Forensic force: Dublin’s ground-breaking bobbies
Dublin’s Victorian-era policemen were early adopters of crime-solving technologies, and the Phoenix Park of the 1880s was home to a world-famous police academy
A granite memento of the DMP at Pearse Street Garda station. Photograph: Frank Miller
Re-enactment of a 1913 Lockout baton charge. Photographs: Dara Mac Dónaill
The centenary of the 1913 Lockout has not been kind to the memory of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. The violence with which Dublin’s “bobbies” attacked the strikers (as well as uninvolved bystanders) has been re-enacted graphically (and, by and large, accurately) in street theatre and on screen.
There are few Dubliners now who can remember when the city had its own police force. There are some visible mementos: heads in granite over the door of Pearse Street Garda station; a memorial on Burgh Quay to Constable Patrick Sheahan of Glin, Co Limerick, who died trying to rescue a workman from a gas-filled trench in 1905; an old police lamp on the wall of what was once the archbishop’s palace on Kevin Street.
The DMP was formed in 1836, and patrolled Dublin for just under 90 years. It was typical of the urban police forces that came into being across the UK in the middle years of Queen Victoria’s reign (and marvellously parodied by Gilbert and Sullivan in The Pirates of Penzance.)
Rank-and-file members were drawn from the “better elements” of the labouring and trades classes. They came from all over Ireland, but principally from the rural counties bordering Dublin and from the midlands. Native-born citizens of the capital rarely joined, having little regard for police work. “A bobby’s job” is still a derogatory term in Dublin.
Its commissioners were hand-picked crown officers, often with a legal or military background. Pay for the lower ranks was poor, discipline was strict. The force was unarmed but had a reputation – as did all Victorian police forces – for heavy-handedness.
The DMP differed from its sister forces on the adjoining island in one respect, however. It had its own armed detective branch, known as G Division, based at Exchange Court on the curtilage of Dublin Castle, opposite the present location of Les Frères Jacques restaurant.
The 60 or so “G men” not only investigated ordinary crime; they also functioned as the castle’s political police, keeping tabs on Fenians, land agitators, anarchists and anyone else the castle authorities considered a threat to the established order. They were better-paid than their uniformed colleagues. Each was proficient in the use of the Webley Bull Dog revolver, a .44-calibre weapon, as fearsome as its name suggests.
G Division’s most celebrated member was John Mallon, the son of a Catholic farmer from Armagh, who broke through the religion barrier to become assistant commissioner. He was well respected by Parnell (whom he arrested). But his principal claim to fame was the smashing of the Invincibles after their 1885 assassination of Sir Frederick Cavendish and TH Burke in the Phoenix Park.
New policing technologies
G Division’s security role enabled the DMP to develop new policing technologies earlier than many other forces, giving Victorian Dublin what would now be called a “leading-edge” reputation in early crime forensics. There was little funding available from her majesty’s treasury for the development of ordinary policing functions. But containing political subversion was a different matter. G-Division (and the Special Branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary) had to get the best.