Diarmaid Ferriter: Garda morality and policing of ‘scarlet women’

Hounding of Majella Moynihan had roots in force’s hypocritical ‘manliness’ ethos

Garda Majella Moynihan in 1998: As senior gardaí interrogated her, she was subjected to a lay version of a Catholic marriage tribunal. Photograph: RTÉ

Garda Majella Moynihan in 1998: As senior gardaí interrogated her, she was subjected to a lay version of a Catholic marriage tribunal. Photograph: RTÉ

In September 1922, in the midst of the Civil War, Eoin O’Duffy was appointed commissioner of the new Civic Guard, shortly to be renamed An Garda Síochána. At a time of strife and upheaval, O’Duffy had his answers to the questions of what would make a disciplined force and they revolved around religion and discipline. He placed great emphasis on clean-living, preached what his biographer Fearghal McGarry characterised as “the gospel of national virility”, and indulged his obsession with “manliness”.

O’Duffy presided over what was considered a Catholic police force for a Catholic state and 98.7 per cent of those who had joined the force by 1932 were Catholic. In April 1923, 1,500 gardaí paraded outside the Garda depot in the Phoenix Park for a religious ceremony in front of a large banner of the Sacred Heart and dedicated their work to the service of God. Annual religious retreats and missions in the depot were also instituted and, in 1928, O’Duffy led a pilgrimage of 250 gardaí to Rome where they were granted a special audience with Pope Pius XI.

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