An Irishman’s Diary on the Dublin Metropolitan Police

Police force of the city for almost 90 years

 Carved stone head of a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police at Pearse Street Garda station in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller

Carved stone head of a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police at Pearse Street Garda station in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

At about 3pm on Saturday, May 6th, 1905, 29-year-old Constable Patrick Sheahan of the Dublin Metropolitan Police was on duty on O’Connell Bridge when a newsboy came running from nearby Burgh Quay looking for help for three men in a sewer at the junction of the quay and Hawkins Street who had been overcome by poisonous gas.

One was a fitter, John Fleming, who was checking if a drainage pipe had broken and the others were colleagues who had gone to his aid. Sheahan succeeded in hauling out these two with the help of a hackney man but when he returned for Fleming, he too was overcome. Eventually, both men were extracted but they were dead on arrival at Mercer’s Hospital.

The policeman’s bravery struck a chord with Dubliners. A fund was raised for a memorial and, in August 1906, a monument was unveiled by the lord mayor at the scene of the tragedy. Side panels record the action of Sheahan and the other rescuers in English and Irish.

Memorial

The memorial has recently been moved slightly to accommodate the new southbound Luas line that will come across the Liffey via the Rosie Hackett Bridge and continue along Hawkins Street.

The DMP was the police force of Dublin for almost 90 years from its establishment in 1837, with a strength of 1,100 men, to its amalgamation with An Gárda Síochána in 1925. Initially it had four divisions, A and B south of the Liffey, and C and D north of the river. Later, E and F divisions were added to cover the area south of the Grand Canal and the borough of Kingstown. A detective unit, G division, was established in 1843.

Any analysis of its record is better left to specialist historians but it would include a reference to the force’s behaviour during the Lockout in 1913 and particularly to the baton charge on the crowd in Sackville (O’Connell) Street on “Bloody Sunday”, August 31st, before and after the arrest of the trade union leader Jim Larkin.

It would also include a mention of the force’s most famous detective, John Mallon. The “Napoleon of Policemen”, as he was described by one admirer, joined the DMP at 18 and rose through the ranks to become an assistant commissioner because of his success in tracking the Fenians. The highlight of his career was to secure the convictions and executions of five members of the Irish National Invincibles, a Fenian offshoot, and the imprisonment of others for the murders of the chief secretary Lord Frederick Cavendish and the under-secretary Thomas Bourke in 1882. He claimed, perhaps correctly, that he knew more about the Fenians than their own leaders but he kept few records because he believed that the safest place for information was within his own head.

He was the subject of numerous threats but survived to retire and, as he put it, “go home to Armagh to grow potatoes”. He died after attending Mass in Newry in 1915.

Later generations came to hear of the DMP through an Irish version of a music hall song, Are you there Mori-ar-i-ty, composed in New York in 1876, in which Tim Moriarty, “a well-known bobby of the stalwart squad”, boasts about his policing abilities and his expected invitation from St Peter to flap his wings as the reward he has won “for work well done”. It was popularised, in particular, by Jimmy O’Dea.

Pearse Street Garda station was the headquarters of G division of the DMP and the corbelled heads of policemen, two with the flat caps of officers over one entrance and two with the helmets of constables over the other, are a reminder of their time there.

Sheahan was born in Ballyguiltenane, near Glin, Co Limerick, and the next DMP man to die on duty came from the same area.

At about noon on Monday, April 24th, 1916, Constable James O’Brien on guard outside Dublin Castle was shot and killed by a member of the Irish Citizen Army and thus became one of the first casualties of the Rising. Another member of the force, Michael Lahiffe, was also killed that day and the remainder were withdrawn from the streets until May 1st.

O’Brien was buried in Kilfergus Cemetery, Glin, on May 20th, a few metres from Sheahan. A month later, another casualty of the Rising, Michael O’Connor from nearby Ballyhahill, who was killed accidentally, was buried in the same cemetery.

Meanwhile, another man from Glin, Eamonn Dore, a student who had travelled from home to Dublin to join the GPO garrison, was in prison in Staffordshire.

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