Academic: ‘The RIC has not been airbrushed from history’

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Having contributed to your newspaper in the past on the role of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police in the Easter Rising I welcome your continued coverage of the history of the force but am greatly dismayed at the inaccurate and mis-leading assumption that the RIC has been ‘Almost airbrushed out of history’ (News Letter, September 11).

Such a statement is patently false when the breadth of excellent work by historians and others on the Irish police prior to 1922 is taken into account. It displays an ignorance of the wealth of material available and belittles such work by failing to recognise its existence or significance.

The Bibliography of British and Irish History – an electronic bibliographical tool - lists over 40 books and academic articles on the RIC, including the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries.

The recently published Atlas of the Irish Revolution contains 80 references to the RIC and 40 each to the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries.

Historians have been charting the history of the force for decades.

The first history of the force by Robert Curtis dates from 1869. Various accounts appeared in the twentieth century including Richard Hawkins’s examination of the force’s relationship with Dublin Castle and Professor John Brewer’s oral history, which salvaged vital first-hand accounts of disbanded RIC veterans in their later years.

Since the mid-1990s there has been a significant upsurge in publications on the subject, most notably Jim Herlihy’s invaluable historical and genealogical guides to the RIC and DMP, Elizabeth’s Malcolm’s survey of the life of The Irish Policeman, 1822-1922 (published in 2006) and David Leeson’s authoritative study of the Black and Tans: British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence (2011). Brian Griffin’s The Bulkies (1999) examined policing in Belfast prior to the establishment of the Irish Constabulary.

Nor has the RIC been absent from public memory or commemoration, thanks to the work of Pat McCarthy, a member of An Garda Siochána.

In 2016 the Irish government and local authorities in Ireland held a variety of commemorative events to mark the deaths of Irish policemen who died in the Rising.

Research and writing on policing in Ireland prior to 1922 is a thriving aspect of academic and popular history and I expect many more works to appear over the next few years of this decade of centenaries examining policing in the revolutionary years and expanding further our already extensive knowledge of the subject.

The claim that the RIC has been airbrushed from history is quite simply wrong.

Dr Marie Coleman, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast