In February 1922, the new Provisional Irish Government was faced with the near-collapse of law and order across the country, as the British Army withdrew and the Royal Irish Constabulary faced being disbanded.
The decisions taken in the formation of a new police force were among the most important ever taken by any Irish government, and ensured the widespread acceptance of its authority among the people.
Sergeant Pat McNamara drew his gun first.
He pointed his Colt 45 straight at his superior officer, Superintendent John Joseph Byrne.
The superintendent drew his pistol. His colleague from headquarters, Sergeant Pat McAvinia, did the same.
Two against one.
There were now three members of the Free State's infant police force, the Civic Guard, pointing guns at each other outside the Station Hotel, Kildare Town, on the evening of Friday, 9 June 1922.
If the townspeople crowding around the three guards were shocked at the sight, they didn't show it.
They were too busy egging on McNamara, who had led 30 armed officers and a growing mob of civilians in chasing down the two men from headquarters. Now there were what looked like a hundred guards in the chasing pack.
When the two men had run into the hotel a few minutes earlier, their pursuers threatened to burn the place to the ground.
The hotelier wanted them to leave, he wouldn't even let them use the telephone.
Now Byrne and McAvinia were back out on the street, and the mob was getting bigger and nastier. Byrne later estimated there were by now hundreds of people and guards chasing them. A hail of stones hit the two officers, then McNamara fired.
Byrne said later he heard 'the sing and the hum' of the bullet as it went past his ear.
McNamara claimed he only drew his weapon when he saw guns in the hands of the other two officers, said he had fired into the air, and would have hit either man had he intended to.
Byrne said he would have fired back but for the press of civilians behind McNamara...
9 June 1922. Over a hundred officers of the country's brand-new police force, the Civic Guard, had just engaged in violence worse than anything seen in Kildare in the entire War of Independence.
It was not supposed to be like this. Was there not supposed to be a new start in policing in the new Free State?
Go back to the beginning.
The beginning - as in the first weeks of the new government six months earlier.
The British Army withdrawal went as scheduled, regiments leaving barracks and forts on the way to evacuation, the Royal Irish Constabulary awaiting disbandment, all police patrolling suspended.
Preoccupied as they were by the rapidly deteriorating standoff with IRA units opposed to the Treaty, the eight ministers in the Provisional Government Cabinet could not ignore one unwelcome outcome of a rapid British withdrawal.
In a country now awash with guns and ammunition, and thousands of hot-blooded young men (most of whom had not been anywhere near the action during the War of Independence) suddenly at a loose end, law and order all but collapsed.
Across the country, trains were held up, banks were robbed, and scores were settled at gunpoint.
In 1922, there were nearly 500 cases of armed robbery in Dublin alone, and 23 non-political murders.
In Tipperary, IRA Officer Dan Breen recalled that by late January, the IRA had to declare martial law across the county to counter armed gangs masquerading as the IRA, while robbing and looting.
"Murders were committed in the belief that the crimes would be attributed to the IRA and that the murderers would thus succeed in evading the toils of the law."
The orders issued to the civilian population by the IRA in enforcing martial law were not very different to the ones the British had been issuing just a few months before.
The infant State was confronted with the consequences of its own struggle for freedom.
To win by forcing the British to the negotiating table, the Republican movement from the start of the War of Independence had had to attack, disable and discredit every aspect of the British system of justice, the police and the courts.
From the ruins of the previous justice system, the new government had to build a new one immediately. There was no time to waste; in history, nothing has eroded a new regime's standing faster than the failure to create and sustain law and order.
Ireland in 1922 would be no different.
The government started from first principles.
Michael Collins and Kevin O'Higgins were determined that the new force would be properly constituted, recruits selected, trained and attested. Collins looked at the alternative, and shuddered in disgust.
"We do not want a casual police force without proper training," he wrote.
The IRA's own Republican Police, nominally responsible for discipline in the movement during the war, he dismissed as 'the wretched Irish Republican Police system' attracting the worst recruits, 'awful personnel', devoid of all proper discipline and control.
It had also proven itself as divided over the Treaty as the IRA as a whole. Even before the Treaty, during the turbulent months of the Truce, members of the Republican Police had shown that they would not act against those they regarded as their friends and comrades, even if ordered to.
In February 1922, Michael Collins established an Organising Committee to decide on future policing in the Free State, and to make recommendations.
The committee was chaired by Michael Staines, member of the Dáil, veteran of 1916, and a former member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Around the table sat former RIC and DMP officers, most of whom had been double agents for Collins during the war, alongside pro-Treaty IRA officers.
Collins set Staines and his committee a jaw-dropping deadline.
The new force was to be up and running IN THREE WEEKS. The RIC was to be disbanded on 20 February, and there had to be a replacement force ready by then.
Within weeks the committee had issued recommendations for a force of 4,500 men, about half the RIC strength, trained for six months along the lines of the RIC, and it recommended that it be an armed force.
The disintegrating relationship with the bulk of the IRA meant that recruits were not advertised for in the press. Reliable (ie pro-Treaty) IRA officers were instead asked to quietly recommend candidates for consideration from among their own ranks, those men to be sent up to the temporary headquarters of the new force, the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge.
Apart from former IRA men, also for consideration would be former RIC or DMP men, who had a proven record of having secretly aided the Republican cause during the War of Independence.
The physical requirements of the new policemen were clear: A minimum 5'9'' tall, 36'' across the chest.
Recruits were to be between the ages of 19 and 27.
A guard's weekly wage would be 70 shillings, or 3 pounds ten shillings, about half what the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans had been paid, but in the Ireland of the 1920s the pay rate was regarded by the recruits as 'princely'.
Michael Staines was appointed as the first commissioner of the Civic Guard.
The near-impossible task of creating a police force from scratch in so short a time meant corners had to be cut, and the seeds were sown for the crisis that nearly destroyed the force before it had even been formed, and could have taken the government down too: The Civic Guard Mutiny.
It lasted two months, at its height 1,500 Civic Guard recruits were in an armed standoff with their own officers, the army and the government. At one point it came within a whisker of a massacre, and the shock to the new government prompted a fundamental rethink on just what the new force should be.
The biggest problem was that the government's impossible deadline for the beginning of operations by the Civic Guard meant there was little choice but to place faith in men who at least knew how to police, and they could only be found in the ranks of the disbanding RIC, and the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
The guard recruits were mostly men who had been IRA men just a few weeks earlier, now they were expected to take orders from officers they regarded as the former enemy. Even those ex-policemen who had secretly helped in the war against the British, were regarded with suspicion.
Conditions for the arriving recruits were primitive. On arriving at the RDS, the first task assigned each man was to take a stiff canvas 'mattress cover', and fill it with straw straight from the RDS's own stables, lay it on planks on trestles, and literally make their own beds from it.
700 men were counted sleeping in one of the RDS halls at one stage.
Then RDS management suddenly informed the government that the Civic Guard would have to leave the complex, so the Spring Show could take place. The new force had no home, no permanent training base.
The Phoenix Park depot, police headquarters under the British, was still occupied by the RIC, who refused to vacate it until they were ready.
New bases for the guards had to be found in the soon-to-be evacuated British Army barracks in Kildare town and Newbridge.
One contingent arrived at Kildare Barracks with an arsenal of 200 rifles and 1,000 revolvers.
When the men looked for their accommodation, they discovered they were to live in the stables; the British troops had left without cleaning them. That was the first task awaiting the new recruits.
Cleaning out dung-spattered stables to sleep on straw was bad enough.
More serious was the festering resentment at the senior posts being given to ex-RIC officers.
A Protest Committee was formed. The committee issued a set of demands, centring on removing the ex-RIC and DMP officers from any authority over the recruits.
An attempt was made by senior management to calm things by assuring the recruits that the involvement of ex-RIC officers was a temporary expedient.
In fact, the only things temporary were the assurances.
In early May, the first formal appointments to senior posts were announced. Looking down the list, the recruits saw that out of 12 new posts, all but four went to ex-RIC officers, right up to assistant commissioner rank.
Events outside the barracks raised the temperature even more. In mid-April the Four Courts complex in Dublin had been occupied by the anti-Treaty IRA. With this direct challenge to the authority of the Provisional Government, open conflict could not be far away.
One of the demands of the newly assembled IRA Army Executive to the Provisional Government, if war was to be avoided, was that the Civic Guard be disbanded, and policing be reserved for the existing Republican Police.
Inside Kildare Barracks, a small group of anti-Treaty IRA men had infiltrated the ranks of the new Civic Guard recruits. From the start their plan was to destabilise the new force in whatever way was possible. There would never be a better opportunity than the chaos that they saw unfolding all around them.
Their first move was to get themselves on to the new Protest Committee.
On 15 May, the protestors issued an ultimatum to Commissioner Staines to remove at least five of the ex-RIC/DMP officers from the senior ranks of the Civic Guard.
Commissioner Staines met the protest head-on, hoping to stifle it. He ordered the men to a General Parade in the camp, and read out to them the names of the new senior Civic Guard officers. He then called out the members of the Protest Committee. He demanded that they accept the matter of the appointments was closed, and return to the ranks of the assembled men.
Staines then demanded their resignations, and turned to the rest of the assembly for support.
The men broke ranks, and began heckling the commissioner and his senior officers. Staines tried to dismiss the parade.
The booing and heckling only got worse, as the recruits began moving to surround Staines and his senior officers, who backed away, heading for their own headquarters.
As they reached their offices, the armoury was being raided by the protestors. Hundreds of pistols and rifles were handed out.
So completely had order broken down in the camp, that the officers barricaded in their rooms drew their own guns and prepared for a siege. The leaders of the protestors tried to keep control; they were so fearful of the possibility of a gun battle with their own commissioner, that they put out a screen of their own armed men to protect him and his staff.
The next day, Staines was still trying to issue orders from inside his barricaded office. It was obvious his authority had evaporated in the heat of the protest. Summoned to Dublin to meet Michael Collins and the home affairs minister Eamon Duggan, he had already decided to resign as commissioner.
Disaster Adverted: A Close Call
Before leaving Kildare, Staines was fretting about the weapons in the camp armoury - weapons that had been looted at will and passed out freely the day before. They needed to be taken away, and he asked that assistance from the army be sought.
The mutineers had no intention of giving up their advantage in weapons.
When an army convoy arrived at the camp gates, led by an armoured car, the gate was barred, entry was refused.
The officer in charge, Captain Corry, gave the mutineers ten minutes to open the gates, before he would force it open.
The mutineers claimed to have hundreds of rifles trained on the entrance.
The police and army of the new State were now in an armed standoff at the gates of Kildare Camp. A wrong move now on either side could see men dying, and the credibility of both organisations destroyed, just as the country stood on the brink of civil war.
Captain Corry held his fire. He agreed to let the mutineers telephone his superiors. The case was made over the phone that this was an internal matter between the Civic Guard and its senior officers, and not another confrontation between pro- and anti-Treaty forces.
Incredibly, given the fact that over 1,000 policemen had disobeyed orders, threatened their own officers with stolen weapons, and challenged the government's right to appoint officers of its own choosing, they still professed loyalty to the Provisional Government, and were careful to make that in an official declaration.
The senior army officers accepted the mutineers' case and recalled Captain Corry and his men.
Disaster averted - for now.
By late May, Michael Collins felt that tempers had cooled enough on both sides to allow him to personally address the mutineers at the camp.
He kept the language non-confrontational, but left the men in no doubt about his 'disappointment' in their actions. He pointed out that police officers were held to a higher standard of conduct than others, precisely because it was they who had the power to enforce discipline on others.
He gave with one hand, and took with the other. He promised a commission of inquiry into the mutiny, but also told the men that Commissioner Staines would be returning to Kildare.
The motivation for Collins' next move is hard to fathom.
Even as he was telling the mutineers that Commissioner Staines would be returning to Kildare, to in effect regain control of the camp, he was telling the same commissioner to begin recruiting an alternative police force.
This descended into farce, with the alternative force unable to even secure a place to operate from, and then seeing some of its new recruits immediately defect to the mutineers in Kildare.
The defectors told the mutineers of the plans for an alternative police force. It was this discovery, along with the loss of pay and the delay in setting up the promised inquiry, that led to Staines being again refused entry to the camp, and to the unprecedented scenes outside the Station Hotel in Kildare town on 9 June.
How did Superintendent John Joseph Byrne and Sergeant Pat McAvinia find themselves fleeing for their lives from a mob of townspeople and mutineers that evening?
Byrne and McAvinia had arrived late at the gate of the camp as part of Commissioner Staines' HQ party, not realising that the same commissioner had already returned to Dublin after being refused entry.
As they were being ejected from the camp, Byrne was recognised by the recruits. It was Byrne who had carried out Staines' order back at the start of the mutiny to call in the army to collect the weapons in the armoury. He had only been following orders, but the mutineers blamed him for the near-catastrophic standoff with the army that day. Mutineers claimed he had been seen during the standoff beside the armoured car at the gates, with his pistol drawn.
Byrne looked around him and realised he and the Sergeant were being followed. Within minutes a crowd of 30 recruits had gathered. He decided to play it cool and walk to the camp gates.
As they walked, Byrnes could hear a low chanting from their pursuers:
"Black and Tans ... Black and Tans ..."
The fleeing officers hid overnight in houses and a local church before escaping back to Dublin.
For all the chaos and distraction of the mutiny so far, the government could not lose focus on events at the Four Courts, where months of low-level clashes around the country between the anti-Treaty IRA and the new National Army had crystallised into a full-scale occupation by the former, in April 1922.
The two events were about to become one.
Throughout the mutiny the anti-Treaty group of recruits in the Kildare camp had been quietly stoking the flames, making themselves useful in standing up to efforts at settlement by senior officers or the government.
A week after the Kildare Town riot, they sensed their chance had come, to send decisive support to the Four Courts occupiers.
Late on the night of 17 June, the plotters arranged for an armoured car and a convoy of trucks carrying anti-Treaty IRA men to sweep into the Kildare camp, and head straight for the armoury. They overpowered the sentries, cleaned it out of weapons and ammunition, and headed straight back to the Four Courts.
The operation was deemed vital to the anti-Treaty cause, so important that almost the entire leadership of the Four Courts garrison, General Rory O'Connor, Major-General Ernie O'Malley and Commandant-General Tom Barry were not only present during the raid, they were all in the armoured car that led the way into the camp.
The next day, those plotters in the Civic Guard who had not gone back to the Four Courts with the raiders that night, resigned from the force and went to join their comrades.
The shockwaves of this astonishing coup reverberated; the mutineers had, even if unwittingly, created a huge material and morale boost to the anti-Treaty cause. The Four Courts complex was now being directly named by British prime minister Lloyd George in formal ultimatums to Michael Collins, as the heart of anti-Treaty IRA operations, from where 'enterprises of murder' were organised and dispatched.
There were only days left before the National Army would open fire on the Four Courts. The Civic Guard Mutiny was now an unsustainable distraction and potentially fatal to the new Irish government's chances of ever re-establishing authority across the land.
Get It Sorted
Two days after Lloyd George's ultimatum to Michael Collins, president Arthur Griffith himself arrived at the camp, with home affairs minister Eamon Duggan. They were there to reach a settlement with the mutineers, who knew by now their room for manoeuvre was vanishing.
The mutineers picked their words carefully.
They issued a statement that was a masterpiece of a balancing act, at once unapologetic about their demand for the ex-RIC/DMP influence on the new force to be sidelined, but also admitting that they had effectively been conned by the treacherous action of the anti-Treaty plotters. It ended with a declaration of unconditional loyalty to the government, from its 'loyal servants'.
The settlement reached called for the mutineers to have their arrears of pay made up, but also to be suspended from duty pending the promised inquiry, that inquiry to take place without delay.
That commission of inquiry was tasked to establish the causes of the mutiny, and from the findings make recommendations about the entire future of policing in Ireland, just as the country was being engulfed by civil war.
All to be completed in a few weeks.
'Not Fit For Purpose'
There was a lot riding on the report of the inquiry, and its authors did not disappoint.
Arming the new police force had been a mistake. It caused the recruits to take a militaristic approach to their new role, when the people had been promised an end to 'coercive and militaristic policing'. The weapons had of course also provided the means to carry out and sustain the mutiny.
Allowing TDs to also be guards was another mistake. The report acknowledged the validity of the men's objection to the number of ex-RIC officers in senior roles in the guard.
The secret cabal of anti-Treaty recruits who had facilitated the arms raid of 17 June were conveniently blamed for the mutiny.
It concluded that the Civic Guard as constituted was not fit for purpose and should be disbanded.
On the future of the mutineers themselves, it recommended that the recruits not be dismissed but re-employed in a new force. Unstated in the recommendations was how the arms raid, and the careful and fulsome declaration of ultimate loyalty by the mutineers, had allowed them a way back into service to the new State.
Only a small, selected group of guards should be armed. Crucially, the ban on carrying weapons should extend to private firearms. No officer or guard was to be allowed own one.
Former RIC/DMP officers were to be recruited on a temporary basis and in an advisory role.
Michael Collins never saw the report he had commissioned. It was delivered the day before he was killed in an ambush in Cork on 22 August. Right up to the end, he was badgering his cabinet colleagues about the need to get the force out into the country.
On the night of 21 August, in one of his very last communications, he wrote to WT Cosgrave:
"It would be a big thing to get Civic Guards. Civil administration urgent everywhere in the South".
Words or Bullets
A LITTLE RESTRAINT GOES A LONG WAY.
Restraint and pragmatism allowed the government to defuse the Civic Guard Mutiny.
Restraint by guards and army at the gates of Kildare Camp stopped the standoff turning into open warfare, which would have been fatal to their credibility and cohesion.
Pragmatism allowed the government to overlook the challenge to its authority posed by the mutineers, in the interests of an overall settlement. It avoided an immediate war on two fronts, which the government could well have lost.
The Provisional Government recognised the grievances of the mutineers and noted their careful declaration of loyalty to the government.
That, and the mini-coup by the anti-Treaty guards in hijacking the Kildare Camp arsenal, allowed both sides to find a scapegoat, re-focus on the common opponent, draw a line under the mutiny and resolve to start again.
There were no punishments handed down.
All of this allowed the commission of inquiry the leeway to recommend that the existing force be disbanded but not stood down, so allowing the 1,500 mutineers to transition into the new force, and not setting the recruitment drive back at zero, with 1,500 half-trained and hostile men roaming the country at a time of civil war.
This did not stop hundreds of ex-mutineers resigning from the force, in disillusionment with the outcome.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Having followed through on the promise to the mutineers to set up the commission of inquiry, the government accepted the recommendations.
Commissioner Staines' resignation, offered in May at the height of the Civic Guard Mutiny, was finally accepted in August. His status as a serving TD alongside his role as commissioner was incompatible with one of the key recommendations of the commission of inquiry - that such dual roles be abolished.
Kevin O'Higgins was made minister for home affairs in the wake of Michael Collins' death, and he knew who he wanted as Staines' replacement.
Eoin O'Duffy was army chief of staff, but O'Higgins successfully prised him away to become commissioner. He immediately began to impose stricter discipline on the new force, while making plans for the rapid deployment of guards across the country.
The New Guards: Armed or Unarmed?
A massive decision to be made was whether or not to accept the commission of inquiry's conclusion that the new force should be unarmed.
Cabinet minister Ernest Blythe later recalled the debates in government over arming the guards. He remembered that just as the stations were being opened and guards dispatched in the teeth of Civil War, there was new uncertainty over what the status of the new force would be.
There were ministers who argued for arming the guards. An argument in favour of arming them was that to send the guards out to stations across the country unarmed in a war situation would see them hunted out of those stations within days.
The counter argument, the one that prevailed, was that to send them in armed would also see them attacked within days, but also besieged.
The conclusion was counterintuitive and ingenious: the best thing to do in terms of establishing their credibility with the people was to leave them defenceless against armed attack.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 1922, the force relentlessly pushed out new guard contingents across the country to establish new stations, with the aim of having 800 of them open by the end of the year. Some contingents arrived in towns and villages without even an actual station to occupy; they were left to their own initiative as to how to introduce the presence of the new force.
By late 1922 the new guards were fanning out across the country.
The implications for the guards themselves were obvious. Commissioner Eoin O'Duffy did not sugarcoat the task now facing the guards. He addressed them before deployment with these words:
"You are going out unarmed into a hostile area. You are the first to be sent out. You may be murdered, your barracks burned, your uniform taken off you, but you must carry on and bring peace to the people."
No one could predict what the reaction of the IRA would be, either as a body or as individuals, to this unmistakable declaration of the authority of the new Free State in towns and villages across the country.
Miraculously, there was only one guard killed during the Civil War.
The IRA tried to portray the new force as 'The New RIC' - then had to backtrack when it was obvious to the people that the guards were anything but.
An order was issued by IRA General Headquarters (GHQ) in December 1922, even as the Civil War was entering its most bitter phase, that unarmed guards were not to be fired on.
There was nothing to be gained by firing on unarmed men.
That did not mean that the Civic Guard as an institution was not a target. In the course of the Civil War, 200 stations were attacked, bombed or burned. Over 400 guards were assaulted, kidnapped, stripped or robbed, sometimes all four.
By September 1922, the pace of rolling out the new force was gaining momentum. Hundreds of guards were dispatched across the country from the training centre in Ship Street Barracks in Dublin.
The emphasis was on establishing the fact of the new stations rather than the detail of what was actually in them. Recruits were sent out with little detailed training in police work; once the guards were in stations, battered, hand-me-down RIC manuals were combed for information on the most basic of police functions, like making arrests.
There was more to policing in the Free State than the Civic Guards.
The Dublin Metropolitan Police escaped disbandment alongside the RIC, the unarmed status of its uniformed members allowing it to retain its standing with the public. Eleven of its G Division detectives had been killed by Michael Collins's squad during the War of Independence. By October 1920, the uniformed force had unilaterally stepped back from the war in a secret deal with the IRA. If they focused on 'ordinary' policing, and stayed unarmed, they would be spared.
The Dark Side
And there was the dark side of policing, an indication of how the new State could get it wrong, and a vindication of Michael Collins's insistence on a proper trained police force.
To fight the crime wave in Dublin, even before the decision was made to set up the Civic Guard, the government set up a detective unit called the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in January 1922.
Oriel House in Dublin was the headquarters of the CID, nominally police officers but really a unit of former Dublin IRA men loyal to Michael Collins, with a number of ex DMP officers. It shared the building with the National Army Intelligence Section.
The CID did not know much about 'fighting crime'.
Its members' main activity was arrests and reprisal killings of Republicans, in effect it was a death squad.
It's estimated that at least 25 anti-Treaty Republicans, some of them prisoners in Oriel House custody, died at their hands during the Civil War, to say nothing of the ill-treatment inflicted on others in the holding cells in Oriel House.
It's no coincidence that when the Dublin Metropolitan Police detective squad was reconstituted at the end of 1923, only 11 of the 70 or so CID members were considered suitable to join.
An End, A Beginning
Thursday 17 August 1922. Morning into afternoon. The final handover of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government.
The death and re-birth of policing in Ireland was summed up in two scenes that unfolded a few hundred yards apart.
Through the Palace Street Gate marched a contingent of the new Civic Guard, watched by crowds outside the castle and inside. Making their first public appearance, led by Commissioner Michael Staines in a civilian suit, the photos of the day show formal ranks of physically imposing, impeccably dressed guards marching in tight formation.
General Nevil Macready, commander of British troops during the War of Independence, was there to see the guards arrive. He managed for a moment to put aside his loathing of all things Irish:
"A fine body of men" ... with "a smart blue uniform".
On the other side of the castle complex at the same moment, a very different scene was unfolding. Outside the doors of the Ship Street Barracks, the remnants of the disbanded RIC prepared to depart. No crowds watched.
Piles of discarded uniforms and caps lay strewn across the ground. A few constables, some still in uniform, ruefully surveyed the debris. A horse-drawn cab pulled up, probably one of many summoned that morning. Other constables carried boxes out to be loaded up. Some were half-dressed in civilian suits, others were bareheaded or had their caps askew on their heads in a way unthinkable a few weeks earlier.
Two young teenage girls surveyed the scene; from the way they mixed with the RIC officers they were probably family members. On their heads they wore floppy Balmoral Bonnets, the unmistakable headgear of the once feared and hated Auxiliaries, now long-departed and disbanded.
The girls would have found the bonnets amid the chaos of the rapidly-emptying barracks, discarded by their former owners. Once the headgear would have inspired terror, as the symbol of failed and discredited militaristic and coercive policing in Ireland.
Now, they were only trophies for curious children.