We have celebrated various events related to the birth of our nation over the past six years, but the one that has been barely mentioned and which has greatly affected Dundalk over the past 100 years is fast approaching.
It’s the arrival of the Civic Guards in Dundalk on November 1, 1922!
I deliberately write ‘civic guards’ because that is how ordinary people in Dundalk have referred to members of the An Garda Síochána police force for many years – and some older people still do! The reason is simple, as this is how they were officially known when they first arrived in Dundalk and the name was only changed after the Free State government passed the law An Garda Siochana in 1924.
The history of policing in Dundalk is a long and complicated one and I am aware that many law-abiding citizens of the town treat any police officer on duty with a degree of suspicion and that this sentiment should be understood and respected by anyone in a position of authority.
It was just a general feeling, and I’ve developed very good relationships with many people over the years who have been involved in something that would have caused them to be suspicious, and I very quickly learned to ” shut my mouth!”, in many circumstances.
In general, however, the people of Dundalk have always held most locally stationed An Garda Síochána members in very high regard, and indeed relied on them for simple things like filling out official forms and getting in. in contact with relatives who had emigrated during times of trouble and sorrow!
All of this has become even more important in the current time of the COVID-19 lockdown and guards are often called upon to act beyond the ordinary call of duty; especially in caring for the elderly and the infirm!
The first organized form of policing in Dundalk appears to have been the establishment of a ‘night watch’ around 1825 by the Corporation which was then in charge of municipal affairs.
It seems to have been an almost “laughable” force of elderly and, at times, infirm men, who roamed the city during the hours of darkness, armed with oil or candle lanterns and a long stick.
They also had a wooden rattle with which they could summon their comrades when they encountered suspicious activity.
There were only about a dozen of them to begin with, and they operated out of a small hut next to the Market House in the square.
I suppose, however, that they must have been some kind of comfort to law-abiding citizens sleeping in their beds to keep thieves from breaking into their properties!
Sir Robert Peel organized the Irish Police in 1822 as the ‘Constabulary of Ireland’ and enlisted around 6,000 men in the following years.
They were only given the name Royal Irish Constabulary in 1867, during the reign of Queen Victoria.
They first patrolled around Dublin city and do not appear to have reached Dundalk until the 1840s when a police barracks was opened in Clanbrassil Street near present-day GPO, then moved to the other end of Clanbrassil Street in premises that would later become Duffner’s jewellers. ‘ store.
There was also a police barracks in Crowe Street, opposite the old jail and courthouse which was to become the Tempest Building where the Democrat of Dundalk had offices for over ten years at the turn of the present century.
I don’t know when this barracks was used but I think it must have been mainly for service at the courthouse.
Shortly after the arrival of the Irish Constabulary in Dundalk, the old Night Watch was abolished by the newly formed Town Commissioners in 1855.
The RIC left Dundalk on 29 March 1922, from their barracks in Bridge Street and Anne Street – they had previously evacuated a barracks in Quay Street and others at various stations around rural areas – and IRA members took over Anne Street. Barracks.
A volunteer civilian force resumed patrolling the streets of Dundalk shortly thereafter.
They only wore armbands to indicate they were acting as auxiliary police and were unarmed.
The first members of the Irish Civil Guard were enlisted at Ballsbridge, Dublin on 21 February.
1922 and the first Garda Commissioner, Michael Joseph Stains, of Newport, County Mayo, was appointed in March, but the first Civic Guards did not arrive in Dundalk until after Halloween.
There was a very interesting account published in the Dundalk Democrat the following Saturday, November 4, which said: “The long-awaited civic guards arrive on Tuesday.
The first thing they did was remove the elaborate sandbag barricades and entrenchments from the front of the St Anne barracks they had taken over from the army (the Civil War was still raging in the area at the time) and the place no longer resembles a beleaguered outpost in Waziristan.
One result is likely to be that residents of Anne Street and Park Street will be allowed to sleep peacefully at night.
The report goes on to state that – “For four months the barracks in St Anne’s were the obvious target of the ‘kind sniper’ crouching in a clump of the estate and locals came to apprehend that he There’s more sedating stuff than a sniper’s bullet jumping off the roof at regular intervals between nightfall and 4 a.m.
The Civic Guard, being an unarmed force, there will be no excuse for firing on their quarters.
The author then goes on to make an interesting comment about the new police force.
“These are big guys recruited, no doubt, in the agricultural community, for the most part.
They look like they can use their fists, not to mention their batons, very effectively.
We wish them the best of luck and extend to them the sympathy of any law-abiding citizen.
A Garda Síochána remained at Anne Street Barracks, using it as headquarters for the district, until moving to what had been the Governor’s House in the former Dundalk Gaol at the Crescent since 1854, which had been refurbished at a state cost of around £8,000, in January 1946 and has stood there ever since.