Ceremony commemorates forgotten policemen of War of Independence

 

THE FORGOTTEN participants in the War of Independence were remembered in a ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetery over the weekend where many relatives and descendants turned out to pay their respects.

About 150 people attended to commemorate the disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in 1922, and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) in 1925. The organisers were two retired members of An Garda Síochána, Gerard Lovett and Pat McCarthy.

“We are here to pray for the souls of the approximately 549 members of the RIC [some bodies were never recovered] and the 14 members of the DMP who were killed between Easter Monday 1916 and disbandment of the RIC in August 1922,” Mr Lovett said.

He acknowledged some RIC members “did behave disgracefully and dishonoured the uniform, but that is not to denigrate the vast majority who joined”.

Noting that many of those present were relatives of RIC men, he said: “Over the years it has not been fashionable or popular to even mention that – but we’re hoping to change that.”

The organisers had originally hoped there would be an official commemoration, but having “sniffed around” they discovered this was not going to happen: “So we said we would do it ourselves.”

The site chosen for the event was a communal grave site where more than 100 RIC members are buried. “This plot here is actually owned by the British Home Office still,” Mr Lovett said. Directly facing it is a burial place for members of the DMP.

Jim McDonald of the Belfast-based Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation, who laid a wreath of poppies at the grave, said he had never expected to see such an event in Dublin.

“They have been victims, as there were many victims of troubled times in Ireland and it is right and proper that we pay them due homage here today,” he said.

“It’s been a long time coming, but all the more welcome.”

The event coincided with the 90th birthday of retired garda det sgt Michael Reilly. He came to pay tribute to his father, also called Michael, a sergeant in the RIC who survived an IRA ambush in 1921 near Keadue, Co Roscommon.

There were Bible readings by the organisers and some of the relatives of the deceased RIC men recited prayers, although one family member declined because, “I don’t want to be photographed”.

Vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association, Roy Cairns said: “It is an honour and a privilege for me to be here today to pay tribute to the RIC.”

Retired garda supt Gerald Higgins, who read one of the prayers, said his father, John Joseph Higgins, joined in 1915. “He was a constable in the RIC and I’m proud of that.”

David McFadden said his grand-uncle, RIC sergeant John McFadden, was shot dead in April 1921 and that he had found his grave in Derry earlier this month.

Mr Lovett said a lot more people turned up than he had expected. He had only anticipated some “20 to 30, if we were lucky”.

Asked about those who objected to the ceremony because of the RIC’s association with the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries, he replied: “We move on. If the Queen can shake hands with Martin McGuinness, it’s time we moved on, isn’t it?”

A small group of republican protesters turned up for the event but left after a short burst of heckling. A number of serving gardaí were on duty for the occasion.