the Civic Guards who would replace them.
Recruiting for the new police force started on the 21st February 1922 and the first member was Patrick Joseph Kerrigan from Co. Mayo. On the 13th April Civil War erupted with the seizure of the Four Courts in Dublin by Rory O’Connor and the Anti Treaty Forces better known as “The Irregulars”. Twelve days later Michael Staines newly appointed Commissioner of the Gardai took over the army Barracks in Kildare as a recruiting depot for the Garda Siochana. This was soon to be the centre of attention when on the 15th May what became known as the Kildare mutiny took place. Several Ex R.I.C. men had been brought into the Civic Guards as officers and objections were taken to their presence by many former IRA men who had themselves enlisted in the new police force. The mutiny further heightened existing tensions in the country and led to formation of Civic Guard Active Service Units. These were police men armed with rifles who were deployed to protect the railways in Co. Kildare by day and night. On Sunday the 16th July 1992 the first Civic Guards were sent into South Kildare as part of the active service units even before the first Garda recruits had finished their training. Posts were established in Kildare and Monasterevin and later at Cloney, Doneaney and Athy staffed by armed units of the Civic Guards.
There was unease at Government level at the arming of the Guards particularly as they lacked uniforms and so far as the locals were concerned they had all the appearances of “Irregulars”. Their rifles were later taken up and replaced with revolvers. Towards the end of August an active service unit on night patrol armed with revolvers was caught in cross fire during an attack on the local Garda Barracks in Athy. The attack was initiated by members of the Carlow Kildare Brigade IRA who had taken the Anti Treaty side. There were no casualties.
Early in September 1922 General Eoin O’ Duffy by now Chief of Police accelerated the plans to deploy uniformed members of an unarmed Garda Siochana throughout the country. A sergeant and four Garda were sent to Athy and took up residence in the former Military Barracks at Barrack Lane which had been built in or about 1730 to house a cavalry troop.
The first sergeant in charge of the local Garda station was Cornelius Lillis who arrived from the depot with four young Gardai, John Hanley, John Kelly, Patrick Fitzgerald and Joseph MacNamara. Sergeant Lillis transferred in May 1924 to Ballytore to be replaced by Sergeant E.O ‘Loughlin. Thereafter Garda sergeants arrived and departed with regular frequency and when my father arrived in Athy on the 26th February 1945 he was the twenty second Garda sergeant to serve in the town of Athy. By an extraordinary coincidence his period of service in Athy was to equal the aggregate total of all his twenty one predecessors as sergeant in the town.
The names of the former sergeants may be of interest to my older readers. Following Lillis and O’ Loughlin came William Duggan in 1924, James Power, Patrick Kelleher and Patrick Murphy 1925, William Thorne in 1926, William Sheehan, John Noonan and Thomas Vaughan in 1927, Philip Griffin and John Mc Carthy in 1928, James Tierney in 1929, James Darmody in 1930, Francis Corr in 1931, Bernard Dugan Patrick Mac Nulty and Daniel Taylor in 1933, Robert Hayes in 1935, Hugh Ruddy in 1936 and Daniel Duggan in 1937. Sergeant John Mc Carthy who arrived from Emily, Co. Offaly in 1928 died while stationed in Athy on the 3rd September 1931. I wonder how many of these men are remembered in Athy today?
Some of the older Gardai I remember in Athy during the 1950’s, all of whom are now dead, were part of the thirty six Gardai who were transferred to the town between 1922 and 1948. The Garda with the longest service in Athy was James Kelly who transferred from Tarbert, Co. Kerry on the 22nd August 1928. Three years later he was joined by John Mac Mahon and in 1933 and 1934 arrived Michael Tuohy and John O’ Connell. Garda Tuohy had the Garda number 854, confirmation that he was one of the earliest recruits into the newly established Garda Siochana. My father the farmers son from the Northern end of Co. Longford was one of five sons two of whom emigrated to America. His other two brothers stayed on the land one inheriting his fathers farm while the other “Fell in” for a elderly neighbours holding. My father as the youngest of the family with every one else cared for was given an “Education” to free him from dependency on the land. He trained as a National teacher but for what ever reason applied to join the Garda Siochana and presented himself at the Phoenix Park Depot on the 4th November 1925 to be medically examined by Surgeon Ellis. Passed physically and mentally fit to perform the duties of a member of the Garda Siochana on the following day he signed a Declaration before a Peace Commissioner that he would be faithful to the utmost of his ability in his employment by the Ard Chomhairle of Saorstat Eireann in the office of the Garda and would render good and true service ……. without favour or affection, fear, malice or ill will. He further undertook as a Garda not to join, belong or subscribe to any political society whatsoever or to any secret society.
TO BE CONTINUED