He was the Dublin policeman turned spy for Michael Collins who played a significant part in the new Irish state. In this extract from the Dictionary of Irish Biography, Pauric J. Dempsey and Shaun Boylan tell his story

Eamon 'Ned' Broy (1887–1972), double agent and Garda commissioner, was born 22 December 1887 in Ballinure, Co. Kildare, the son of Patrick Broy, farmer, and his wife, Mary (née Barry). Educated locally, he joined the RIC on 2 August 1910 and the DMP on 20 January 1911.

In 1915 he moved from the uniformed to the detective branch and was ultimately assigned to the headquarters of G division (British secret service) as a confidential clerk.

A member of the Dublin Metropolitan police out on patrol in the early 20th century

Broy was not an ardent supporter of the ruling regime and had initially joined the DMP for its excellent athletics facilities and its reputation for being less political and more liberal than the RIC. When he joined G division he believed that home rule was imminent.

Broy becomes a spy

However, the Easter rising and its aftermath led him to the realisation that independence would in all likelihood come only through force. In March 1917 Broy made the decision to assist Sinn Féin and the volunteers; over the following years his provision of information was to prove vital to the efforts of the independence movement generally and Michael Collins specifically.

Although as a clerk within G division Broy was not of high rank, he had access to the most confidential files of the government intelligence services operating within Ireland. He had initially made contact with the independence movement through Harry O'Hanrachain.

O'Hanrachain was, unknown to Broy, a member of the IRB and later a courier in Michael Collins's information network. Broy established his credibility by warning about the imminent arrest of two middle-ranking members of Sinn Féin, and shortly afterwards began to pass on confidential documents and police codes.

Michael Collins giving a speech. Broy provided information to Collins's information network

In March 1918 the possibility of conscription being introduced to Ireland prompted the Irish Volunteer movement to establish a general headquarters staff to resist any such move. Although Collins was officially appointed director of organisation he had already started to establish a small group of spies within Dublin Castle.

Broy had not yet met Collins and was unaware of the other agents at this time, but he was central to the intelligence network then being constructed. This became apparent in May 1918, when the castle authorities prepared to arrest numerous members of the independence movement in response to reports of a plot concerning collusion with Germany.

On 17 May Broy handed a list containing the names of those to be arrested that night to O'Hanrachain, who passed it to Collins. Although Collins issued a warning, many, such as Éamon de Valera, chose to remain where they were and be arrested to highlight the injustices of the governing regime.

De Valera in Croke Park in 1919. De Valera chose to be arrested the previous year despite Broy passing on news of his imminent arrest

Despite this, the incident cemented Collins as the de facto head of intelligence and in turn showed him that Broy would be central to the success of his intelligence war.

Collins's desire to keep his contacts as shrouded in secrecy as possible meant that he and Broy did not meet until April 1919, when Broy smuggled him into G division headquarters at Brunswick Street (latterly Pearse Street), enabling him to trawl through secret files for five hours.

The intelligence war begins in earnest

Two days later Collins began his intelligence war in earnest when he distributed lists of junior detectives (gathered from his night at Brunswick Street) to the Dublin brigade of the IRA. In most cases the detectives were followed and taken down alleyways, where various methods of persuasion were used to dissuade them from working against Collins.

The policy of shooting detectives began in July 1919, when Broy named Patrick Smyth, a detective sergeant in G division, as a dangerous man.

A DMP bullet-proof vest from the War of Independence era. Image courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland

Conflicting loyalties

Although he was genuinely committed to the independence movement and enjoyed the mystique and power that his position gave him, Broy was beguiled by his conflicting loyalties to his job on the one hand and his country on the other.

He obtained promotion to pay sergeant in the detective superintendent's office before being arrested in December 1920 following the discovery of documents typed by him in the house of Eileen McGrane, an ardent Sinn Féin sympathiser.

Broy was incarcerated in Arbour Hill prison until the truce; it was widely rumoured that he was to be executed, but no case was ever taken against him possibly because of the intimidation of the investigating officer. Following his release he travelled to London with the treaty delegation as Collins's private secretary and bodyguard.

Colonel Broy

After returning to Dublin Broy, on the foundation of the state, became adjutant of the Free State army air corps with the rank of commandant. Promoted colonel, he was made OC of the air corps ground organisation. Having been involved in early meetings of the police organising committee, following independence he became secretary to the DMP (1923).

The Garda HQ at the Phoenix Park

On 1 April 1925 he was appointed chief superintendent when the DMP was merged with An Garda Síochána. In 1929 he was transferred to the Phoenix Park depot as commandant and in February 1933 he was surprisingly appointed chief of the detective division in succession to David Neligan.

Towards the end of February 1933 de Valera relieved Eoin O'Duffy from his post as Garda commissioner. In an attempt to find a successor who would have the confidence of both sides in the civil war divide and who had not held a senior post under W. T. Cosgrave's  administration, on 22 February 1933 de Valera promoted Broy to the post over the heads of deputy and assistant commissioners.

Enter the Blueshirts

In August 1933 O'Duffy and the Army Comrades Association (‘the Blueshirts’) planned to march to Glasnevin cemetery to commemorate the dead leaders of the independence movement. Given the fascist undertones of the Blueshirts, de Valera and the new Fianna Fáil administration feared a Mussolini-style coup.

Eoin O'Duffy, leader of the Blueshirts

At the same time Broy informed the government that, while he was satisfied of the loyalty of the Gardaí, he was unsure what the reaction would be among the rank and file if asked to turn against O'Duffy. For this reason S branch (commonly known as the Broy Harriers) was established as an armed auxiliary unit of the special branch.

It was made up largely of former IRA and Fianna Fáil supporters, and the first forty-two recruits were sworn in on 5 August 1933; they immediately took up duty without any formal training.

In a court case in 1934, arising from an incident where a young boy named Michael Lynch was shot dead in Cork when a lorry broke through a police cordon, Mr Justice Hanna described the Broy Harriers as ‘an excrescence’ upon An Garda Síochána. As the threat from the Blueshirts faded, the unit was disbanded in 1935.

Rumours and strained relations: Broy's later years

Fluent in Irish, French, and German, Broy represented the Garda at many international police conferences. Owing to his unorthodox promotion he never commanded the unanimous support of his senior officers.

Critics condemned his detached leadership style and queried the increasing use of firearms by Gardaí. Broy retired in August 1938 against the backdrop of rumours of strained relations with the government and was succeeded by a civilian, Michael Kinnane.

Ned Broy receiving counterfoils from a nurse during the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake draw on the Cambridgeshire horse race in 1933. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Superficially deferential and taciturn, Broy was a non-drinking, non-smoking, strongly built man; at times he appeared somewhat gauche and ill at ease. A noted athlete in his youth, he was honorary secretary of the National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) (1927–8) and a member of the Irish Olympic Council (from 1928), the NACA standing committee (from 1931), and the Tailteann Council (from its inception).

He attended the Olympic Games at Paris (1924) and Amsterdam (1928) and served as president of the Irish Olympic Council (IOC) from 1933 to 1950. Broy's wife, Elizabeth, with whom he had two sons and two daughters, died in 1958, and he died 22 January 1972 at his residence, 25 Oakland Drive, Rathgar.

The Dictionary of Irish Biography is Ireland's national biographical dictionary. Devised, researched, written and edited under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy, its online edition covers nearly 11,000 lives. Read more about Dictionary of Irish Biography

SOURCES: Piaras Beaslai, Michael Collins and the making of modern Ireland (1926); Garda Review (Nov. 1929); David Neligan, The spy in the Castle (1968); Irish Press, Ir. Times, 24 Jan. 1972; Conor Brady, Guardians of the peace (1974); Garda Review (Aug. 1974); Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins (1990); Lindie Naughton and Johnny Waterson, Irish Olympians (1992); Liam McNiff, A history of the Garda Síochána: a social history of the force 1922–52, with an overview of the years 1952–97 (1997); Gregory Allen, The Garda Síochána: policing independent Ireland 1922–82 (1999); Michael Foy, Michael Collins's intelligence war: the struggle between the British and the IRA, 1919–1921 (2006); Garda Archives