Royal Irish Constabulary

Frozen In Time




In a drawer, in an old cupboard, in my paternal Grandfather’s house, in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, was an old black and white picture taken by a `Brownie` box camera. It was small and yellowing, and, the corners had become curled. I was about 10 years old, in 1965, when I first saw it. I asked my mother, "Who are these men?"She answered, in a stern tone, "They were Protestants - old Talbots ! Put it away!" But in fact I found out she was wrong for they were both Catholics. 


The image, frozen in time, was of two moustachioed men, in their Sunday best suits. All that I knew about them was that they were ancestors of mine. That picture `sowed the seed` in my young mind, a desire, for me to research my family history. Forty years later, I eventually found out the answers of who they were and the story behind the picture.


The first pictures in Ireland dated from 1840. From that time, Irish pictorial history has been well documented to the formation of the Free State and modern Ireland. However, it does not show the horrors of the Famine although some images did show the evictions of tenants. 


The first discovery is, that the man, on the right, is, in fact, my Great Grandfather John Talbot (1854-1939). The larger man is his younger brother James (1868-1938) who became a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary in July 1890.


After liaising with other, older, members of the Talbot family in Ireland, the mystery was solved. The brothers had a rare reunion, in 1927, in Tralee, County Kerry. John was a Gentleman farmer. James was now a retired sergeant, from the old R.I.C., and be was making a rare visit to County Kerry from his Wexford home where he had retired to after his 25 years of police service.


This image captured a real insight into the men who were born and lived through Queen Victoria’s reign.


Both would have read, in the newspapers, a new Ireland, forged through revolution, and the formation of the Free State State only a few years before the taking of this photograph.


James would have been sadly too aware of the orgy of killings of policeman whether they were on duty, off duty coming out of church after Mass, or, even retired. He too, must have felt vulnerable.


The Civil War had also bitterly divided brothers, friends and families. 


However, despite living through that traumatic time, the Talbot brothers looked `comfortable` as their image was captured. Their humour comes through in the photograph.   


I am glad that I was able to tell their story. Ironically both men were Catholics. Their father, James (1821-1910) was a Protestant but became a Catholic in 1890. It did him good because it sustained him for a few more decades.


The image was believed to have been taken by Betty O'Carroll nee Talbot (1916-1999) who was 12 years old at the time.