A look back at 90 years of the Gardai and what
the future may hold

DAVID KELLY retraces the early struggles of the Civic Guard and ponders what the future may hold for An Garda Siochana, as the force gets ready to celebrate 90 years this spring.

DAVID KELLY retraces the early struggles of the Civic Guard and ponders what the future may hold for An Garda Siochana, as the force gets ready to celebrate 90 years this spring.

THE BLACK AND TANS revved up the lights on the Crossley Tender as a firing squad forced the teen against the gable wall and prepared to take aim.

22-year-old Charlie McGroarty had been out on manoeuvres with the local Irish Volunteer movement in Clonmany that night. His mother pleaded for mercy on the family doorstep, her cries echoing round the townland of Cooley, Moville, heartland of the Inishowen peninsula.

The commanding officer relented as the “thugs” raided the house of all foodstuffs - a small price to pay for the safety of her eldest son.

Charlie joined the Civic Guard a year later in 1922, but his problems didn’t end there, recalls his son John, himself a former Garda Detective Chief Superintendent and operational garda for four decades.

Blue blood passed from father to son and also encapsulated John’s brother, Neil, albeit in different eras.

“When he went away to join the Civic Guard in 1922, his old unit sent word to his home that he should not be seen around here again.

“They had seen him as abandoning the principles that they thought had bound them together in the region,” said John.

After his initial training, Charlie was deliberately stationed down south to break the connection with his former colleagues in Donegal and to keep him out of harm’s way. It was a tough and trying period for him.

“For seven years he didn’t go home. He went home in the autumn of 1929, and before going back, he wrote in the summer of that year to his mother. He was feeling homesick and he asked would she make a few enquiries.

“She went to the parish priest and he said, ‘I don’t know, you better leave it with me.’ He came back to her a few days later and said there wouldn’t be a hand raised against him. He went home and he told me he helped bring in the harvest in the autumn of that year.”

John notes that this is one of the reasons why you will find names like McDaid, McGinley, and McGroarty, which are essentially northern names, scattered through Munster and various places. Despite his name, John is a proud Tipperary man from the town of Clonmel.

(The ultimate sacrifice)

Sergeant Paul Maher of the Garda Museum, Dublin Castle, and Sergeant John Reynolds, who set up the Garda College Museum in 2002, paint a picture of turbulent times in the formative years of the force. Those early decades were ones in which ambushes, violent armed robberies, attacks on garda stations and members themselves were commonplace.

“We were founded during a civil war, coming out of a very violent guerrilla war.

“I think throughout the past, particularly the 70s and 80s when we had terrorism, we have proved to be adaptable and our approval rating is still very high. We are there to serve the public and that’s the bottom line,” added Sgt Reynolds.

People have to remember that there was a lack of trust towards the new force. Removing the political barrier and keeping the force unarmed to the present day worked in its favour, remarks archivist Paul Maher.

“Only 166 RIC men came into An Garda Siochana. It was mostly made up of members of the Volunteers or close to some significant player during the revolution. The other RIC men got their ‘Dear John’ letters,” added Mr Maher.

Commissioner of the Civic Guard Michael Staines said in September 1922: “The Garda Siochana will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people.”

However, this was undermined as members of An Garda Siochana increasingly found themselves in the firing line. Attacks and ambushes increased throughout the decades with the 1920s and 1940s being particularly notorious. The I.R.A. robbed banks in order to fund their campaign in Northern Ireland, and organised crime increased.

Nowhere is this is more evident than on the Garda Role of Honour, which has the names of 85 members who lost their lives in the line of duty or active service. Two names were added in 2011.

People sometimes forget those who were killed while off duty. 25 year-old Wicklow native Ciaran Jones died tragically in October last year while helping motorists at a flooded bridge.

Family tradition

John McGroarty joined An Garda Siochana at the age of 21. It was 1960.

“I followed in his (my father’s) footsteps in 1960 and I trained in the old depot in the Phoenix Park. I was in one of the last batches of garda recruits to do so.

“When I joined the guards I decided it was a good career opportunity. There was talk at the time that the force was going to get bigger and better, and that we would be doing new things in the future as Ireland began to expand.”

Charlie passed away two years later. Cathy went on to survive more years as a widow than she had known in married life. John speaks movingly of a comment made to him at the time of his mother’s death by the then Assistant Commissioner, Pat Byrne.

“Assistant Commissioner Byrne had stepped aside to sympathise with me on the death of my mother, and when I said that the local station’s garda motorcyclist had drawn glowing comments from our family, having led the funeral procession from the Mater Hospital and helped us to cope with the traffic along North Circular Road in their sadness and we were grateful for that.”

Mr Byrne quickly responded: “Wasn’t that a small cost in tribute to a woman who had through her husband and two sons given 100 years of service to the State via An Garda Siochana?”

Those wonderful words sustained me for many a day, adds John.

John made himself a solemn promise from day one. He set about making his choice a lifelong career and worked diligently to maintain law and order. He worked tirelessly throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, eventually retiring in 1999.

Mr McGroarty believes his first seven years at Store Street set him up for life in blue.

“I served in Store Street, the busiest station in Ireland, and certainly if you survive seven years as an active and committed policeman there, there is not a lot that would trouble you.

“I spent five years in Special Branch and towards the end of that time drugs were coming on the scene. I began to study the situation and became friendly with Denis Mullins, who dealt with the first and early drug cases.”

Drugs were a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland, they were seen as alien. Firstly, Special Branch was tasked with drug crime because drugs were believed to be subversive and could potentially provide a threat to the Irish state. This soon fell under the scope of the Drugs Squad.

John has worked in various capacities with Europol and Interpol (international police organisations). He also trained with the FBI and Scotland Yard. So what does he see as the biggest challenge or threat to An Garda Siochana?

“Organised crime poses a massive threat and it’s going to take a tremendous effort to keep it in check. There is no way of eradicating drugs and organised crime, the task of the police force is to keep it in check, that’s about as much as we can hope for.”

Mr McGroarty pinpoints the Larry Dunne investigation as one of his personal highlights.

“Heavy drugs were introduced to Ireland and Dublin in the autumn of 1979 by the Dunne family from Rialto. The story of the time in the media and the public was that these guys couldn’t be caught.

“Bit by bit we concentrated on them, put surveillance in place and gathered intelligence. At one time we had all the brothers in jail. One guy went to England and he was a model citizen, reared his family there.”

Despite the jury being rigged in the first Dunne trial, the State Solicitor managed to get a retrial. Larry Dunne was sentenced to 14 years. He served 11.

The Tipperary native also states that the force would stand up to any police unit in Europe.

“I subscribe to the idea in life that we learn more from our failures than from our successes. An Garda Siochana is well regarded in Europe.”

John and his Longford wife, Maura, have four children of their own. They are all grown up now. Three of them are abroad, two in England and one in Australia. None followed their father’s footsteps into the force.

However, John’s niece, Aine McGroarty, is stationed in Howth - thus ensuring the McGroarty family name is synonymous with Irish policing well into the 21st century.

He gets a great kick out of mentioning Cathal. He’s married to an Aussie in Melbourne and works for NAB (National Australia Bank). John thinks that’s a brilliant name for a bank, but perhaps CAB is better? John chuckles.

Time will tell whether the McGroarty family tree continues to have its roots steeped in blue. From Donegal to Tipperary and Dublin, it’s survived the good, the bad and the ugly. There must be something in the soil round those parts.

Had he not joined An Garda Siochana, John feels that he would have left Irish shores for North America, Australia, or even New Zealand. Instead, history will show that the McGroarty’s of Donegal continue to pass on the baton and buckle up the belt, all in the name of the thin Blue Line.

Sergeant Paul Maher is the outgoing Garda Museum archivist at Dublin Castle. He is organising a series of lectures at the Garda Museum to mark the 90th anniversary. There will also be a lecture by Senan Molony in May, entitled “Phoenix Park Murders” and a possible lecture by The Hon. Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman on “Crime and Justice in Joycean Dublin” (TBC).

Sergeant John Reynolds is a former PULSE instructor and member of the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) department at the Garda College, Templemore. He set up the Garda College Museum in 2002 to promote the history of the barracks and policing in Ireland. John is undertaking a PhD at the University of Limerick on the ‘IRA campaign against the Royal Irish Constabulary in Tipperary, 1919-1922’. A brief outline of his study states:

Between 1919 and 1922, 493 members of the RIC were killed, and thousands more injured. When the conflict ended the RIC was disbanded and thousands of former policemen were forced to emigrate. Nationalist historiography in Ireland has been overwhelmingly negative about the RIC, and this study sets out to look beyond this stereotype and examine and analyse the role of the RIC in county Tipperary from 1916-23. Forty five policemen died in the county, and as the second most violent county in Ireland during the war, Tipperary saw atrocities committed by both sides, with propaganda being skilfully used by both sides. The reality of the conflict was often far from the heroic struggle for self-determination subsequently portrayed.

John McGroarty is a former Garda Detective Superintendent and currently works for Risk Management International (RMI) as a Special Services Manager. He also helped to establish WhistleBlower Confidential.

The Garda Roll of Honour is available at: http://www.garda.ie/honour/default.aspx

(Moments of significance)

The Garda College also has a number of significant anniversaries coming up in the next few years.

“2013 will mark the 200th anniversary of the opening of the barracks, which is significant because it means it is a lot older than Garda HQ and other buildings in the country,” said Sgt Reynolds.

2014 will mark 100 years since the German prisoners were interned in Richmond Barracks, Templemore.

In 1914, the barracks was used to keep German prisoners of war, both civilian and people who had been detained when war broke out, but also those who had been living here and military prisoners.

“The military prisoners got moved out in 1915 because the republicans were desperately hoping that the German government would invade Ireland. The republicans came up with a plan to break the prisoners out of here, arm them and they might side with them in the event of a rebellion.

“Once word came out about that, they got moved almost overnight to England,” added Mr Reynolds.

John is hoping that some relatives of those that were here will attend the anniversary.

“I’ve actually managed to contact some of the relatives. We are hoping that they might come over. It also marks 100 years since World War 1 began. This barracks was hugely important because when the Germans left, it was a training barracks for the Munster and Leinsters.

“Thousands of men trained here and went to the trenches. Some never made it back.”

It will culminate with the centennial anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

“Reinforcements were sent from Templemore to Dublin. Then we have the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. You could really say we are looking at ten years of anniversaries.”