An Garda Síochána, the early years in Galway

After the truce, the RIC handed over its barracks to the Irish Free State. One hundred years ago this month, the Government set up An Garda Síochána, an unarmed civic police force. Unfortunately, the first group of gardaí who arrived in Galway by train had no barracks to go to, the Eglinton Street headquarters having been destroyed in an arson attack. A search began for some place to house the 23 gardaí and that evening, they managed to find accommodation in the County Club. They stayed there for almost a year.

Work had begun on renovating the Eglinton barracks very quickly after the fire and in June 1923, Sergeant Daly and 10 guards left the County Club and moved into the wing of the barracks that had been made habitable. It was expected at the time that the force would shortly take over the building in Dominick Street that had been occupied by the RIC. Civic stations were opened in various parts of the county.

The county was divided into seven districts for police purposes and in 1924, had a chief superintendent, seven superintendents, 81 sergeants, and 276 guards. In 1914, the RIC had two county inspectors, 13 district inspectors, 13 head constables, 139 sergeants, and 731 constables. By 1926, there were 63 Garda stations throughout Galway and they were already beginning to build up ‘splendid traditions’ exemplifying the true position of the law – cool and calm judgment and action.

The formidable red-brick Eglinton Street barracks had dormitory space on the top floor for 16 single guards, in fact for some 50 years, young single gardaí were expected to move into the barracks living quarters, which meant they were always on call in the event of an emergency. In those early days, most of their duties were carried out on foot or by bicycle. They eventually got squad cars, but as late as 1959, the Chamber of Commerce was writing to the superintendent asking that these cars be supplied with radio call systems.

As a recruitment drive got under way in 1960, a local newspaper wondered, “Where are the strapping young fellows we saw in uniform in the past. There was a time when first class recruit meant six feet. Guards now appearing on the streets are like mere boys compared with the material we are used to. They are all small, tidy and dapper. When one of the old brigade turns out with one of the new brigade, it looks like a father taking out a promising son who will one day grow up.”

Policing duties were generally quiet, though there were times when there was extra pressure such as the visits of presidents Kennedy and Reagan and Pope John Paul. The advent of the troubles in the North meant an increase in robberies throughout the country including Galway. There was a major post office robbery in 1972 when a postal worker was seriously injured, and the Lynch's Castle bank robbery in 1974 resulted in the murder of Jerome O'Connor. The entire force countrywide was searching for a killer or killers of two young women when eagle-eyed local gardai picked up two English men named Shaw and Evans who were arrested, tried, and convicted of the brutal murders.

Policing in Galway has undergone huge changes since. In 1986, the guards moved out of Eglinton Street and into a new complex on Mill Street, and since then a new headquarters has been built in Renmore. Computerisation, technological advances, and new forms of communication have helped the force evolve into the highly sophisticated organisation it is today.

Our photographs today show a typical garda patrolling Eyre Square on his bicycle in the late 1950s, and Garda E Mellette and Sergeant M O'Malley closing the door following the last patrol out of Eglinton Street Station at 10pm. on January 26, 1986.

Listen to Tom Kenny and Ronnie O'Gorman elaborating on topics they have covered in this week's paper and much more in this week's Old Galway Diary Podcast.


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