RIC commemoration to be held in London army barracks

Event to mark centenary of disbandment two years after Dublin cancellation

A service of commemoration to mark the centenary of the disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) will take place in London on Friday.

More than 300 relatives of those who had served in the force are expected to attend the event which is being hosted by the UK Police Roll of Honour Trust

The trust remembers all police officers who died in the line of duty in the United Kingdom, some 5,000 officers in total, of whom more than 1,000 died in Ireland.

The event is being held at a British army barracks in London on Friday morning but the trust has asked for the name of the location not to be revealed in advance because of security concerns.

The service of commemoration was preceded by an event in the American embassy in London on Thursday night hosted by the trust to which relatives of those who served in the RIC were invited.

Police Trust vice-chair John Giblin, who is involved in organising both events, said it had a long-standing relationship with the American embassy to host events.

He stressed that, while the relatives of the RIC policemen were invited, the American embassy event was about the general work that the trust does.

Line of duty

Mr Giblin said the trust would not be true to its royal charter if it did not commemorate the 638 RIC men who died in the line of duty. That figure includes Black and Tans and Auxiliaries who died in the War of Independence and served in a supporting role with the RIC.

He stressed that Friday’s event was not political in nature. When asked if representatives from the Irish or British government were invited he responded: “We would be failing in our duties not to inform the proper authorities.”

Asked whether it had received an invite and how it had responded, the Department of Foreign Affairs made no reply to The Irish Times at the time of going to press.

Mr Giblin said there had been a “huge amount of interest from the Irish Republic” for the event and many others who could not attend sent their apologies.

“It is still raw for many of them, to remember and commemorate and put to bed after 100 years the pain and grief that they suffered,” he said.

“We were very conscious that this is not about politics. People need to leave their politics at the door. This basically is primarily about those who died at a point of time having attested to their job to the best of their ability without fear or favour. The focus here is on the Royal Irish Constabulary doing their duty on the island of Ireland.

"They were Roman Catholic boys just wishing to better themselves. The problem is that they got caught up in history. You would be hard-pressed to find a family in Ireland that does not have a connection to the RIC."

Irish freedom

Mr Giblin said it was originally intended to hold the event in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, but the venue proved to be too small. He said moving it to an army barracks was appropriate as more than 150 RIC men died fighting in the first World War.

In January 2020, an attempt by the then minister for justice, Charlie Flanagan, to hold a service of commemoration in Dublin for the RIC was scuppered following objections from those who believed it was honouring those who had fought against Irish freedom.

Police historian and former garda Jim Herlihy said the backlash against that proposed commemoration made it impossible to hold an event in Ireland marking the disbandment of the RIC without it becoming a security issue.

“What happened to me happened to all of the others. There have been death threats. There is all that kind of carry on,” he said.

Mr Herlihy said relatives he had spoken to where “delighted and honoured” to have been asked to attend in London, and to get 300 attendees “is absolutely amazing”.

Among those travelling to the event is Dublin-based musician Dave Hardy. He found out in recent years that his great-great grandfather, Harry Hardy, had been the original bandmaster of the RIC which he founded in 1861.

He only found out about the family connection 15 years ago and he was involved in a concert in 2011 to mark 150 years of police music in Ireland through the RIC and then the Garda band.

“We have all these connections that make sense now given our family connection with music. Our family is very specific – we are into military music. We found out that the music connection extends a further generation back to his father.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times