By Lisa Marie Griffith
Last week I took a guided trip around the Garda Museum and Archive which resides in a two hundred year old Record Tower at Dublin Castle. The safe above is just one of the treasures which the museum holds. It is the safe from which the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen. The jewels were commissioned to be worn by the monarch when bestowing the Knighthood of St Patrick (the Irish equivalent of the Order of the Garter) on Irish figures. They were held in Dublin Castle and in 1903 a new strong room was built to protect. The door in ths new strong room was too narrow, however, and the safe was too big to get in though the door. New precautions had to be taken by the Officer of Arms of Dublin Castle, Arthur Vicars to protect the jewels. The keys to the safe were held by Vicars and the safe itself was hidden behind 7 locked doors. The precautions were not enough and on 6 July 1907, just four days before a visit from Edward VII to Ireland, the jewels were discovered to have been stolen from the safe- notice the thief proof guarantee on the door!)
The museum is filled with treasures of this kind and nuggets about policing in the capital and the National Police Force at large. Some of the wonderful items on display include full nineteenth-century uniforms for senior and junior ranking police members, early photographs of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, caricatures and sketches of the force, handbooks provided to DMP officers, medals and honours and other police memorabilia. The record tower itself formerly held prisoners which adds a further eerie element to the museum. Guides are provided by members of the Garda and their enthusiasm for the maintenance of the museum and it’s records conveys the sense of importance which the police force in Ireland today places on their the historical past.
Material in the museum covers the late eighteenth century right up to the present day while the archival material stops in the 1920s. Its heavily focused on the DMP and the archive is used both by people seeking information on relatives and scholars undertkaing academic research. The DMP’s personnel register begins in 1836 and runs to the 1970’s and this can be searched. There are also a number of police publications and feild books which are held in the archive. Particularly interesting are the thousands of images which are held in the archive.
The history of the police in Ireland presents a great paradox of course and this is not lost while looking through the material on display in the museum. The DMP, which is celebrated as the first modern police force in Ireland, was pitched against the rebels fighting in 1916 and the War of Independence. These rebels ultimatley went on to take over government and the force itself after independence. From 1919 republican tactics consisted of intimidating and isolating the police force, particularly those stationed in isolated rural barracks (there are wonderful maps of these barracks within the museum). In this way the police force was reduced and the rebels managed to acquire arms. They hoped to prompt the British Government to react but the British refused to call the trouble in Ireland a legitimate war and throughout the was they continued to send police men on patrols and to deal with these problems. This led to a huge number of injuries and fatalities of police men in particular; up until the truce of July 1921 160 soldiers were killed to 400 policemen. Yet the Dublin Metropolitan Police remained until their absorption in 1925 into the Garda Siochana (which itself was the old Civic Gaurd renmed). This led to huge tensions within the force alnd although there were new recruitments made, older forces were still maintained. As such, men loyal to the crown were suddenly being controlled by nationalists. This tension within the force is born out in a plaque on the ground floor (see below), created by an unknown police man which was created with a huge amount of care and has the Irish Constablury and Royal Irish Constablury dates on it but right at the bottom states ‘betrayed 1922’.
Further tensions emerged when the anti-treaty faction took control of government and were appointed to senior positions within the force. When Ned Broy, spy for the republican forces during the war of independence and anti-treatyite during the civicl war, became Grada Commissioner he oversaw the creation of a special unit of auxillary police men from IRA anti-treaty men. Known as the Broy Harriers, they were directly under Broy’s control and were hated. The pictures of some of these men adorn the walls.
The museum is well worth a visit, particularly if accompanied by a guide (the museum and archive are maintained primarliy by volunteers). There really is a rich social and political history contained within the ancient walls (the view from the top floor is fantastic). Access to the Garda Museum is free and appointments with the archivist can be arranged through email. Their site page can be found here.