Excluded by history

James Goulden, son of an RIC sergeant, devoted his life to challenging how the force was portrayed

Thu, May 23, 2013, 10:01

The son of an RIC sergeant stationed in Co Mayo during the War of Independence, James Richard Weekes Goulden was intensely interested in the War of Independence, but he was not a republican.

He dedicated himself for the rest of his life to challenging what he felt were misrepresentations of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the writing of history that excluded them.

Goulden was a Trinity College graduate, gaeilgeoir and Irish master at the prestigious High School in Dublin, Church of Ireland, rugby player, history enthusiast and amateur archaeologist. He was born in Tourmakeady RIC barracks in 1907.

The Bureau of Military History (BMH) investigator who dealt with Goulden remarked that he seemed “actuated solely by his historical interests and, possibly, to some extent by filial respect for his father”.

Goulden collected material about the RIC for most of his life, for a history he never finished. An avid reader of IRA “fighting stories”, Goulden sent the accounts to former members of the RIC who had been involved in the incidents.

Some responded with great bitterness: “I have nearly forgotten the whole affair or at least I try to forget it,” wrote one man, “and how these so called patriots try to keep up their campaign of lies.”

Goulden successfully negotiated two communities, two histories, two worlds. In 1956 he co-produced at his school an Irish language play written by Sinéad de Valera. Her husband Éamon de Valera had called on the Dáil to sanction a police boycott in April 1919, denouncing the RIC as “spies in our midst”.

The BMH did not approach Goulden for a statement. He offered two he had written or procured himself. Over half of his own statement concerns the Tourmakeady ambush, on May 3rd, 1921, when a South Mayo Brigade flying column commanded by Tom Maguire killed four RIC men. Two IRA men also lost their lives in the aftermath.

The second statement was from Geoffrey Ibberson. Goulden had located him via the British War Office. As a young lieutenant in the Border Regiment, Ibberson had pursued Maguire’s column into the Partry Mountains after the ambush. He shot dead Michael O’Brien, South Mayo Brigade’s adjutant, and was himself severely wounded. Patrick Feeney was killed later in Ballinrobe by other Border Regiment soldiers, most likely in retaliation for the deaths of the police.

Both statements differed markedly from Maguire’s version of events as reproduced in newspaper articles by Ernie O’Malley, and in Dorothy Macardle’s The Irish Republic . Ibberson also challenged Maguire publicly in 1955. An acrimonious exchange between them followed in the Sunday Press .

Goulden’s statement also describes his family’s gradual isolation from the local community from 1916 to 1921. According to him, before the Easter Rising relations were friendly and his father knew them all by their first names. Peace was disturbed only by Irish language students arriving in the summer, who “hated the RIC and all that they stood for”.

It was in the aftermath of the Great War rather than the Easter Rising that local feeling changed. The “younger men were not really hostile but were to some extent openly defiant ... For the most part, they expressed themselves in more or less friendly discussions with my father about the day which was coming when he and his like would have to leave.”

Then, on November 11th 1919, the local RIC station was closed. “It is difficult to know who was the more surprised – the local people or my father and his men.”

Sgt Goulden was reassigned to a neighbouring station, while his wife and children remained living in the barracks: “My father visited us every day through the winter of 1919-20. Sometimes he carried a revolver, but very often he did not bother because of the weight. He was completely confident that no local would interfere with him. Often they met him on the road and they used to remark: ‘Are you not afraid we would shoot you some night going home?’ He always turned it aside as a joke.”

At Easter 1920, police barracks across the country were burnt down by the IRA. In Tourmakeady, Goulden and his family were not evicted, but by then the local community no longer supplied them with fresh milk unless one of the children was ill. They were frequently asked when they were leaving which, in May 1920, they did. Three weeks later the barracks was burnt to the ground.

The Goulden family relocated to Ballinrobe where his father was stationed in the now heavily fortified station. Windows were fitted with steel shutters. Net-wire frames kept out grenades.

“I used to bring meals to my father when he was busy,” he remembered. “I often got a trip out on a lorry and learned the use of firearms.”

Goulden got to know many of the police and Black and Tans stationed there, as well as soldiers from the Border Regiment.

Goulden’s account of Tourmakeady was compiled from what his father had told him, interviews with survivors and witnesses and newspaper reports. Only 14 at the time, what Goulden himself remembered was seeing the RIC men’s coffins in the barracks. Sgt Goulden resigned from the force a short time later, after refusing to carry out a reprisal against Michael O’Brien’s mother.

Ibberson eventually married the daughter of a local land agent in Mayo. The family left the area shortly after he paid her a visit in March 1922.

“I think I was recognised by two men on the road just west of Cross,” he told Goulden. The visit had repercussions for his future father-in-law. “He was attacked and badly knocked about at a later date on his way between his office and Lisloughry. Soon after he resigned the agency and retired.”

In 1960, Goulden and Ibberson seem to have met face to face in London. “My hair,” wrote Ibberson, “what there remains of it – is red (and white!) and I shall be in a Rover saloon car.”

Goulden died in 1976. His wife donated his voluminous collection of original documents, correspondence and notes for his unfinished history to Trinity College, Dublin. Ibberson died the following year.

Dr Eve Morrison is currently writing a book about the Bureau of Military History for Liverpool University Press.