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The Garda Museum

The Garda Museum – John Healy gives us a brief history of the Gardai before telling us what is in the museum

The Garda Museum, originally housed at the Record Tower in Dublin Castle is now located at the Palace Street entrance to the castle grounds ( just off Dame Street, between Chez Max French restaurant and the Allied Irish Bank ).

A far cry from the original museum which was little more then a storage for archives and what nots, the present museum is a huge improvement on the original and involves the oversight of history students and an up to date presentation of the pre-history and beginnings of  An Garda Síochána ( ‘the guardians of the peace’ ).

The Gardaí were formed in 1922 to take care of policing in the new independent Irish Free State. It was formed on a principal that the force ‘might originate from the people’ and the Gardaí depend on the people for support.

At the beginning of the tour the museum takes you back to a time when there was no policing, as we understand it, in Ireland.

It is believed that from as early as 1000 BCE (Before Common Era) and right up to the seventeenth century in this country there was in existence Brehon Law, administered by Brehons (judges). They were the successors to Celtic druids. While similar to judges; their role was more that of an arbitrator.

When the Anglo-Normans invaded this country from 1169 CE (Common Era) it had a major impact on life in Ireland. From about the fourteenth century magistrates were appointed to keep order and law in their areas. These in turn appointed ‘Watchmen’ who had the power to stop, search and arrest people. The Watch system appeared to work in major towns but by the late eighteenth century it had fallen into decline in rural areas.

Records of life in Dublin in the eighteenth century describe Watchmen known as ‘Charlies’ who would patrol the streets at night during the hours of darkness. Often these men, chosen by local parish committee, were ex-soldiers or former domestic servants of local officials. These men usually had only a stick for protection, a lantern for night patrols and would have worn a tricorne hat and course wool coat. They also carried a rattle to summon other watchmen to their assistance. It was also their job to call out the hour and the state of the weather from his sentry box.

In rural locations a different system became commonplace from the late 1780s. The local magistrates began appointing sub constables and high constables known as the Baronial Constables or ‘Old Barneys’. Disorder and disturbances in rural  locations would lead to the Baronial constables hiring in local militias to restore order in troubled areas.

Sir Robert Peel ( MP for Cashel and later Prime Minister for the United Kingdom) is regarded as the father of modern policing in the UK. He fundamentally opposed this practice of hiring militias and created an armed force in 1814 known as the Peace Preservation Force (PPF) again made up of large portions of ex-soldiers. The PPF had no identifiable uniform, many members wearing different old uniforms from their service in the army. The PPF was a centralised force based at Dublin Castle that could be dispatched by the Lord Lieutenant (Ireland was ruled by a chief governor, an appointed British nobleman titled the Lord Lieutenant and a member of the British Cabinet). If the highly unpopular PPF were dispatched the costs of such would be demanded back from the Barony.

The Royal Irish Constabulary was the police force from 1822 until 1922, when all of the country was part of the UK. A separate civic police force, the unarmed DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police), patrolled the capital and parts of Wicklow while the cities of Derry and Belfast originally with their own police forces, later had special divisions within the RIC. Following the Civil War and the truce of July 1921 the RIC disbanded and a new police force, “The Civic Guard” (renamed the Garda Síochána na hÉireann) was formed by Michael Collins and the Irish Government. The DMP merged with An Garda Síochána in 1925.

Dublin Castle, the centre of British Rule in Ireland for nearly 700 years was formally handed over on August 17, 1922 when Commissioner Michael Staines led the new police force through the castle gates. Five days after the hand-over of Dublin Castle, Michael Collins, who orchestrated the demise of the RIC and the creation of the Civic Guard was assassinated at Béal na mBlath.

On the same day as the first meeting of Dáil Eireann on 21st January 1919 RIC constables James McDonnnell of Belmullet, Mayo and Patrick O’Connell of Coachford Cork were shot by members of the Tipperary IRA during a raid to find explosives. This was the beginning of the War of Independence that would rage for the next three years and see the loss of four hundred and eighty three policemen’s lives as well as many lost in the civil war.

Since the formation of the Garda Síochána in 1923 the force has been for the most part unarmed. More than 75% of the force usually do not carry firearms. The Gardaí is the main law enforcement and security agency in the state both at local and national levels. The height of a candidate to join the the Gardaí was traditionally seen as important. Men had to be at least five foot nine inches (1.75 Meters) while women had to be at least five foot five inches (1.65 meters). Standards to this has changed from time to time. The first Ban Gardaí (female recruits) began with just twelve members approved in 1959 (out of forty four applications) to more than three thousand today. The admission of women to the force was debated in the Daíl and some suggestions were put forward. I’m omitting these from the article as to not spoil the  content for anyone inspired to visit the museum.

The museum includes the earliest history of the Gardaí including original uniforms (also a look back at RIC dress uniforms and other memorabilia of the time), original transport which for a long time depended on the bicycle, the formation of a special female policing force in 1917 whose job it was to improve the moral and social condition of the streets including young people and women in difficulty.

It includes a piece on Pearse Street Garda Station, originally a unit of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the illegal distillation of Poitín, later made a legal commercial product in Ireland in 1997. There are displays of rifles, hand guns, batons, handcuffs, notebooks, various uniforms and caps, dress swords and sabres, hats, helmets, modern rank insignias, et cetera.

The museum covers all of the modern force’s special units with displays for Air, Water, Dog, Mounted Garda, policing events, United Nations, road policing, Ballot protection and community policing and back up supports; the detective units and armed support units. We also have the war on cyber crime and the specialist help needed to prevent and stop online criminality and counterfeiting There is a look at modern equipment and transport used by the Gardaí. The tour includes a segment regarding the expansion and inclusion of current officers from different ethnic and social groups as An Garda Síochána develops into the future.

And let’s not forget the Garda Band who shake rattle and roll including of course on Saint Patrick’s Day. They carry the goodwill of the Gardaí and Ireland internationally. They even have a couple of Vinyl Albums; how more technologically in fashion could they be!

We come bang up to date with the involvement of RTE and CRIMECALL, a monthly hour-long national TV programme and includes information pieces, crime reconstructions, crime preventions, information pieces. The programme runs appeals for special crime features and the Gardaí co produce this broadcast as well as co-presenting the programme.

The Garda Museum is extensive with plans for expansion of the museum in the near future. There is easy enough access to the museum and an offer from tour guides to walk you through the displays. It is open Monday to Friday from 10am and closes at 2pm.


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