‘Honouring the memory of RIC men’
Sir, – I, like Stephen Collins (“State still cannot bring itself to honour the memory of RIC men”, Opinion & Analysis, September 27th), found Richard Abbot’s book Police Casualties in Ireland “eye-opening”.
What I thought particularly fascinating was how many of these 550 or so “Irishmen” were actually born in Britain or indeed further afield. The problem for anyone suggesting that the Royal Irish Constabulary be “honoured” for its service between 1919-21 is that large numbers of the force were not locally recruited at all, but Black and Tans or Auxiliaries, imported to augment the RIC after mid-1920. While these men were attracted to service in Ireland for a variety of reasons, it is unlikely that protecting local communities and keeping the peace were major factors in their thinking.
That is not to suggest that there were not Irish recruits to the Tans or Auxiliaries; there certainly were. Nor was it the case that the “old” RIC was innocent of the type of behaviour usually attributed to the “Tans”.
As David Leeson’s equally eye-opening The Black and Tans (Oxford, 2011) shows, senior RIC officers had already begun to sanction reprisals before the arrival of these forces and individual veteran Irish policemen were also often implicated in atrocities.
Remembrance is one thing but the idea of a state “honouring” men who fought against its formation is another.
It should be possible to remember individual policemen’s sacrifice and acknowledge the complexity of their motivations while still recognising that their primary function between 1919-21 was to defend the British government’s denial of self-determination to the Irish people. – Yours, etc,
Dr BRIAN HANLEY,
School of History,
Classics and Archeology,
University of Edinburgh.