Royal Irish Constabulary

Running An Efficient Barracks?



                                  The station badge  


The old R.I.C. Barracks at Blackwater Village, near Enniscorthy, Wexford in 2001. It is now a private residence. Note the radio mast which belongs to the modern Garda station on the left of the picture. (image by Michael James Talbot.)

To see who was the sergeant and his men were at this Barracks at the time of the 1911 Irish Census (Sunday 2nd April) click on the link below.

The population of Ireland in 1911 was 3,139,688 (it was 165 in the village of Blackwater) and the number of people employed in central government was a mere 3,526. The enumerators were drawn from the ranks of the Royal Irish Constabulary and not from the civilian population as was the case in England. The 1911 Irish Census details are available FREE on a  website which  includes facsimiles of the actual census forms. The questions asked included who was the head of the family on the night of religion, capacity to speak Irish and whether the respondent can read and write.


The sergeant looked at the paperwork on his desk and resigned himself to this unrewarding routine that comes with his rank. Numerous orders arrived via despatch from the County - Inspector and Dublin Castle. He also had to maintain thirteen books from the patrol diary to the register of householders.

Taking a break he walked into the day room where a roaring fire took away some of the chill of a wet, winter`s day. Tapping the contents of his briar pipe into the fire he refilled the bowl with fresh shredded tobacco and while lighting the contents he inhaled the smoke to get it started. Taking out his pocket watch from the breast pocket of his tunic, having wound it up at the start of his duty, he listened to the reassuring and precise "tick-tock" of the inner mechanism and was glad that all was well.  

He then reminded himself that he needed to ensure that his constables learned the latest orders and read the recent edition of `Hue and Cry` (Police Gazette) which was officially published every two weeks and sent to each and every Barracks' in Ireland. It had details of crimes and wanted people throughout Ireland (and Britain) He would test them on their knowledge as advised in the 1909 guide to the `Discharge of  Police Duties.` 

When the district inspector made a visit, the sergeant wanted to show that he was running an efficient Barracks or he could be subject to censure such was the strict discipline in the constabulary.

The records the sergeant had to ensure were maintained and ready for inspection included the Station Note book, the Patrol Book, the Order Book and the Postage Book. The Register of Evicted Farms, the Sub-District Crime and Offence Register (Fines Book) The register of Clothing and Stores. The Register of Householders. The Private Register. Patrol Diary (Confidential) the Revenue Seizure Book, Warrant Book, Register of Stray Dogs seized and the Lost Property book. 



The District Inspector. (from a postcard collection by watercolour painting by William R. Younghusband.)

The three constables, who were single, needed to be ready for any incident. The R.I.C. were not always liked by some members of the community especially those who committed crime and in any case "were up to no good."  The local policeman sometimes had to protect bailiffs who were executing distress warrants and evicting tenants during the Land War. This duty was actually disliked by most policemen as many of them had come from a rural backgrounds themselves.

However, other duties included a tough approach. One was the Dogs Act which ensured that rabies did not come to Ireland. 

Other duties which were just as important included collecting agricultural statistics, escorting prisoners, matters for weights and measure and regular inspections. Members of the constabulary were keen to patrol acquiring a thorough knowledge of the district under their jurisdiction and building good relations with the community. In the 1909 Royal Irish Constabulary Manual officers and men were encouraged to adopt a friendly approach to members of the public in their respective community.  

The sergeant, helped by the barrack orderly had to ensure that the barracks was clean. The walls were often freshly whitewashed. The constables bedsteads had straw filled pillows and the blankets were neatly rolled up. The floors of the barracks needed to be spotlessly cleaned. Each policeman had their own trunk for the storage of their equipment especially needed when transferring from barracks to barracks.   


There was no official system of duty, rest days or annual leave. Constables were barred from voting in elections. Members could not marry until they had at least seven years service and any potential bride had to be vetted by the R.I.C. authorities at Dublin Castle to ensure her social suitability. The policeman was always posted out of the county that her family was resident in.  It was also forbidden for policemen and their wives to sell produce, take lodgers in or engage in certain forms of trade.


Nevertheless, by 1901 there were some 11,000 constables in the R.I.C. including my Great-Grand-Uncle James Talbot. There were 1,600 barracks throughout the countryside. The rank and file was 70% Catholic.

One of the constables said, 


"The people in the village and surrounding area are friendly enough if a little wary of us. We have to be on our guard especially after the Land League troubles in the 1880s. I do not agree with some of the things that I had to do but I am fair with the people. I would not accept any violence from anyone. I swore an oath in 1890 to do my job without fear or favour." 


The day room at the Barracks. The roaring of the fire and the ticking of the clock are the only sounds. In the corner the carbines are cleaned and ready-just in case. (Image by Michael Talbot.)