Heritage Trail: Royal Irish Constabulary Barrack

RIC badge, from horse tack.
RIC badge, from horse tack.

According to the early OSI maps, the first police barrack in Douglas was at the Fingerpost crossroad. The men in this barrack could have been members of the County Constabulary, the first attempt at a centrally controlled police force in Ireland. However, it failed to keep the peace during the emancipation campaign of the 1820s and the tithe war of the early 1830s, and the Irish Constabulary was founded in 1836. The new force was centralised, hierarchical and armed, replacing men who had been appointed by local magistrates in earlier decades. Nevertheless, Daniel O’Connell, who had opposed earlier police forces, supported the new constabulary, believing that Dublin Castle was more trustworthy than local elites. Local communities, both the rich and the poor, did not agree with him and deeply resented the interference of unaccountable strangers in their daily lives. Following its role in suppressing the Fenian rebellion, the force was named the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1867. 1 When the OSI mapped Douglas in the 1890s, the Constabulary barrack was at the junction of Douglas Street and the Carrigaline Road. This building was occupied by the RIC until it was taken ever by the police force of the independent state, an Garda Síochána.

In 1901, there were three members of the RIC stationed in Douglas barrack. The Sergeant, Francis J. Cahill lived there with his wife, sharing the four-roomed house with 2 constables. [See the 1901 Census, Form H: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000562508/ and Form B1 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000562389/ accessed 14 October 2014.] Sgt. Cahill was typical of many RIC men of the time: he was a Catholic, married, career policeman. As a farmer’s son, he was from an agricultural background shared by 61% of recruits in 1901. 2 The constables in the barrack, whose full names are not given in the census, were also farmer’s sons, probably younger sons of small famers. One came from Galway, the other from Westmeath. These counties were important recruiting grounds for the RIC whose members came disproportionately from the west in the mid nineteenth century and then the midlands in the latter half of the century. 3

RIC group in Belfast, 1880. Courtesy of royalirishconstabulary.com.
RIC group in Belfast, 1880. Courtesy of royalirishconstabulary.com.

Cahill had probably joined before he was 21 years old, meaning that he had 17 years experience by the 1901 census. He was married, as were over 43% of the force by this time. 4 Before the 1870s, just 20% of the force were permitted to marry but Cahill had joined when this rule had been relaxed. His wife, Ellen, was from Tipperary and it is likely that he had met her while stationed in the county. [Ellen was recorded in this form, http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000562509/ accessed 14 October 2014.] Once married, Cahill could no longer serve in his wife’s county of origin. No Irishman could serve in his native county, but as Cahill was English, this did not apply to him. There was a significant minority of English- and Scottish-born RIC officers – 15% from 1837-1921 – serving in the RIC. 5

Policing in Ireland was not a dangerous job, until the 1919-22 period. Serious violence directed at the police after 1836 was mostly associated with fairs, riots and elections. 6 Cahill and his colleagues were probably not unduly worried about being killed in the course of duty. It was a relatively attractive job, with regular pay, allowances, paid leave and, most importantly, a pension. Before the state pension was introduced in 1908, few jobs offered a pension. This benefit undoubtedly attracted recruits, even when the pay was lower than comparable work open to them. Since pay rates were set by the government, RIC men could not take advantage of increases in wages arising from improving economic conditions. But neither were they vulnerable to seasonal unemployment. In 1901, Cahill could have earned up to £2 4s. per week His junior colleagues probably have earned 17s a week. In 1911, 47-year-old Cahill was still in Douglas barracks, but his junior colleagues had moved on. He would have had to have 30 years service and be at least 50 years old he before could retire on his pension. 7

  1. Elizabeth Malcolm, The Irish Policeman 1822-1922: a life (Dublin, 2006), pp 22-4.
  2. His, and his colleagues, former occupations are recorded in Form H http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000562508/; Malcolm, p 54.
  3. Malcolm, p 53.
  4. Malcolm, p 173.
  5. Malcolm, p 61.
  6. Malcolm, p 197.
  7. Malcolm, p 143.