Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Royal Irish Constabulary

The Royal Irish Constabulary was one of Ireland's two police-forces in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, alongside the Dublin Metropolitan Police. It was disbanded in 1922 and replaced by two new police forces; the Garda Síochána in the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland.

History of policing in Ireland

The first organised police force in Northern Ireland came about through the Peace Preservation Act of 1814 but the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 is marked as the true beginning of the Irish Constabulary. The act established a force in each barony with chief constables and inspectors general under the control of the civil administration at Dublin Castle, by 1841 this force numbered over 8,600 men. The force had been rationalised and reorganised in a 1836 act and the first constabulary code of regulations was published in 1837. The discipline was tough and the pay poor.

The police demonstrated their efficiency against the Fenian Brotherhood with the putting down of the William Smith O'Brien uprising. There then followed a spell of quiet conspiracy which rose into direct action in 1867 with the Fenian Rising (1867), marked by attacks on the more isolated police stations. The bravery and loyalty of the constabulary during the rising was rewarded by Queen Victoria granting the force the prefix 'royal' and conferring upon it the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick. The Royal Irish Constabulary had presided over a marked decline in crime in the country since the organizations inception, crimes such as unlawful armed assembly being succeeded by drunkenness and minor property crimes (excluding the Land War of 1879-82). Belfast, which was outside the control of the RIC, was marked with sectarian tensions as its population grew five-fold in fifty years, there were serious riots in 1857, 1864, 1872 and 1886. As a result the Belfast Town Police were disbanded and control of the city passed to the RIC.

Due to their ubiquity from the 1850s the RIC were tasked with a range of civil and local government duties together with their existing ones, closely tying the constables to their local communities. By 1901 there were around 1,600 barracks and some 11,000 constables.

The comparative ease of the RICs existence was troubled by the rise of the Home Rule campaign through the 19th century. The potential success of the third Home Rule Bill in 1912 introduced great tensions, opponents organised the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913 while supporters formed the National Volunteers. These two groups had over 250,000 members, organized as effective private armies. Sinn Féin had been founded in 1905. The Irish Republican Brotherhood was revived in 1915. Politics became more divisive and there was a rise in political violence, peaking in 1919.

The Sinn Féin victory in the General Election of 1918 and their creation of the Dáil Éireann marked the beginning of guerilla war. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) under Michael Collins carried out systematic attacks on agents of the Crown, the RIC took the heaviest of the assaults. Simultaneous a boycott of the police was enforced by the IRA, with alternate courts and police set up. To reinforce the police the mainland raised extra forces and sent them to Ireland in 1920, notably the hated "Black and Tans" and the Auxiliary Division of the Constabulary. In December 1920 the Government of Ireland Act partitioned the country and in July 1921 a truce was agreed, 418 RIC personnel had been killed in two years. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 ratified the division and provoked renewed fighting in the Irish Free State. In January 1922 it was agreed to disband the RIC, creating the Civic Guards (Garda Síochána) in the south and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the north.