- Rathvilly R.I.C.
The Royal Irish
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.
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
- 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
- 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
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.
- Tullow R.I.C.
Barracks in the 1920s.
- Photo: Lawrence.
- Source National Library.
The following facts concern the structure of the R.I.C.
and their salaries in the 1850's:
If you have any more
facts photos or knowledge of the R.I.C. I would appreciate
it if you would contact me at
Source: This item originally appeared
in the Carloviana 1984/85 p.16-18.
George Crawford of Tullow, Carlow
here's? a summary of his Royal Irish Constabulary service
George Crawford: Service # 1121
County Cavan; recommended by M.C. Roberts Esq.; formerly a
weaver; height 5'8" Appointed on 13 Feb. 1832, aged 22 and
allocated to County Kildare; transferred to County Carlow
Aug. 1843 Protestant; married Oct. 1835; wife from County
Kildare. Total Service at Time of Discharge 25 years 6
months; pensioned on 1 Sept. 1862 with £25 -0s -0d
Source: Great Britain. Public Record Office., Royal Irish
Constabulary. Irish Constabulary, general registers of
services, returns of personnel and intelligence notices,
1816-1922. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical
Society of Utah, 1971. Film #856057.
contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of
sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
© 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects,