The Morris Tribunal now at hearing in Co. Donegal into allegations concerning members of the Garda Siochana in that division is so far as I can recall the first such enquiry since the Force was founded 80 years ago. The Garda Siochana was founded following a meeting in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin on 8th February 1922. Recruiting for the new police force started 13 days later and the RDS in the capital city was used for that purpose. The Garda Siochana paraded for the first time at the funeral of Frank Lawless T.D. on Tuesday, 18th April 1922. Without uniforms the Gardai paraded in civilian clothes and were described in a newspaper report of the day as “men of fine bearing and physique”. The next public display of the new force was recorded in the newspapers reports of the takeover of Dublin Castle from the British Authorities on 17th August 1922. A photograph of that occasion shows Michael Staines, the first Commissioner of the Garda Siochana marching at the head of 380 Gardai into the lower Castle Yard. Only some of the Gardai were kitted out in uniforms that day. The end of August also marked the official disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary, even though the process had begun as early as the previous March.
The cap badge of the Garda Siochana first appeared in the Irish Independent of 18th August 1922 with an acknowledgment to its designer John Francis Maxwell, an art teacher in the Blackrock & Dunlaoghaire Technical School. The new badge was worn for the first time by the new Gardai at the funeral of President Arthur Griffith on 12th August 1922. Athy has secured its place in the history of the Garda Siochana by virtue of the fact that the Garda Station plaques which were placed above the entrance door of each new Garda Station were made in cast iron by local firm Duthie Larges. Herbert Painting, Assistant Principal of Athy’s Technical School and a teacher of art made the mould from which these castings were made. The local Technical School was then located in Stanhope Place while Painting lived at St. Michael’s Terrace.
Athy, which once had a County Inspector based in its RIC Station, received its first intake of the newly recruited Gardai in 1922. I have a copy of a letter written by Sgt. William Duggan in 1950 from his home in Charleville, Co. Cork in which he claims that the Gardai first took up duty in the town on 15th August 1922. Prior to that the party consisting of 16 members were, according to Duggan, stationed at the protection post in Bert. This was an outpost which during the RIC days was serviced from the Athy RIC Barracks. Sgt. Duggan whom I hasten to add was not the Sergeant of the same surname who served in Athy from 1944 also claimed in his letter that he was the first Garda Sergeant stationed in the town. A photograph exists of which I have a poor copy, which shows Athy’s first station party of one Sergeant and fifteen Gardai. With them is the Assistant Commissioner, Paddy Brennan and the photograph taken outside the protection post at Bert shows all but two of the Gardai holding rifles. None of the Gardai wore a uniform. Paddy Brennan was one of three brothers from Co. Clare and was regarded as Michael Collins’s most trusted military adviser during the War of Independence.
We cannot be certain about the early years of the Garda Siochana in Athy but Sergeant Duggan’s letter written 52 years ago is an important document, particularly as it records the name of the sixteen men who formed the first station party in the town. Their names were Gardai Michael O’Connor, Peter Curley, Thomas Concannon, Joseph Walton, John Kelly, Joseph McNamara, John Ryan, Michael Somers, Patrick Fitzgerald, John O’Neill, James Dwyer, John Hanly, Peter Tracey, Thomas Irwin, Michael Hassett and Sgt. William Duggan.
The records retained by the Garda Siochana, particularly of the early years of the force may not be as complete as historians would like. For instances those retained at Divisional level for the Athy station shows the first Sergeant in charge as Cornelius Lillis. He was replaced by Sgt. Ed O’Loughlin on 1st May 1924 who in turn gave way to the earlier mentioned William Duggan on 1st August 1924. The records from which this information was gleaned shows that the first fourteen entries were made by the same hand and by all accounts on the same day in 1930. You can picture the scene that year as a member in Divisional headquarters set about to record the names of the sergeants who had served in Athy over the previous eight years. Duggan’s letter, even though written 28 years after the events they record, is more authoritative than the Divisional records written up in 1930, given as it does very clear and comprehensive details known only to someone who had participated in the events of the time.
When the Gardai first moved into Athy town in August 1922 they were accommodated in the Town Hall in Emily Square. The same Town Hall had accommodated the British Army during the Luggacurran Evictions of the 1880’s and would provide similar shelter for the Free State Army during the Civil War. Having spent some time in the Town Hall the local Gardai transferred to the RIC Barracks at Barrack Lane after it was vacated by the Free State Army. The Barracks, originally built in the 1730’s as a Military Barracks, was subsequently burned down during the Civil War, following which the Gardai moved into a hotel in Leinster Street. I was told many years ago that the Garda Barracks for Athy was one time located in the Hibernian Hotel which is now Bradbury’s. Sgt. Duggan however claims that it was the Leinster Arms Hotel that the local Gardai occupied following the burning of the old RIC Barracks. I don’t know for how long Leinster Street was the location of the local Garda Barracks or when the Garda Siochana moved to the Duke Street premises where the Barracks was located for many years prior to the opening of the new station.
Sgt. William Duggan left for Kilcock in April 1923 and was replaced by Sgt. Patrick Hackett whose name does not appear in the Divisional records. Indeed those records show that the first Garda Sergeant in Athy was Cornelius Lillis whom I am now satisfied was the third Sergeant to hold that position after William Duggan and Patrick Hackett. Ed O’Loughlin replaced Sgt. Lillis on 1st May 1924 following the latters transfer to Ballytore Garda Station. Sgt. William Duggan returned as Sergeant to Athy on 1st August 1924 replacing Sgt. Ed O’Loughlin who went to Rathangan. Sgt. O’Loughlin, a Kilkenny man, died the following year. He had opened the Ballytore Station in April 1923. There were three Gardai with him in that rural station, James Kealy, Kieran Keys and John Reville. Castledermot Garda Station opened in September 1922 with Sgt. Thomas Concannon in charge assisted by Gardai Patrick Cosgrave, Tim Hanrahan and Thomas J. Brennan.
Strange to relate that almost 80 years later with a bigger population to police and crime on the increase, Garda stations around the country have fewer Gardai while Athy, a relatively large provincial town no longer has a 24 hour police presence.