Sunday Business Post

Sunday Business Post
29 February 2004

RIC 'outcasts' recalled in the light of history
By Pat Butler

The Cumann na mBan statement, issued in April 1919, has more in
common with some of the more bloodcurdling passages in the Book of
Kings than the lofty sentiments enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation.

Founding ideals are all very well, but prosecuting a guerrilla-style
War of Independence demanded a rather more steely frame of mind.

"They [RIC] are the eyes and ears of the enemy, let those eyes and
ears know no friendship, let them be outcasts in their own land. The
blood of the martyrs shall be on them and their children's children,
and they shall curs e the mothers who brought them forth."

Chilling stuff; less for what is said, more for the subtext. The RIC
are cast as enemies of the people, accused of having given cul le
cine, of having `betrayed their own'.

The stain of their treachery would live in folk memory. For this
there would be no forgiveness and their guilt would pass on to their
children's children.

Little wonder that the progeny of those who wore the king's rifle
green between 1919 and 1922 didn't exactly make a habit of
declaiming that association in the atmosphere that dominated Irish
life after the first flush of freedom.

Dr Denis Donoghue, Henry James Professor of English at New York
University, whose father served in the both the RIC and the RUC,
makes that point with elegant clarity.

Exploring the ambiguity of his father's legacy for him in tomorrow's
Leargas documentary, RIC - The Forgotten Force, he states
unequivocally: "Would I have preferred that he were a teacher rather
than a policeman? Yes.

"Would I have preferred that he had no loyalty whatsoever to the
British authorities? Yes. Insofar as I am an Irish nationalist,
which indeed I am, I became a nationalist by living in the Police
Barracks at Warrenpoint."

Ruaidhri O Tuairisg is a lifelong republican from An Lochan Beag,
near Spideal, Co Galway. He is a nephew of RIC man Patrick Waters,
whom Kerry Volunteers are said to have thrown, along with a
colleague - both reputedly still alive - into the Gasworks' furnace
in Tralee.

Another account speaks of the men being shot and their bodies

Others still maintain they were shot and then the corpses were
disposed of in the Gasworks furnace.

One way or another, the bodies were never found.

Without rancour, O Tuairisg recalls: "It isn't that we hid it from
anyone, but I suppose we didn't broadcast it either."

When the killing was over and the Tricolour had replaced the Union
Jack on Dublin Castle, the charity of the neighbours' silence was
the best an ex-RIC man and his family could hope for.

The poisoning of the well of community had run deep. RIC connections
were simply not spoken of, except as a form of provocation.

In the context of the time, that is understandable. There can be few
more uncomfortable servants of an overthrown regime than the
disbanded members of its security police.

While the Black and Tans and the Auxiliary Division got to return to
Blighty, most of the old RIC remained in what had become a delicate
social landscape. Prudence demanded circumspection.

RIC practice was for men to serve outside their native counties.
When the force was disbanded in 1922, it became common for police
families to test the warmth of the welcome awaiting them back home
by sending their clearly marked furniture on before them. If it was
burned by neighbours, the message was clear. If not, it became a
judgment call. More than one RIC man got that call wrong, and paid
for it with his life. There were, of course, other options. All
serving officers of good standing were entitled to join the RUC, the
fledgling Six Counties police force.

Fewer than 1,500 did, over 900 of whom were of the Protestant
persuasion. Professor Gearoid O Tuathaigh makes the point that a
disproportionate number of the 500 or so Catholics who went north
were senior officers - the sectarian nature of that force being a
considerable disincentive to the rank-and-file cohort.

By contrast, fewer than 200 joined the new Free State Civic Guard -
suggesting even greater discomfort at the notion of serving
alongside recent adversaries.

The colonial police services throughout the British Empire welcomed
ex-RIC with open arms. Many served in Palestine, South Africa, Hong
Kong and Canada. Their experience in the face of guerrilla action
stood them in good stead. The vast majority, however, took the
king's pension, returned home, and got on with the business of

One such was Michael Corduff of Ros Dumhach, Belmullet, Co Mayo. He,
like so many younger sons of the rural poor, saw the RIC as the
natural outlet for career ambitions.

They were, in the main, Catholic country lads who had mastered
literacy and numeracy skills sufficient to perform comfortably the
business of petty administration.

These were "steady" youths with a bit of backbone for whom active
service in the RIC was far more attractive than "priesting" in

Corduff joined the force in 1901, though not with any sense of
ideological or political imperative. Here was, after all, a steady
job, status, a house, a modest income and a pension.

Even an adversary as unrepentant as Dan Breen of Soloheadbeg Ambush
fame (the event that rekindled the War of Independence in 1919)
understood the social and economic comforts that attracted sons of
the upstanding rural poor into the RIC. "They had this bit of
security in the RIC and a pension, and that was a hell of a thing
for an Irishman, and you'd want to be very strong to resist it."

Corduff's progress through the ranks was steady: constable, acting
sergeant, sergeant, head constable. He married in 1911, staying on
until disbandment in 1922.

His grandson, also Micheal, tells how his grandfather's readmission
into the affections of his neighbours was eased by two unrelated

First of all, head constable Corduff had married a local Ros Dumhach
girl. Also, as a young lad of 14 he had worked in the local school
as a teacher's assistant.

Two diehard republican families whom he had befriended during those
days went guarantor for him.

The word was out - don't trouble Corduff.

He lived on until 1962, famously contributing a quantity of
invaluable material to the Irish Folklore Commission.

What the RIC men attending the Wexford RIC Farewell Dance at the
Town Hall on February 24 1922 thought of their abandonment and
betrayal by the imperial government is a matter of conjecture.

After all, at least 493 of their comrades had fallen in the line of
duty in the preceding three years.

Many more suffered serious injury. A small number of their
colleagues had defected to the service of the fledgling Irish
Republic. But the loyal officers who attended the farewell dance
had, in their terms, held the line.

They had fought the hard, if bitter fight, and were now facing a
very uncertain future - consigned to the tender mercies of a new and
conceivably hostile regime.

Perhaps, indeed almost inevitably, that night in Wexford Town Hall
they gave a final nostalgic rendition of their signature tune,
Moore's melody The Young May Moon.

Their mood might more accurately have been captured by lines penned
by one MJB in July 1922 in Farewell RIC:

We're going away, we're passing fast
Some lie in graves from Leirs to Loos
Brought out there by an English ruse
The splendid heroes of the past
Some of us fell in England's cause
In Erin's Isle maintaining laws
Some lie in graves from Foyle to Lee
Fell fighting in the RIC.

Tomorrow night's documentary is a television first, an exploration
of a subject with deep resonance for a considerable number of Irish

Some 85,000 officers served in the RIC between 1822 and 1922.

The chances are that quite a percentage of people reading this,
whether aware of it or not, whether they like it or not, must have
had family who wore the king's or queen's rifle green.

If that sets you thinking, the Public Record Office in Kew holds all
the answers.

RIC - the Forgotten Force, Leargas, will air on RTE 1 tomorrow at

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