In the service of the British crown

Pegeen O'Sullivan reviews The Royal Irish Constabulary by Thomas Fennell, UCD Press (Classics of Irish History series), £13. 95 pbk

THIS IS an invaluable source book for both its wealth of detail and because Thomas Fennell so well communicates the schizophrenia induced in the Irish by British rule.

He writes that it took Catholic Irish recruits years "to see that this force was specially organised and equipped to sustain landlordism and keep the people in subjugation" and "it was the struggle for existence... that forced them to choose between emigration and joining the police".

He was nonetheless proud of the RIC in spite of his awareness of the anti-Catholic bigotry that made promotion to officer rank almost unobtainable for Catholics. Hence the schizophrenia - during the land war there was a movement among constables to go on strike against taking part in evictions; Fennell approved the fact that this idea was abandoned on grounds that the authorities would have brought in the military, which would have been worse for the evicted.

The detail is wonderful. The life imposed on constables was positively monastic in its rigidity and severity. Constables could do no work to eke out their pay, they could keep no animal, not even a single hen, in fact, not even a dog. Their wives could not earn a few shillings sewing, nursing or teaching.

This remarkable book deserves an index.

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