Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

The Royal Irish Constabulary
Rathvilly R.I.C. Barracks.

Source: Carloviana 1984/85  p.16-18.

Rathvilly R.I.C. Barracks 1919.
The Royal Irish Constabulary

By John Keogh

Nearly everyone at sometime or other has heard of the R.I.C. from an elderly person or perhaps from a grandfather or grandmother. Almost every town and village in Ireland was either occupied or patrolled by the R.I.C. forces during the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries. In my quest to uncover data concerning the past history of early police forces in Ireland I discovered that the first was formed in 1787. The main function of this force was to maintain law and order set down by the British authorities who resided in Dublin. Their first duty was to be loyal to the Crown.

Firstly let us investigate the dress and habits of this force. This early force was dressed in heavy dark green uniforms decorated with brass buttons. Around the waist they wore a strong leather belt and on their feet heavy-duty leather boots. The head was protected by a hard pointed hat. A long wooden truncheon was worn by the side and when necessary they carried a flint-lock carbine.

Re-formed force

The first Constabulary Force was not very effective and in 1814 it was reformed. This force was called The Peace Preservation Force. 1822 sees the beginning of the Royal Irish Constabulary which was formed by Robert Peel.

To be eligible to join a man had to be under the age of forty, able to read and write, be not less than six feet, be of good character and most important of all. willing to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. The "Royal" part of the title was granted and approved by the Queen in 1867.

On a more relaxed note we shall look at the day to day life of the R.I.C. officers. Recently I read two manuscripts, one written by a District Inspector in Carlow dated 1909 and the other written by a number of Constables stationed in Tullow dated 1900. The following account is from these books. We all heard the old saying "all work and no play makes one a dull boy", this was not the case with the Constabulary forces. R.I.C. officers took part in many pastimes like fishing, tug-o-war. They also held boxing tournaments among themselves. This force included many Irishmen and was generally liked by the local populace.

On patrol officers were likely to encounter anything. Their duties were varied. The following facts were written by a number of constables stationed in Tullow in 1900.

Left Tullow Barracks at 9 p.m. and returned at 11.45 p.m.
On patrol I inspected lock-up shops in Tullow: no presence of any inormalities.
After inspection of shops I proceeded to the townland of Ardattin.
I crossed fields in search of vagrants and poachers.
After laying in wait for two hours without any detections. I continued on patrol.

In 1901 a small patrol left Tullow Barracks dressed in civvies’ to patrol the River Slaney in search of poachers, they returned two hours later without success. One report tells of a constable making a report to a local farmer, on the behalf of the Department of Agriculture, the presence of sheep infected with scab in his flock.

Constables visited vacant houses where local tramps were known to frequent. If any were discovered they were duly moved on. The second report tells of a constable arriving at the scene of a fight between two women having cautioned them he sent them home.

From time to time cases of larceny were investigated. They usually concerned missing animals, horses, cattle, sheep, and young dogs of pedigree.

On July 22nd Constable Brady got a report of children being mistreated by their parents. He visited the house in question upon arrival he discovered the front door locked and the children hiding inside unattended. He later returned and cautioned the parents. Constables attended religious services in an official capacity to ensure that there was no disturbance.

From time to time liquor was sold locally from the backs of vans. These vans moved from place to place to avoid detection, however many were detected. As in all areas each constable attended petty sessions in their locality.

The usual procedure for acquiring information was to visit the local Post Mistress and shopkeepers and have a friendly chat. On occasion constables were put guarding vacant houses belonging to local gentry. Also they observed weddings and wakes to ensure that no fighting took place.

The busiest day was fair-day. Officers patrolled roads and streets as part of their normal duties. Other duties included taking tillage census for the Dept. of Agriculture. This was to ascertain the number of acres under tillage and the amount not used.

Now we shall look at a District Inspector's report book. The page (Fig. 1 below) was taken from a report written about the R.I.C. barracks in Rathvilly in 1909:

District Inspector's report

In the 1920's the every day life of the members became dangerous. This was a time of revolution. Patrols were stepped up, their numbers increased. District Inspectors called more frequently. In the past the R.I.C. were involved in many conflicts such as The Tithe Wars, and now the Fenian Rising and the Land Wars. These disturbances were usually quelled with a show of force. At this particular time constables were armed with pistols and rifles. They also watched and questioned strangers to ascertain if they were I.R.A. sympathisers. Many officers lived in fear of death by the hands of local insurgents. As time progressed a number of officers were shot.

To quell this unrest the British Government sent over a new military force called the Black and Tans. Their name came from the uniform they wore which was black and tan in colour. This force was shunned by the R.I.C. and hated by the insurgents because of their brutal tactics. Many R.I.C. officers resigned and others were forced to resign because they would not conform to this change. Ambushes became an everyday occurrence. Local estates were attacked and were either burned or looted. New precautions were taken, at no time was there to be less than two officers in any barracks. Windows were covered with metal shutters and doors were padlocked in all Barracks.

Ex British Officers took the place of the resigned R.I.C. officers. These men were more military minded than their predecessors. On the 31st August, 1922 the Royal Irish Constabulary was disbanded. After this many a barracks was vacated. Once they were left unattended they were duly burned down. I was informed recently by men who fought in the 1920's that local insurgents burned down the barracks in Rathvilly and Tullow. They also told me stories of different ambushes and raids but alas that is another story yet to tell. Shortly after the disbanding of the R.I.C. the present day Garda Siochana was established. Many ex constabulary officers were recruited to this new peace-keeping force.

Source: This item originally appeared in the Carloviana 1984/85 p.16-18.


St. Patrick's Church R.I.C. Barracks Nest Rathvilly Railway

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