Auxiliary Cadets and the ‘Black and Tans’

Contributed by Donal Fallon

The following article aims to address what I see as a significant misunderstanding, even at the highest level of historical research, about state forces during the years of what is widely labeled the ‘War of Independence’. Auxiliary Cadets of the Royal Irish Constabulary are consistently lumped in with the seperate ‘Black and Tans’ to create the overall historical figure of the ‘Black and Tan’. Many events involving Auxiliaries, in popular Irish history, are associated with ‘The Tans’.

Florence O’ Donoghue, a leading republican involved with the Cork No.1 Brigade of the I.R.A, wrote of the differences between the two forces briefly in his article The Sacking Of Cork. The Royal Irish Constabulary, O’ Donoghue believed, had been strengthened by “..a reinforcement of British jail-birds and down-and-outs who had been hastily recruited into the force in England when candidates had ceased to offer themselves in Ireland. These instruments of despicable policy were the origin of the expression ‘Black and Tan’”.

The Auxiliaries however were an entirely different matter. “About 1,500 strong, they were organised as a separate command and consisted exclusively of ex-officers of the British Army and Navy, most of whom had seen service in the Great War”. In his own eyes, they represented the last efforts of the British state to smash the IRA.  Tom Barry agreed with O’ Donoghue, stating in Curious Journey: An Oral Tradition of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution, that “….the general feeling, even here in Ireland at the time, was that the Black and Tans were the worst. I don’t accept that at all”.  Like O’ Donoghue, Barry insisted there was a ruthlessness to the Auxiliaries not common with the Black and Tans, stating that “There was no excuse for them. Every damned one of them had to be a commissioned officer and to have served on one or more fronts. They were far worse than the Black and Tans”.

Just what separated the two forces however, is more than what republicans like Barry and O’ Donoghue saw as a difference of character. The two forces were unique in uniform, composition and more besides.  Briefly, positions within the Auxiliary Cadets were first advertised on July 10th, 1920. Open only to men who had held a commission in the British armed services, these men carried the rank of ‘temporary cadet’ and were rated for pay and allowances as R.I.C Sergeants. They operated in companies of 100 men and initially wore their old service uniforms with a special glengarry hat with R.I.C insignia. When a new uniform was issued, and a new standard became common, it was the glengarry which remained as their distinctive mark. It was worn by Auxiliaries and Auxiliaries only.  (The image shows a group of Auxiliaries.  This same photos is often mislabeled as ‘Black and Tans’).

‘Black and Tans’ as they became known, were recruits to the regular Royal Irish Constabulary who initially wore a hybrid of R.I.C Uniform and military formals. Recruited from early 1920 to fill vacancies in the R.I.C and used as replacements and reinforcements for R.I.C garrisons they were not a unique force in themselves. Deficiencies of uniforms were made up by late 1920 and then all RIC, including ‘Black and Tans’, wore standard uniform.

Richard Abbot’s Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922 (Mercier Press, 2000) and Jim Herlihy’s The Royal Irish Constabulary (Four Courts Press, 1997 ) are two fantastic works which accurately portray the complexities of the RIC during this period of history.

Auxiliaries continue to be mistagged Black and Tans in our museums and archives. Why this should be so I don’t understand entirely.  Perhaps this is partly because the popular conception of the Black and Tans is easier to dismiss as an ‘outside force’. Regardless, for the sake of historical accuracy, it is unfortunate that the two forces are so often mistaken for one another.

Donal Fallon is a student of History at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. He writes for the Dublin website, Come Here To Me.

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15 Responses to “Auxiliary Cadets and the ‘Black and Tans’”

  1. Eoin Bairéad Says:

    The confusion goes back….
    When General F.P. Crozier, commander of the “Auxiliary Division of the RIC” resigned because Cadets dismissed for looting were reinstated behind his back. The New York Times on Friday, February 25, 1921, described that force as “Black and Tans”.

    And the confusion is understandable:
    one lot were:
    Temporary Cadets in the Auxiliary Division of the RIC
    and the others merely
    Temporary RIC Constables


  2. Donal Fallon Says:

    Thanks for that Eoin.

    I noticed Frank Bouchier-Hayes mentioned in the conclusion of his review of the exhibition of the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery that “In practice, then as now, both groups of men were described as black and tans” and I’ve come across news-reports like the above on several occasions too.

    The label spread in many ways of course, republican propaganda for example obviously favoured one force on which to lay the blame for events.

    Culturally, there are so many examples of the term being used. Songs like ‘The Boys of Kilmichael’ make mention to ‘The Tans’, where Auxiliaries were involved in events. Then, there are obviously recent films like Michael Collins (This scene ( ) being the classic example) where the trend continues.

    It’s all in the glengarry!

  3. Felix Larkin Says:

    Very worthwhile piece of clarification, Donal! Just to make the position regarding the State forces in Ireland at this time even more confusing, there was also the Dublin Metropolitan Police force (DMP), of which the “G Division” (the detective unit) was highly effective in combating political crime and so a target for Collins and his people. The DMP was quite separate from the RIC. I don’t know whether their ranks were augmented in 1920-21 by “Black and Tans” and/or Auxiliaries, but maybe Donal can throw some light on that for us. The famous Inspector Mallon, who apprehended the Invincibles, is probably the best-known G-man – a career DMP man from Co. Armagh, about whom Donal McCracken has written a very good book.

  4. Frank Bouchier-Hayes Says:

    The photo accompanying the article was taken, I believe, outside Hynes’s pub in Gloucester Place, Dublin in February 1921 following the shooting inside of Corporal John Ryan, a 48 yr old member of the Military Foot Police at Dublin Castle, by three men. A report of the incident appears in the Irish Times (Feb 7th) and a photo with 6 Auxiliaries (including the 3 above) outside a similar looking building appears in the Irish Independent on the same date. A May 1940 editorial entitled ‘Slanguage’ in the Irish Times also sparked off an interesting debate about the origin of the term ‘Black and Tan’. An Auxiliary told one of the letter writers, G F Cruise, that an old apple woman, whom he and others tried to chat to from a wire netting covered lorry while their comrades raided the Gresham hotel looking for Collins, spoke to them as follows: “Gwan,” says she. “The Boers put ye into khaki, the Germans put the tin hat on ye; but faith the Shinners have made Canaries of ye!” Another letter writer and journalist, John A Power recalled that an auxiliary he encountered during a street search bitterly complained about newspapers mixing up the two police forces. “Our force, ” he said, “is exclusively composed of ex-officers, and I think I can claim that we are a pretty decent crowd. The ‘tans’ are—scum!” Power assured him that his paper, the Evening Telegraph, “never had mixed up the two forces and promised to do all I could to remove any misconception that might exist in newspaper circles”.

  5. anarchaeologist Says:

    Thanks for that Donal, as a student of material culture, this has always annoyed me! Despite the Peter Harts and Charles Townshends of this world (and the latter should’ve been better on this) there hasn’t been very much work done on the day to day operational activities of both groups.
    The story extends to the Spanish Civil War and the case of George Nathan who has been presented in the historiography as a former Black and Tan when surely he was an Auxiliary?

  6. Paul Says:

    Found this via google today while looking for the differences between the two after spotting the subject emerge in the Indo’s “Birth of a Nation” supplement. Most helpful, cheers.

    The very picture used here is featured on page 7. The supplement, to its credit, does point out the differences between the two forces on a number of occasions.

    Bookmarking the site!

  7. You have been reading, in order of appearance… « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] Auxiliary Cadets and the ‘Black and Tans’, 27 April 2010 Donal Fallon on misunderstanding the War of Independence. […]

  8. Faith the Shinners Have Made Canaries of Ye | Irish Historical Textiles Says:

    […] (hence why any product that seemed to celebrate them would cause offense). They are often confused with (both then and now), but were separate from, the ‘Auxiliaries’ (Auxies), […]

  9. Cadet College Jhang Says:

    Cadet College Jhang…

    […]Auxiliary Cadets and the ‘Black and Tans’ « Pue's Occurrences[…]…

  10. Jim Lacey Says:

    You repeat the old yarn that the Black and Tans were jailbirds they were not most were veterans of the Great War and many were brutalised and psychopathic from their experiences.A large proportion were actually Irishmen . We would probably have been better off had they been ex jailbirds! A lot joined the Palestine Police when they were shipped out of Ireland.Stanley Holloway the actor famous for his part of Eliza Dolittle’s father in My Fair Lady. He sang ‘Get Me to the Church In Time ‘ was an ex Black and Tan.

  11. Peter Power-Hynes Says:

    Sorry Jim, Stanley Holloway was an Auxiliary not a “Black & Tan” having formerly served as a commissioned officer in the 6th Bn Connaught Rangers.

  12. parkadge Says:

    So if only Auxillaries wore the Glengarry what did the Black and Tans wear?

  13. Peter Power-Hynes Says:

    Further research by my friend Peter McGoldrick who runs the RIC blog, shows that Lieut. Stanley August Holloway OBE did not serve in Ireland post WW1 and his service in The 6th Bn The Connaught Rangers. There was another man, Stanley Albert Holloway who served in Donegal from 1920-1922. There was a 5 year age gap too. A reading of Lieut Holloway’s biography “Wiv a little bit of luck” shows he was working in show business in London at the time.

  14. Joseph Mulvey Says:

    Excellent article, close to my heart, as I have been trying forever to separate the Auxilaries from the Black & Tans, the Auxilaries having a proven level of education and intellect to know exactly what they were doing; damned in history beyond the less fortunate B+T thugs!

  15. Says:

    I am glad to announce that I have just received the first copies of my latest book:- “The Black & Tans, 1920-1921 – A Complete Alphabetical List and Genealogical Guide”, published by Four Courts Press, Dublin. It runs 446 pages with 45 illustrations, 47 sets of appendices and a chapter on how to trace your ancestors in the RIC, RIC Special Reserve, Temporary Constables, Veterans & Drivers Division & the Auxiliary Division of the RIC. It is available in paperback and a special edition in hardback from the publishers either by phone – 01/4534668 or through their website :-…/new…/blacktans-story/

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