When the first gardaí steamed into Cork

A new podcast about the history of An Garda Síochána is being launched today by Cork City Libraries. Donal O’Keeffe hears how it came into being and in particular, learns about the arrival of the first contingent of the then Civic Guard into Cork in 1922, who sailed up the River Lee and disembarked in the docks.
When the first gardaí steamed into Cork

Marking 100 years since the first arrival of gardai into Cork City. Gardai parade from the Irish Naval vessel LE James Joyce on Kennedy Quay to Anglesea Street, via Terence McSwiney Quay and Union Quay. Pic: Larry Cummins

Cork City Libraries will today launch a new podcast series, A Century of Garda History, which came about as part of the centenary last year of An Garda Síochána.

City Librarian David O’Brien says the project began with the re-enactment last November of the arrival on Cork’s quays of the first contingent of some 60 members of the then Civic Guard in 1922.

“That event culminated in a civic reception given by the Lord Mayor to the gardaí, and it brought out an awful lot of other material relating to the development of An Garda Síochána and we decided to engage in the podcast to track and gather some of that material, and we’re hoping that that will lead to even more in the future.”

Alan Noonan is Cork City Libraries’ first historian in residence, and he has played a leading role in putting the new series together.

“As Cork City Libraries first historian in residence, I was excited to research, write, and narrate their first history podcast on the anniversary of the arrival of the Civic Guards to Cork city,” he says.

“The creation of a new police force for the island of Ireland was an incredible challenge, especially in the middle of a Civil War. There are some stories that might surprise people — for example it was a mutiny that led to the Civic Guards becoming an unarmed police force.

“Other interesting anecdotes are drawn from newspapers of the time or the minutes of Cork Corporation meetings,” he says.

“Some of the topics the podcast details include the origins of the early police recruits and leadership, influence of the Royal Irish Constabulary on its formation, the origins and advent of women in the police, and the early stumbling efforts to create a detective unit, known as Oriel House.”

Mr Noonan says it is hoped that the podcast will mark a new type of public history engagement for Cork City Libraries.

“We also hope to add additional episodes later to further detail some of the lesser known stories about the early days of An Garda Síochána, the experiences of its first recruits, and how the public experienced a new era in Irish policing.

“This is in addition to developing a separate podcast during this summer on the historic and more recent changes in the life of Cork Docks and dockworkers,” he adds.

Inspector James Hallahan from Anglesea Street says An Garda Síochána was asked to get involved with the preparation of the podcast series as part of last year’s centenary events.

“We had a number of events last year in Cork city and county, and we held exhibitions in the ten libraries in Cork city, working very closely with Cork City Council and the library staff, so I suppose the podcast was a good way to cap off a very successful year of centenary events, showcasing a number of different events for the public to see the different pieces of history and heritage we have in Cork city and county.”

Inspector Hallahan notes that for gardaí in Cork city, centenary commemorations began early enough last year, with Patrick’s Day 2022 marking an unusual first for members of the force.

“We kicked off early enough, with the St Patrick’s Day parade, it was the first time that we ever marched in the parade. We’re normally policing the parade, helping with crowd control on the day, which obviously enough we did on the day as well.

“We had our ceremonial unit, we had our retired members, we had our garda staff, and we had our friends, the Massachusetts State Troopers, there as well, and we had a vintage car as well.”

He adds that for most members of the force, the Little Blue Heroes, a garda charity which helps children with serious illnesses, is a very special part of their work in the community.

Another highlight of the garda centenary year in Cork was a series of exhibitions which took place across the city’s libraries, he says.

“It just goes to show you the deep importance of the libraries, and it shows what a significant way they offer of reaching the public, and because of that we had a fantastic turnout on 9 November for the re-enactment of the landing at Kennedy Quay of the first contingent of the Civic Guard.

“I was on the LE James Joyce myself, and to see all of the public and the guards waiting on the quay and then marching up to the School of Music, it was fantastic to see and I think we did our predecessors in the Civic Guard proud on the day,” Inspector Hallahan says.

  • The podcast series, A Century of Garda History, can be accessed at www.corkcitylibraries.ie.

Civic Guard civil war tale opens Garda History podcast

IN THE first episode of Cork City Libraries’ new podcast series, A Century of Garda History, Alan Noonan, the libraries’ historian in residence, suggests 1922 “was, perhaps, the most chaotic year among many chaotic years” during what we now term the decade of centenaries between 1913 and 1923.

In these early, post-Treaty days, the provisional government was fighting to establish its own legitimacy in a country torn asunder by civil war and a priority in the copper fastening of that authority would be the formation of a civilian police force.

The Royal Irish Constabulary, the discredited police force of the British regime, had already been largely superseded during the War of Independence by the Irish Republican Police, which took its place first in the countryside and later in the larger towns and cities, including in Cork.

In the chaos of the Civil War, that force sided with anti-Treaty republican forces and retreated from the city in the wake of the Battle of Cork in July and August of 1922. Law and order was breaking down in the city, and although the provisional government had already established a replacement police force, the Civic Guard, in February 1922, that force had yet to be sent to Cork.

It was into this void that the interim Cork Civic Patrol stepped.

“They were approximately 100 men, unarmed, wearing civilian clothing, with an armband labelled ‘CCP’ on it,” Alan Noonan says. “It was these men who guarded Michael Collins’s funeral cortege as it was led through the city after the ambush at Beal na Bláth.”

With overland transport too hazardous given fears of ambush and damage to railroad infrastructure, it was on the steamship The Lady Carlow that the first contingent of about 60 members of the Civic Guard arrived in Cork, on 9 November 1922, a landing which was re-enacted a century later when the LE James Joyce arrived at Kennedy Quay.

The Civic Guard was renamed the Garda Síochána na hÉireann on August 8, 1923.

The first episode of this podcast series is informative and appealing, and, coming in at just over a brisk 11 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

As the podcast’s narrator, Alan Noonan is an understated and engaging storyteller who strikes exactly the right balance between broader picture and local detail. An excellent start to this new series.

The podcast A Century of Garda History can be accessed at www.corkcitylibraries.ie

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