Irish Police Records

Brief History

The Irish Police

Prior to the Dublin Police Act, 1786, law and order was maintained by three groups: night watchmen employed by town boroughs; parish constables employed by civil parish rectors; and military units formed either as local militia or garrisoned regiments of the regular army.

The Civil Patrolmen (nicknamed the "Charlies") 1723-1786; formed as armed constables to patrol Dublin City. They were reformed as an unarmed force in 1786 as the Dublin Police.

The Dublin Police 1786-1836; replaced the Civil Patrolmen, and included a mounted troop. They were reformed in 1836 as the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
[Dublin Police Act, 1786]

The Irish Militia ~1775-1822; numerous units of militia were locally raised in rural towns to augment and gradually replace the garrisoned regiments of regular army. The militia units included: Athlone Rangers, Kilkenny Rangers, Naas Light Dragoons, Shinrone Volunteers, Tullamore Rangers etc. The militia served as an auxiliary military force and also performed routine police duties.

The Baronial Police (nicknamed the "Old Barneys") 1787-1822; replaced the watchmen in most of the rural towns, and formed the rural counterpart to the Dublin Police. They dealt only with minor offences and relied on the militia and garrisoned regiments of the regular army to suppress serious disorder.

The Peace Preservation Force 1814-1836; this was a special reserve force formed to support the Baronial Police, and was mobilised to deal with unrest in any area proclaimed to be in a state of disturbance. The force gradually supplanted the militia and garrisoned regiments of the regular army.

The Belfast Police (nicknamed the "Bulkies") 1816-1865; formed to patrol Belfast City. They were disbanded and replaced by the Irish Constabulary following serious sectarian violence.

The Derry Police (nicknamed the "Horny Dicks" because of the bone reinforcements in their top hats) ~1816-1870; formed to patrol Derry City. They were disbanded and replaced by the Royal Irish Constabulary after rioting Apprentice Boys were killed.

The County Constabulary 1822-1836; this was the first permanent nationwide police force, and included a mounted branch. The constabulary was structured as four separate provincial forces with Depôts in Armagh, Daingean, Ballinrobe and Ballincollig. A standard uniform was issued in 1828. They were reformed in 1836 as the Irish Constabulary.
[Irish Constables Act, 1822]

The Revenue Police 1832-1857; formed to enforce the excise laws. They were subsequently amalgamated into the Irish Constabulary.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police 1836-1925; replaced the Dublin Police. They were the longest surviving independent urban police force in Ireland. New recruits were trained at the Depôt in Kevin Street. The mounted troop was disbanded in 1919. The force was authorised to act in conjunction with the Gárda Síochána outside the metropolis in 1924, and formally amalgamated with the Gárda Síochána in 1925.
[Dublin Police Act, 1836]

The Irish Constabulary 1836-1867; this was the first centralised police force, and was commanded by an Inspector-General in Dublin Castle. The constabulary held jurisdiction over the entire country with the exception of the cities of Dublin, Belfast and Derry. The force was subsequently renamed the Royal Irish Constabulary.
[Constabulary (Ireland) Act, 1836]

The Irish Constabulary Reserve Force 1839-1867; this was a special reserve force created for assignment by the Inspector-General to support the Irish Constabulary in any part of the country. They suppressed the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 without military support. A new Depôt was built in Phoenix Park in 1839 both to house the Reserve Force and as a training centre for the Irish Constabulary, replacing the four provincial training centres. The Depôt also subsequently housed the riding school, and the Irish Constabulary Band.
[Constabulary (Ireland) Act, 1839]

The Royal Irish Constabulary 1867-1922; the Irish Constabulary was renamed the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.) in recognition of its work in helping to suppress the Fenian Rising of 1867. They contained the Land War of 1879-1882 without military support. They were disbanded on 31st August 1922 and replaced by the Civic Guards.

The Royal Irish Constabulary : Special Reserves (nicknamed the "Black & Tans" because of their mixed army and police uniforms) 1920-1922; they were recruited primarily in Britain from unemployed rank and file veterans of World War One, and employed as Temporary Constables to make up for mass R.I.C. resignations during the War of Independence and to combat the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.).

The Royal Irish Constabulary : Auxiliary Division (nicknamed the "Auxies") 1920-1922; they were recruited in Britain from unemployed veterans of World War One who had been officers. They were employed as Temporary Cadets to assist the Temporary Constables to combat the I.R.A. in the War of Independence.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police : Detective Division (nicknamed the "G Men") 1920-1922; formed to combat the I.R.A. in the War of Independence.

The Republican Police ~1920-1921; formed by Sinn Féin to supplant the R.I.C. during the War of Independence.

The Ulster Special Constabulary 1920-1970; a sectarian (Protestant) voluntary force formed to combat I.R.A. activity in Northern Ireland. The force was initially organised into three groups: Group A were full time constables; Group B were part time constables; Group C were reserve constables. In 1925, Groups A and C were withdrawn to leave just Group B (nicknamed the "B Specials") to support the R.U.C. They were disbanded on 30th April 1970.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (R.U.C.) 1922 onwards; formed on 1st June 1922 by the disbandment of the R.I.C. The constabulary has jurisdiction over Northern Ireland.

The Civic Guards 1922-1923; formed on 21st February 1922 by the disbandment of the R.I.C. The force was initially armed, but was re-organised as an unarmed force after the Kildare Mutiny. Subsequently renamed the Gárda Síochána.
[District Justices (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923; Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923]

The Gárda Síochána 1923 onwards; the current national police force has jurisdiction over the Republic of Ireland. Women recruits were first admitted in 1959.
[Gárda Síochána (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923; Gárda Síochána Act, 1924; Police Forces Amalgamation Act, 1925]

Other Constables include :-

Park Constable, appointed by the Commissioners of Public Works.
[Phoenix Park Act, 1925]

Pier Constable, appointed by Cork County Council etc.
[Baltimore Pier Bye-Laws, 1991]

Harbour Constable, appointed by Donegal County Council etc.
[Burtonport Harbour Bye-Laws, 1986]

Select Bibliography

Herlihy, Jim, "The Royal Irish Constabulary", Dublin : Four Courts Press, 1999

McNiffe, Liam, "A History of the Gárda Síochána", Dublin : Wolfhound Press, 1997

Eccles Wight, Judith, "Irish Police and their records", Irish Roots, No. 34, 2000, pp. 24-25

"Irish Statute Book, 1922-1998" (CD), Government of Ireland, 1999

Gárda Síochána Historical Society,, 2001

Intro | History | R.I.C. | R.U.C. | D.M.P. | Gárdaí