The Royal Irish Constabulary – or RIC – served as Ireland’s law-enforcement agency throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The local constables’ civil and legal duties made them a consistent and controversial feature of Irish life, simultaneously a pillar of the local community and a physical manifestation of colonial rule. Yet despite this prominence, the RIC remain an anomaly, a relatively understudied section of Irish society which, in the words of Maurice O’Neil, have been ‘written off in quiet ignominy’. The result is that contemporary understanding of police-public relations during this period has been largely defined by the RIC’s interactions and transgressions in the conflict’s more active theaters.

This talk reevaluates this position through a close analysis of RIC activities in Carlow county, and by comparing them to a narratively paradigmatic county – in this case, Cork. Popular understanding of the war is largely distilled through the lens of ambushes, barrack-burnings, boycotts, and the ‘tit-for-tat’ violence exemplified in Cork, Tipperary, and Dublin. By comparison, Carlow’s experience of the War, while thematically similar, was considerably more subdued. Ambushes were relatively infrequent and often abortive, while Crown responses were uncharacteristically well-coordinated and occasionally successful, as illustrated by the Ballymurphyambush of 1921. RIC Barrack burnings meanwhile – although common – were confined to rural outposts, and only after they were evacuated in March/April of 1920 to consolidate the region’s urban centers. 

This posits a question of causality – why was Carlow’srevolutionary experience practically distinct from that of other counties?

The talk will take place in person on Wed 20 Oct @ 8 pm in the Seven Oaks Hotel. 

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