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Physical culture, the Royal Irish Constabulary and police masculinities in Ireland, 1900–14

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2019

Conor Heffernan
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University College Dublin
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Abstract

This article examines the importance of physical culture systems for Irishmen seeking to enter the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C), and those already operating within it, in the period 1900 to 1914. R.I.C. entrance requirements encouraged some men to alter their bodies physically to meet standardised body measurements for police officers. Simultaneously, a growing body of literature urged men to reflect upon their stature and, if found deficient, to undertake courses of physical culture. This situation, it is argued, led to a valorisation of muscularity and strength as foundational to an officer's physical presence and strength of character. To further demonstrate the relationship between physical culture and the R.I.C., the article also examines efforts by members within the force to associate strong bodies with broader masculine identities related to courage, integrity and bravery. The article begins with a brief discussion of the R.I.C., before examining the historiography of Irish masculinity and police masculinities more generally. Next, the article examines the importance of physical culture for those seeking entry into the constabulary, with reference to the Irish Times’s physical culture column, before finally examining the efforts by existing members to strengthen the R.I.C.’s relationship with physical culture. In both instances, involving aspirant and actual members of the R.I.C., the article argues that conceptions of masculinity in the constabulary echoed broader social messages and came to equate strong physiques with wider assumptions about police integrity and character.

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Research Article
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Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 2019

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