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The ‘Irish’ policeman and the Empire: influencing the policing of the British Empire–Commonwealth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Georgina Sinclair*
European Centre for the Study of Policing, The Open University


In the history of the modern world, it is well known that the British Isles have exercised an influence entirely disproportionate to their size. In the history of modern police, Ireland’s contributions are little known. The time is long overdue to recognize the importance of this small island in the development of police in the British archipelago and beyond.

Ireland and the British Empire-Commonwealth
Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 2008

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1 Palmer, Stanley H., Police and protest in England and Ireland, 1780–1850 (Cambridge, 1988), p. 545.Google Scholar

2 For a survey of the R.I.C., see, in particular, Brewer, John, The Royal Irish Constabulary: an oral history (Belfast, 1990)Google Scholar; Hawkins, Richard, ‘Dublin Castle and the Royal Irish Constabulary, 1916–1922’ in Williams, Desmond T. (ed.), The Irish struggle (London, 1966), pp 167-81Google Scholar; Herlihy, Jim, Royal Irish Constabulary officers: a biographical and genealogical guide, 1816–1922 (Dublin, 2005)Google Scholar; Malcolm, Elisabeth, The Irish policeman, 1822–1922: a life (Dublin, 2006)Google Scholar. For a survey of colonial policing, see Anderson, David M. and Killingray, David, Policing the Empire: government, authority and control, 1830–1940 (Manchester, 1992)Google Scholar and Policing and decolonisation: nationalism, politics and the police, 1917–65 (Manchester, 1992); Sinclair, Georgina S., At the end of the line: colonial policing and the imperial endgame, 1945–1980 (Manchester, 2006).Google Scholar

3 Kevin Kenny, ‘Ireland and the British Empire: an introduction’ in idem (ed.),Ireland and the British Empire (Oxford, 2004), pp 1–25.

4 See Lowe, W. J. and Malcolm, E. L., ‘The domestication of the Royal Irish Constabulary, 1836–1922’ in Ir. Econ. & Soc. Hist., xix (1992), pp 2748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 It benefited from a sizeable pool of officers that grew from 4,792 in 1824 to 5,940 by 1830 - a figure that had doubled by 1850; Palmer, Police & protest, pp 330, 518.

6 See Sinclair, Georgina S. and Williams, Chris A., ‘“Home and away”: the cross-fertilisation between “colonial” and “British” policing, 1921–85’ in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 35, no. 2 (June 2007), pp 221-38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 The Dublin Police Act was passed by the Irish parliament in 1786. The Irish county police were set up in 1787, although it was not until 1836 that they were organised on the basis of the Irish Constabulary. The English so-called ‘New Police’ was established in London in 1829, although the county police did not come into being until 1839, and was only extended to all English and Welsh counties in 1856.

8 Palmer, Police & protest, p. 8.

9 Jeffries, Charles, The colonial police (London, 1952), p. 30.Google Scholar

10 Hawkins, Richard, ‘The “Irish model” and the Empire: a case for reassessment’ in Anderson, David M. and Killingray, David (eds), Policing the Empire: government, authority and control, 1830–1940 (Manchester, 1991), p. 28.Google Scholar

11 See Reith, Charles, British police and the democratic ideal (London, 1943)Google Scholar. For a critique of both the orthodox and revisionist viewpoints, see Emsley, Clive, The English police: a political and social history (2nd ed., Harlow, 1996)Google Scholar; Rawlings, Philip, Policing: a short history (Cullompton, 2002).Google Scholar

12 Palmer, Police & protest, p. xix.

13 The ‘model’ of the London ‘New Police’ did not correspond to the policing needs of some rural constabularies, and some - for example, Gloucestershire and Staffordshire - recruited Irish officers into their senior ranks to profit from their expertise. Emsley, The English police, pp 43–4.

14 Lowe & Malcolm, ‘The domestication of the Royal Irish Constabulary’, pp 27–48.

15 Waddington, P. A. J., Policing citizens: authority and rights (London, 1999), pp 21, 26.Google Scholar

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17 See Sinclair, At the end of the line, ch. 1–2, 9.

18 Hawkins, ‘The “Irish model” and the Empire’, pp 18–19.

19 The Dublin Metropolitan Police was absorbed into the Garda Síochána in 1925.

20 The nominal role shows that there were 546 ex-R.I.C. and 118 ex-Auxiliary officers in the Palestine Gendarmerie in May 1922. The Palestine Section of the Gendarmerie had been set up in 1920, and was commanded by Captain Bewsher. Following the 1921 riots in Jaffa, the British Section was formed as a ‘Civil force organised on military lines’; see Gendarmerie semi-military force for Palestine, Jan. 1938 (Middle East Centre Archive (M.E.C.A.), St Antony’s College, Oxford, Sir Charles Tegart papers, GB 165–0281, box 2, file 1), and former RIC personnel serving in Palestine Gendarmerie, 1922 (T.N.A., HO 351/66).

21 By 1919 the R.I.C. had urgent need to bolster its strength so as to counter the ongoing nationalist insurgency. Demobilised Irish and English war veterans were given ‘an opportunity to make use of our special skills’, and many joined either the R.I.C. Auxiliary force or the ‘Black and Tans’, which was under the authority of the R.I.C. ‘The “Black and Tans” was the nickname given to the mainly ex-soldiers who enlisted in the R.I.C. (establishment: 4–5000) in 1919–21. They wore khaki uniform and black caps’: British Mandate Palestine Police, n.d. (M.E.C.A., Gerard Foley papers, Palestine Police Old Comrades’ Association (P.P.O.C.A.), GB 165–0224, G2 no. 17). The Auxiliary Division of the R.I.C. (1,900) was set up in July 1920 under the leadership of General Crozier with ‘an amazing collection of ex service types … We were truly a war hardened lot and as we all wore our Service uniforms we looked like a pretty good cross-section of Fred Karno’s Army … organised into companies of four platoon strength, armed with rifles, .45 revolvers, worn in leg holsters mostly, and one Lewis gun per platoon. We also had unlimited Mills bombs; ‘Mutiny at Macroom’, British Mandate Palestine Police, n.d. (M.E.C.A., Raymond Cafferata papers, GB 165–0044, LA file 1).

22 Obituary, Hackett, Patrick John, P.P.O.C.A. Newsletter, no. 101, Dec. 1975, p. 47.Google Scholar

23 ‘Mutiny at Macroom’ (M.E.C.A., Cafferata papers, GB 165–0044, LA file 1).

24 Palestine police ordinance, 1921 (T.N.A., HO 45/24727).

25 ‘Report on the Palestine administration, 1922–28’ (MS in the possession of T. Home of New Milton, Hants).

26 R.I.C. pension records, 9 July 1926 (T.N.A., COO 733/128/9).

27 They included, for example, Supt. Michael McConnell (a former adjutant at the R.I.C. Training Camp, Gormanston, who became Asst. Insp.-Gen. of the Palestine Police by 1947); Dep. Supt. Michael Fitzgerald; Dep. Supt. Alfred Barker; Dep. Supt. John Faraday; Supt. Frank Scott; Dep. Supt. Michael O’Rorke (became commissioner of the Kenya Police); A.S.P. Robert Worsley; A.S.P. Raymond Cafferata; A.S.P. James Kyles (personally recommended for promotion by Tegart in 1939); A.S.P. Eric James and A.S.P. Cecil Tesseyman; civil service lists 1935,1941,1947 1947 (M.E.C.A., Gerard Foley papers, P.P.O.C.A. files, civil service list, GB 165–0224).

28 Foley papers, P.P.O.C.A., M.E.C.A., GB 165–0224, G2 no. 17.

29 Herlihy, Royal Irish Constabulary officers, pp 24–5.

30 Ibid., pp 41–2.

31 Fedorowich, Kent, ‘The problems of disbandment: the R.I.C. and imperial migration, 1919–1929’ in I.H.S., xxx, no. 117 (May 1996), pp 93, 102.Google Scholar

32 ‘Training of police officers of the West and East African colonies and protectorates with the RIC’, African, no. 902, 1 Jan. 1908 (T.N.A., CO 879/98/3).

33 From 1907 until 1915 160 gazetted officers are noted to have trained at Phoenix Park (R.U.C. Archives, R.U.C. Museum, Belfast).

34 ‘Training of police officers of the West and East African colonies and protectorates with the RIC’, African, no. 902, 1 Jan. 1908 (T.N.A., CO 879/98/3).

35 H. Byrne to under-secretary of state, ‘Fees for training colonial police officers at RIC as of 1 Dec. 1919’, 25 Oct. 1919 (T.N.A., CO 323/816).Google Scholar

36 Wickham to home secretary, 22 May 1831 (P.R.O.N.I., CAB/9G/56); ‘Note on position with regard to Newtownards Depot’, N.I. Secretariat, Aug. 1931 (ibid.).

37 It is estimated that approximately 109 colonial and ‘overseas’ officers were trained at Newtownards between 1924 and 1932. R.U.C. Archives and ‘Overseas officers trained at R.U.C. Depot, 1924–32’ (P.R.O.N.I., CAB/9G/56).

38 Horne, Edward, A job well done: a history of the Palestine Police Force, 1920–1948 (Tiptree, 1982), pp 235-6.Google Scholar

39 Tegart, ‘Memorandum regarding a gendarmerie or a semi-military force for Palestine’, Jan. 1939 (M.E.C.A., Tegart papers, GB 165–0281, box 2, file 1).

40 ‘It isn’t the Irish blarney that has done it but something far more than that’; Saunders to Tegart, 14 June 1938 (M.E.C.A., Tegart papers, GB 165–0281, box 4, file 4).

41 Wickham, Charles, Report on the Palestine Mobile Police Force, 2 Dec. 1946 (T.N.A., CO 537/2269/50).Google Scholar

42 Palestine secret dispatch U/1520/44, 30 Sept. 1946 (T.N.A., CO 537/1696/2).

43 Cited in Augusteijn, Joost (ed.), The memoirs of John M. Regan, a Catholic officer in the RIC and RUC, 1909–1948 (Dublin, 2007), pp 20-1.Google Scholar

44 Subsequently it would have a formative influence of the Ceylon Police, the first police force to be placed under Colonial Office jurisdiction.

45 Gaylord, M. S. and Traver, H., ‘Colonial policing and the demise of British rule in Hong Kong’ in International journal of the Sociology of Law, no. 23 (1995), p. 26Google Scholar; Griffiths, Percival, To guard my people: the history of the Indian Police (London, 1971), p. 69.Google Scholar

46 Charles Napier to Lord Dalhousie, 24 July 1849, quoted in Palmer, Police & protest, p. 543.

47 Secretary of state for India to governor of Madras, 16 July 1860, quoted in Arnold, David, Police power and colonial rule, Madras, 1859–1947 (Oxford, 1986), pp 27-8.Google Scholar

48 Hawkins, ‘The “Irish model” and the Empire’, p. 21.

49 Herlihy, Royal Irish Constabulary officers, p. 101.

50 See Pippet, G. K., A history of the Ceylon Police, vol. 1:1795-1870 (Colombo, 1938)Google Scholar and Dep, A. C., A history of the Ceylon Police, vol. II: 1866–1913 (Colombo, 1969).Google Scholar

51 Herlihy, Royal Irish Constabulary officers, p. 298.

52 Dep, Ceylon Police, pp 1–4.

53 Quoted in Dep, Ceylon Police, p. 1.

54 Jeffries, The colonial police, pp 29–30, Dowbiggin, H. L., ‘The Ceylon Police and its development’ in Police Journal, no. 1 (1928), pp 203-17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

55 Jeffries, The colonial police, p. 32.

56 See Onselen, Lennox Van, A rhapsody in blue (Cape Town, 1960).Google Scholar

57 ‘Northern Nigeria police report’, 1903, quoted in Shirley, W. R., History of the Nigeria Police (Lagos, 1950), pp 2632.Google Scholar

58 See, for example, Trevor Williams, M. , The Nigeria Police training manual (elementary), part I: an introduction to the force (Lagos, 1949).Google Scholar

59 Herlihy, Royal Irish Constabulary officers, pp 142, 284, 324.

60 Wright, Tim, The history of the Northern Rhodesia Police (Bristol, 2001), pp 241-8.Google Scholar

61 Herlihy, Royal Irish Constabulary officers, pp 246–7, Home, Job well done, p. 326.

62 Foran, W. Robert, The Kenya Police, 1887–1960 (London, 1962), pp 158, 191.Google Scholar

63 He was accompanied by acting Deputy Chief Constable Douglas Brand of the South Yorkshire Police.

64 ‘Officer honoured for Iraq role’, 14 June 2004,

65 Harding, Thomas, ‘Shirt-sleeves officer races the heat’ in Daily Telegraph, 30 Nov. 2003.Google Scholar

66 Geraghty, Tony, Guns for hire: the inside story of freelance soldiering (London, 2007), pp 121.Google Scholar

67 I would like to thank Chris A. Williams for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay, and to all my 2007–08 ‘Policing and the state’ finalists, who generated many new ideas around this subject area.