Garda Síochána Historical Society
Irish Police History

Issues affecting Irish policing, 1922-1932, by Garda Jim Herlihy


"The men are delighted with their new quarters at the Phoenix Park Depot. They, the new Civic Guards celebrated Christmas with hearty conviviality and the strains of music and song floated across the barrack square from many of the rooms on Christmas night." - Thus read a short paragraph in The Irish Times on 27 December 1922.

Christmas time is essentially a season of festivity, of gaiety and enjoyment, but below the spirit of rejoicing runs an undercurrent of sadness, accentuated by our treasured memories of the past. Such memories lie dormant within us, but by some touch, insignificant in itself, but reminiscent of the past, they become a living force, and carry our thoughts back to pictures of bygone times. The annual observance of Christmas customs, occurring with such regularity, forms an outstanding feature of each year, and acts, as milestones in our lives. We cannot resist passing at each to rest and think upon the course of events between the stones. We hide from others those precious "thoughts which lie too deep for tears," but surely such memories are not to be shunned on that account for "our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts." Our Christmas memories may thus be tinged with sadness, but we must not let them dim the present. Each Christmas leads to the dawn of another year, and with that dawn comes the birth of a new hope.

In that context we look at issues affecting the three police forces of the Irish Free State in its formative years; their individual origins and roles and sacrifices; and following their amalgamation, the vast array of duties they were obliged to adopt by the end of the first decade.


The Irish War of Independence from 1919 was ended by a truce on 11 July 1921 and talks between the British and Irish Republication delegation culminated in the Anglo-Irish Treaty which was signed on 6 December 1921 and ratified by Dail Eireann on 7 January 1922. Agreement was also reached in January 1922 by the British and the newly formed Provisional Government to disband the Royal Irish Constabulary, and on Thursday 9 February 1922 a meeting was held at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin to establish a police force to replace the RIC. The Civic Guard was so formed on 22 February 1922 and renamed the Garda Síochána on 8 August 1923. The Civic Guards were initially armed and trained at the Royal Dublin Society Showgrounds, Ballsbridge, Dublin and transferred from there to Kildare Military Barracks on 25 April 1922. Following a mutiny in Kildare the first commissioner, Michael Staines, T.D. tendered his resignation on 18 August and he was succeeded as by General Eoin O'Duffy on 10 September. Dublin Castle and nearby Ship Street Barracks was taken over by the Civic Guards on 17 August 1922. It was here that 19 year old Charles Eastwood, Civic Guard 1017 was accidentally shot dead by a colleague, Leo Herde, Civic Guard 1498 on 20 September. It was decided that the Civic Guards would henceforth be an unarmed police force. On Tuesday, 14 November 1922, the Civil War claimed the first life of a Garda when Garda Henry Phelan was shot dead in Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary when he was mistaken for his brother, a former member of the RIC. In the same month the Gardai moved to Collinstown, Co. Dublin and then to the Phoenix Park RIC Depot which was vacated on 17 December 1922.


In August 1922 no courts of any kind were sitting in Cork City due to the Civil War. Four hundred prisoners were in Cork Prison in 250 cells (360 military and 40 civilian prisoners). On 11 August 1922 a deputation of three members of Cork Corporation together with members of the Chambers of Commerce and other public bodies were appointed to wait on Major-General Emmett Dalton of the National Army, in reference to the formation of a police force for the City of Cork. Interviews were held at Cork Courthouse on 14 August and 30 members of the Cork City Police, otherwise called the Cork Civic Patrol took up duty on 16 August. A total of 104 were recruited. They were unarmed but had the aid of the National Army in the performance of their duties which embraced the conducting of the city traffic, the arresting of looters, and the supervision of public houses, the proprietors of which were requested to close their premises at 10pm until normal conditions were restored. The police duties were so arranged as to provide for all-night patrols. Major offenders arrested by the C.C.P. were brought to Cork Prison and looters were taken to Moore's Hotel.


On 9 November 1922 the first contingent of Civic Guards arrived in Cork by boat and were billeted in the School of Music as the former RIC barracks at Union Quay had been burned by the Anti Treaty forces following its evacuation. On 20 December 1922, the Adaptation of Enactments Act (Act2 of 1922) became law by which Justices of the Peace and the Resident Magistrates were deprived of their powers, which were thenceforward exercised by District Justices (Section 6 of the Act). Superintendent Eamon Cullen on his arrival in Cork City dated 19 December 1922 to the Commissioner of the Civic Guard he outlined the appointments of Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Troy as justices in Cork City from 20 November. He also stated that there were 22 indictable and 34 minor offences "brought forward in the name of the police". His report gives the names of the complainants as both members of both the Civic Guards and the C.C.P. giving evidence both individually and jointly. The types of crimes and offences recorded were assaults, housebreaking, false pretences, larcenies of bicycles, larceny of goods from a pawnbroker's establishment, larceny of an overcoat, larceny of a gold ring, larceny of lead, illegal possession of a typewriter, immoral conduct, drunkenness while in charge of a horse and car, simple drunkenness and disorderly behaviour.

When one considers that the new Civic Guards and the C.C.P. were investigating ordinary crimes and offences over Christmas 1922, it is difficult to imagine that a civil War was raging. This obviously shows the dedication, commitment and devotion to duty of the new Civic Guards and the co-operation afforded them by the general public in Cork.


In the same week in the Northern Police Court, Dublin, a number of motorists were fined between 10 shillings and 3 on charges of exceeding the speed limit. These offences were brought by members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. One defendant who had an appointment in Trinity College Dublin covered the journey in fifteen minutes from the Dun Laoire side of Blackrock when stopped. The DMP an unarmed police force had policed the Dublin Metropolitan District since 1836 and continued to do so until they were amalgamated with the Garda Síochána in April 1925. The Detective Division or 'G' Division of the DMP formed in 1843 was armed and were decimated during the War of Independence by members of Michael Collins' Squad. Following the Treaty, Collins as Director of Intelligence appointed thirty members of his Squad to the Protective Corps, with headquarters at Oriel House, Westland Row, Dublin who afforded protection to members of the Provisional Government. The Anti Treaty Forces occupied the Four Courts in June 1922 and thus began the Civil War.


On 22 August 1922 Michael Collins was killed in an ambush at Beal na Blath, Co. Cork. The same day, in addition to the Protective Corps under the control of the National Army Military Intelligence the Criminal Investigation Department was formed to 'be distinct from existing police forces with separate headquarters under direct control of the Minister for Home Affairs.' It was formed from members of the National Army and the Irish Republican Police and was also based at Oriel House, Westland Row. They consisted of over 100 heavily armed men and three women detectives who were 'cloaked' as typists and 'engaged in special duties connected with the detection of women engaged in hostilities against the Government.' On 25 August 1922 CID Motor Driver John J. Murray was wounded in the leg at Dean's Grange and died later of his wounds. On 27 August a bomb was thrown at a party of CID men at the Canal Bridge, Drumcondra. It failed to hit the men but exploded outside a provision store and injured two women passersby. On 17 September 1922 Oriel House was stormed and CID officer Anthony Deane was shot dead. On 22 December CID Assistant Inspector was wounded at Ellis Quay, Dublin and died of his wounds on 29 December 1922. Also on 19 October 1923, Thomas Fitzgerald, CID Motor Driver was shot dead at Ashtown, Co. Dublin following an armed robbery of 40 from Messrs. Rathborne's candle factory at Castleknock by three dispatch riders of the National Army. One of the attackers was shot dead in the course of the chase and the other two raiders were captured. William Downes was convicted of Thomas Fitzgerald's murder on 29 October 1923 and executed by hanging at Mountjoy Jail on 29 November 1923 - his execution being the first hanging in the history of the Irish Free State.

Minister Kevin O'Higgins inspecting the DMP


The State of the country and the credit to the police forces was outlined in a speech by Mr. Kevin O'Higgins, Minister of Home Affairs at Dun Laoghaire on 29 October 1923. "There are over 600 Civic Guard stations established to date out of a total establishment which provides for 800 stations. They have done, and are doing splendid work, in restoring order and stability in the country. Their discipline is of a high order and gaining experience from week to week they bid fair to become as fine a force as any country in the world can show. Great credit is due to General O'Duffy who in the most adverse circumstances built up such an admirable service for the people.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police are, I am glad to say full of vigour and enthusiasm in the service of the citizens, and the statistics of crime detected in Dublin compare favourably with those of any big city in England or on the Continent. Within recent weeks, in particular, there have been cases of unarmed DMP men dealing very effectively with armed criminals. I am completely confident that that fine force will continue to earn the respect and goodwill of all decent citizens, and that it will also earn the respect without the goodwill of those who give way to criminal instincts.

You are well aware of the good service given by the men of Oriel House during the last twelve months. They share with the Army the dangers and the toils of a peculiarly trying campaign, and their success in defeating and exposing the methods of the enemies of the State did much to hasten a return to more normal conditions. That success made them the objective alike for bomb and bullet and for poisonous propaganda, but the citizens of Dublin and of the country know that those men did their duty fearlessly. In the near future about 30 picked men from Oriel House will be associated in a new Criminal Investigation Department with the Detective Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Oriel House had no statutory existence, and as we pass from conditions of revolt into a more stable situation, it is thought better to associate a selection of its members with the Metropolitan Police rather than to seek legislative sanction for the formal establishment of a separate institution. I have been fortunate in securing for the headship of the new Detective Branch an officer who has given distinguished service in the National Army - Colonel David Neligan. I feel that the citizens of Dublin will have reason to approve of the administration steps that have been taken. When Colonel Neligan has his branch under way, I will not hesitate if the situation in the country requires it, to seek the necessary powers to enable its members to deal with major crime in any part of the country. That is the machinery of the Government to combat crime.

I would like to say a word as to the mentality behind that machinery. The police forces recognize that the purpose of their existence is the suppression of crime, not merely the harassing of particular criminals. Crime will be fought remorselessly and impersonally in every square mile of our territory in whatever quarter it may raise its head. We have no more use for the criminal who invokes the name of Michael Collins or Arthur Griffith than we have for the criminal who invokes the name of Mr. DeValera. When we joined issue with the irregulars we went out not simply to catch or kill a particular combination of individuals, but to defeat and suppress and utterly smash a mentality which menaced the political and economic life of the nation. If that mentality manifests itself in our own ranks we must recognize it as being not less, but more, fatal to the body politic than when it masqueraded under the banner of the Republic. We are determined to create and maintain conditions here which will enable people to lend their money to their own country - to the common Exchequer with every confidence of present stability and future prosperity."


On 29 October 1923 the Oriel House C.I.D was disbanded and its members transferred to the Dublin Metropolitan Police. In April 1925 the DMP was amalgamated with the Garda Síochána. The first Garda Síochána Code was published in 1928 covering every possible regulation which were very strictly enforced. Formal and informal station inspections by senior officers were carried out very frequently and often feared. Unlike many other Government services the Garda's activities dealt not only with their own department, i.e. the Department of Justice, but with the work of many others. The Ministry of Agriculture depended to a large extent upon the services of the Gardai in many important particulars. In a country whose principal industry was the cattle trade the duty of the Garda in respect of acts and regulations was an important one. The Garda enforced the Protection of Animals Act, the Diseases of Animals Act, the Livestock Breeding Act, Sheep Dipping Orders and Swine Movement Orders. In the protection of animals Gardai were required at fairs and markets, at cattle loading banks, on routes to and from markets, and on the cattle routes to ports and railway stations. Outbreaks of all notifiable diseases, such as cattle plague, sheep pox and swine fever had to be watched for by the Gardai, reported to the Ministry, and immediate action taken to isolate the animals and the area. Returns of sheep owners were recorded by the Gardai and forwarded to the various local authorities. In 1928 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals made 216 awards to Gardai for work in connection with animals.

The various branches of the Ministry of Finance relied on the Gardai to carry out many important duties, and special and numerous enquiries on their behalf. Particulars required for concessions on duty on motors under the Finance Act, 1925 had to be certified by the Gardai. In other ways too, the Revenue Commissioners received Garda assistance, such as putting down illicit distillation, control of materials for such distillation, Customs duty on the border, the 'new' Betting and Dogs Acts. The Betting Act imposed additional duties. Certificates of personal fitness and suitability of premises had to be first given by the Gardai before licences could be issued. Between 1922 and the end of 1928 the Gardai had made 2,396 seizures, resulting in the imposition of fines totaling 14,000 in the enforcement of the laws against illicit distillation. On 28 December Garda Thomas Dowling, aged 29 years from Fanore, Co. Clare, was ambushed and shot dead passing the graveyard at Craggagh Fanore, in reprisal for his enforcement of the illicit distillation laws. The Garda border patrols in the 1920's necessitated the employment of 40 men on Special Revenue Patrols. The increases supervision of firearms, the issue of certificates, the inspection of firearms dealers' licences were all dealt with by the Gardai under the Firearms Acts. At Tullycrine, Kilrush, Co. Clare, Detective Garda Tadgh O'Sullivan on 11 July 1929 was killed by a booby-trap bomb. On 30 March 1931 Superintendent Sean Curtin was shot dead at Friarsfield, outside Tipperary Town.

For the Ministry of Fisheries the Gardai had many duties to perform. The 'new' Fisheries Acts included the supervision of licences of dealers in salmon and trout, examination of registers kept by dealers, enforcing conditions of transit of salmon and trout. The preservation of game largely depended on the Gardai and the Force was also charged with the execution of Poaching Prevention Laws. For the Ministry of Industry and Commerce the Gardai were to certify claims of Unemployment Benefit and make all enquiries concerning same. They also had to provide Weights and Measures Inspectors for the local authorities, which necessitated the employment of some 60 sergeants. Concerning Local Government, the Gardai acted as Inspectors of Food and Drugs and also enforced the bye-laws which were made from time to time by the local authorities. Revision of the Electoral Lists were imposed upon the Gardai as were additional powers and duties under the Electoral Acts. Under the Street Trading Acts the licensing and the registration of street traders imposed queries from various government departments in administrative matters. Applications for passports had to have their applications certified by the Gardai, and in the case of citizens of the Irish Free State resident in England, special enquiries and reports had to be made.

With the increased use of mechanical transport, duties regarding traffic control fell upon the Gardai. Pointsmen had to be taken from ordinary police work and placed on traffic duty. In 1929 there were 150 members so employed, with no corresponding increase in strength, each day of the year, with increased numbers at the weekends. Buses, Taxis, hackneys had to be examined and passed and licensed and continuously supervised. The compilation of the national Census also fell upon the Gardai and in 1926 necessitated the employment of 2,000 enumerators over a six week period. Each year 1,000 Gardai were employed for six weeks in the collection of agricultural statistics. In addition various statistics were called for from time to time, such as a Census of Road Traffic and a Census of Shops for the Commission of Food Prices. In enforcing the laws regarding standard bottles, 4 sergeants were employed fulltime in Dublin, and over 20 men in the country areas. During all this time multifarious other duties had to be carried on. Under the Wireless and Telegraphy Act, 1926 new duties were conferred on the Garda. One Garda had to be detailed as a School Attendance Officer under the School Attendance Act, 1926 (Dublin and Cork being excepted. The appointed Garda had many records to keep and was constantly employed in making enquires and verifying particulars in the schools and at the home of the children who failed to attend, and while so employed was used for other police work.


In the first decade of policing of the Irish Free State the foregoing duties and laws were successfully enforced because the Garda Síochána maintained contact with their community, both on the beat and when interacting and socializing. Their mere presence made people feel safer in their work, and living environment. People lived and worked in localized communities. Such was the lifestyle that everybody knew everybody's business: where they worked, played, etc. But most of all they knew their local Garda by name, their movements and their whereabouts at any given time. They also shared information with them on a regular basis.

Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) in 1829 whilst developing the London Metropolitan Police devised his now well-known "Nine Principles of Policing." In Principle Seven he states:

"To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police: the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent of every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence." This principle was adopted by the first Garda Commissioner, Michael Staines, T.D. when on 9 September 1922 the eve of his leaving office he defined the future role of the police in Irish society. He wrote: "The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms but on their moral authority as servants of the Irish people." Eoin O'Duffy in his decade as Commissioner from 1922 to 1932 fulfilled his predecessor's objective.


  • Allen, Gregory. The Garda Síochána - Policing Independent Ireland, 1922-82. Gill & MacMillan, Dublin, 1999.
  • Brady, Conor. Guardians of the Peace Dublin, 1974, reprinted 2000.
  • Herlihy, Jim The Royal Irish Constabulary - A Short History and Genealogical Guide. Dublin, 1997.
  • Herlihy, Jim The Dublin Metropolitan Police - A Short History and Genealogical Guide. Dublin, 2001.
  • McNiffe, Liam. A History of the Garda Síochána - A Social History of the Force from 1922 to 1952, Dublin, 1997.
  • Department of Justice H Series, (H169 Oriel House CID), National Archives, Dublin
  • Diary of Superintendent Eamon Cullen, 21/1/1921 - 23/3/1924.
  • The Irish Times, 1922-1932.
  • The Cork Examiner, 1922-1932.
  • The Garda Síochána Code, 1928.
  • The Garda Review, 1922-1932.

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