Origin of The Memorials in Britain to The Royal Irish Constabulary

The Blarney Connection 

As early as 14 July 1920 Lieutenant Colonel William Wilfred Ashley (1867-1939), Conservative MP for Fylde (father-in-law of Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979) 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma) asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood (1870-1948) in the British House of Commons:- “Whether it has now been decided to erect a roll of honour at the headquarters of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, respectively, in memory of those members who, while serving, met their death through violence?.” Sir Hamar Greenwood replied: – “No decision has yet been reached with regard to the proposal to erect a roll of honour, but I can assure my gallant friend that the proposal is one that will receive the most sympathetic consideration. I feel that there should be some public mark of appreciation of the gallant services of those officers who have given their lives for the State.”

Sadly, due to the pace of political events and disbandment of the RIC in August 1922 subsequently no memorial was ever erected, nor recognition given in Ireland, the place where most were born and died. The House of Commons debates concerning a Roll of Honour proposed by Col. Ashley were the culmination of his deep concerns for the RIC and the DMP and of which he expressed by tabling several pertinent questions in Parliament. On 30 June he asked the Chief Secretary: – “How many members of all ranks of the RIC and DMP, respectively, have been murdered, and how many injured in the period from 1 January 1920 to 15 June 1920, inclusive. The Attorney General for Ireland (1919-1921), Mr. Denis Henry (1864-1925), replied: – “The figures desired are for the RIC, 34 men murdered and 67 injured, and for the DMP, 5 men murdered and 3 injured, during the period mentioned. On 16 June he asked the Chief Secretary: – “What promotion, recognition or reward he proposed to bestow on Sergeant William Ruth and the eight constables who defended the RIC Barracks at Carinariid, Macroom, Co. Cork on 20 June, in view of the fact that the attack lasted from 11p.m. Until 4.30a.m., when it was beaten off; that the roof of the Barracks was set alight by use of petrol; and that the defenders were not only exposed to danger from hand grenades, rifle fire, incendiary bombs and other explosives, but were also very nearly burned alive. The Attorney General, replied: – “The gallant conduct of the members of the RIC were stationed in Carrigadrohid, Co. Cork in defending their barracks against a prolonged attack by the men on the 19th instant, has already been considered by the Constabulary Reward Board. All the men who took part in the defence have been granted the Constabulary Medal for pre-eminent valour and bravery. Each man has also been granted a First-Class Favourable Record, with a grant of money from the Constabulary Reward Fund, and Sergeant William Ruth, who was in charge of the barracks, has been promoted to the rank of Head Constable and three Constables have been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. On 7 July 1920 Col. Ashley asked the Chief Secretary:- “What promotion, decoration, or reward has been granted to Sergeant Matthew Larkin and the five Constables who successfully defended Blarney Barracks, Co. Cork on 1 June, and beat off an attack after a two-hour fight; what compensation has been or will be paid to Mrs. Larkin for the injuries she received from the bomb explosion which partially wrecked the barracks.”

Constabulary Medal was awarded to Sergeant William Ruth for the defence of Carrigadrohid Barracks. One of nine awarded also to Constables Richard Samuel Restrick, Michael O’Rourke, Patrick Dillon, William Hayes, Michael J. Dowd, John Elligott, Michael McMahon & Jeremiah McCarth

The idea of presenting a memorial tablet to the memory of the Officers and Men of the RIC killed in the execution of their duty was first discussed by the RIC Ex-Officers Association in 1931. The Association which was formed in London in 1924 held its annual meetings at the exclusive Frascati Restaurant in Oxford Street. It was proposed that a tablet should be presented to St Patrick’s Chapel Westminster Cathedral, London. Col. Rodwell was elected to head up a sub-committee to investigate this proposal. Father J. Moran PP was appointed to liaise with the Cathedral authorities at Westminster. Correspondence continued between the Association, Fr. Moran and Monsignor Maurice Carton De Wiart (1872-1935) on the memorial tablet. In 1936 it was agreed that the memorial would be erected on a sheet of marble to the right of the altar in St Patrick’s Chapel Westminster Cathedral containing the helmet badge of the RIC, which was worn by all ranks of the force. The Sub-Committee consisted of the chairman, Col. George D’Urban Rodwell (ex-RIC County Inspector), Sir Hugh Stephenson Turnbull, Commissioner City of London Police (ex-RIC District Inspector) and the Honorary Secretary Mr. George C. Ross (ex-RIC County Inspector and chief police instructor at the RIC Depot in Phoenix Park, Dublin).

The dedication of the Royal Irish Constabulary memorial tablet took place on Wednesday 2 June 1937 & unveiled by Brigadier General Sir Joseph Aloysius Byrne (1874-1942), KCMG, KBE, CB (inspector General, RIC retired). on the morning after the 1937 Annua1 Dinner. On that morning 6 years of discussion and effort by the Royal Irish Constabulary Ex-Officers Association came to fruition. The Association in subsequent years donated, monies for the upkeep of St Patrick’s Chapel.

At a meeting in 1938 there was a proposal by the Association that a similar tablet be erected at St. Paul’s Cathedral, £50 to be donated from the funds and £50 to be raised from former RIC officers. Another Sub-Committee was established to investigate the matter and make recommendations. One could assume that based on their previous experience the process would be much speedier.

One year later, on 25 May 1939 a Royal Irish Constabulary memorial tablet to the memory of officers and men of the RIC killed in the execution of duty and in the Great War, 1914-1918, was erected, dedicated and unveiled in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. It was unveiled by Brigadier General Sir Joseph Aloysius Byrne, KCMG, KBE with 44 officers and their friends being present at the ceremony. This was a most fortuitous arrangement due to the fact that the Association had difficulty meeting during the forthcoming war. At that Annual Meeting, on 23 May 1939 the name of the Association was changed to the Royal Irish Constabulary Officers’ Association as it was felt that the “Ex” in ex-officers was unnecessary. These men were indeed RIC Officers; no others would ever succeed them as RIC Officers. Sir Hugh Turnbull, KCVO, KBE, KPM had been a District Inspector in the RIC, commanded an Army Battalion in the First World War, and was Commissioner of the City of London Police for 25 years.

Rev. Frederick Arthur Cockin (1888-1969), Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral (later Anglican Bishop of Bristol (1946-1958) & Honorary Chaplain to the King (KHC)) accepted the memorial on behalf of the Dean and said it would be cared for and preserved on memory of men who had served their country and given their lives to it.

Monsignor Maurice Carton De Wiart, OBE (1872-1935) 

Was born in Belgium in 1872 into a very influential Catholic aristocratic family. He studied under the Jesuit fathers in Brussels and Antwerp and was ordained a priest in 1895. He became associated with Westminster Cathedral from 1908 and was the founder of St. Andrews Hospital in London and was responsible for the erection of a memorial to Belgian soldiers who died in the hospital during WW1. His brother Count Henry De Wiart was Prime Minister of Belgium, 1920/’21 and another brother, Baron Edmund De Wiart was Belgian Financial Delegate to Great Britain during WW1. He was awarded the OBE and four other decorations by the French and Belgian Government for his services in taking a group of nurses to Belgium when it was invaded and with much risk treating the casualties there. His first cousin was the infamous Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart, VC (1880-1963) who retired to Ireland and to whom my late father was his tailor. I was fortunate to meet General De Wiart in 1961 with my father. Canon De Wiart died suddenly in June 1935, two years before the erection of the RIC Memorial in Westminster Cathedral. It appears to me that the RIC ex-Officers Association were very fortunate in meeting such a person as Monsignor De Wiart to secure the RIC memorial.

The above excerpt was taken from a larger, more detailed article titled ‘Origin of the Memorials in Britain to the Royal Irish Constabulary – The Blarney Connection’ by Jim Herlihy, which appeared in Issue 12 of the ‘Old Blarney’ Journal. A limited number of back issues are still available by contacting 0872153216 or www.blarneyhistory.ie

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: wbriangabriel@gmail.com Tel: 087-2153216