Oral history to shed light on Garda’s turbulent beginnings

Retired members’ association aims to chart course from civil war up to modern era

Long-retired gardaí are to retell their stories as part of a new comprehensive oral history charting the development of Irish policing since its foundation in 1922.

Although the project has been under way for the last year, it is officially launched on Tuesday and aims to produce its history in time for the service’s 100-year anniversary next year.

It will chart the course of the service from its origins in a country bitterly divided by civil war, right into the modern era.

Crucially though, it is the firsthand stories and memories of those who filled its ranks that will bring it all to life. The Garda Síochána Retired Members Association (GSRMA) which is behind the plans, has about 6,000 members, 5 per cent of whom are aged in their 90s or older.


According to its general secretary, retired superintendent Mick Lernihan, many of its members donned the uniform during the 1940s and worked closely with those who were there at the organisation's birth.

“We think it’s vitally important to get their story and their memories and to get them recorded for posterity and for academia,” he said.

Capturing our History – An Oral History of An Garda Síochána 1922-2022 will be based largely on the approach of the military archives.

It will be run by a 15-person central committee and having advertised for academic expressions of interest last year, it has appointed an academic adviser.

The project will be the most comprehensive effort at documenting the century-long history – some efforts were made at the 50th anniversary but lacked the technological ease of today.

As with many aspects of modern Ireland, the history of policing has often been turbulent. Many members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) joined the Civic Force, the gardaí's predecessor, on its creation.

Mr Lernihan said that anyone within the organisation who has a story to tell would be included but the project’s focus is firmly on its 100-year operational history.

“The foundation was a very turbulent time and a number of our members lost their lives,” he said of the early period when Ireland was reeling from the Civil War and unarmed members were establishing police stations. “They were trying times.”

The legacy trawl will look at other periods potentially rich in memory – the second World War, the IRA campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s, and the breakout of the Troubles, among them.

Who will be interviewed and how is now in process, but the oral history will rely on much more than just the testimony of former members. Documents and memorabilia are also being collected.

“[And] the families; there are sons and daughters who were there and they have testimony from their parents and materials,” Mr Lernihan said. Once the archive is created, it will be expanded upon in the years to come.

“It’s so important because it hasn’t been done before. We need to recollect the foundations of Ireland from the aspect of policing.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times