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Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Insignia of the “The Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick” (the harp, crown and shamrock) granted by Queen Victoria.

Figure 1: Insignia of the “The Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick” (the harp, crown and shamrock) granted by Queen Victoria.

Development of the Royal Irish Constabulary

Organised policing in Ireland began in the eighteenth century with the introduction of the Dublin Police Act in 1786, an Act for improving the police of the City of Dublin.[1] In 1822, the policing structure evolved when four provincial police forces, known as the County Constabulary were provided for by The Constabulary (Ireland) Act 1822. The four depots were located; North (Armagh), East (Daingean), West (Ballinrobe) and South and (Ballincollig).[2] The 1822 Act was superseded by The Constabulary (Ireland) Act, 1836. The Act was introduced by Thomas Drummond, Under Secretary for Ireland, and centralised the police forces under the direct control of an Inspector-General in Dublin Castle with a standard code of regulations and became known as the 'The Constabulary of Ireland'. [3]

In 1867, the Irish Constabulary suppressed the Fenian Rising and the force was granted the title of Royal and the right to use the insignia of the “The Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick” (the harp, crown and shamrock) by Queen Victoria.[4] At the start of 1920, the RIC consisted of approximately 9,500 officers and men.[5] However, a focused and concentrated series of guerrilla attacks by the Irish Volunteers in conjunction with boycotts by local communities saw many RIC constables retire and resign. ‘A woman accused of supplying the police with milk in Co Roscommon had pig rings clamped to her buttocks with pincers.’[6]

The British administration needed to bolster police numbers in Ireland and did so using emergency measures. Firstly, in January 1920, British ex-soldiers were recruited. Due to shortages of uniforms the new constables were clad in a mixture of dark police green and military khaki, ‘the Black and Tans’.[7] Some months later, in the summer of 1920, a temporary, paramilitary police force was formed, the Auxiliary Division (temporary cadets), consisting of ex-officers who signed one-year contracts. The result of the recruitment drive was 'over ten thousand British men enlisted in the United Kingdom's Irish police forces and fought against the Irish Republican Army (IRA).[8]

There were over 500 police casualties during the War of Independence 1919-1922, not only from the RIC, but also the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the Auxiliaries, Black and Tans and Ulster Special Constabulary.[9] In addition, following numerous attacks on RIC barracks, ‘over 700 of the approximately 1,300 open in January 1919 – were closed by January 1921.’[10] It began in 1919 with smaller outlying police huts, staffed by three or four policemen, becoming untenable and by the end of the year they were evacuated. By the summer of 1920, one third of the police barracks in the country had been closed. The closure of smaller police stations ensured that the RIC consolidated and were located in barracks that were more defensible and fortified against rebel attacks.

Cork followed the national trend with regard to barrack closures. The county had the largest number of barracks in Ireland in January 1919, with 123. However, two years later, the original number had been consolidated and only 43 remained. Nine of the sixteen barracks in the city and environs had been abandoned; St. Lukes, King Street, Lower Glanmire Road, Sunday’s Well, Blackrock Road, Blackpool, Commons Road and Togher. A new headquarters opened on Empress Place, which served as the headquarters of the Auxiliaries. The closure of King Street was a major coup for the Volunteers, being so close to the headquarters of the British Army in Victoria Barracks (now Collins Barracks). The building was bombed at 6.45 pm on 30 June 1920 and to ensure it would not rise from the ashes, it literally was turned to ashes when it was burned twelve days later. Also falling foul to arson were the other abandoned barracks at St. Luke’s and the Lower Glanmire Road.[11]

Aftermath of bombing of King Street (MacCurtain) RIC Barracks, 1920

Figure 2: Aftermath of bombing of King Street (MacCurtain) RIC Barracks, 1920.

In 1922, following Irish Independence, the RIC was disbanded and the Civic Guard was established, which was later renamed the Garda Síochána and in 1925 the Dublin Metropolitan Police merged with the new police force.[12]

Map showing location of RIC barracks in the North and South districts of Cork City

(To view Barracks on historic maps, click on number and then link under location)



Shandon Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks, also known as Abbey Barracks was located adjacent to the North Gate Bridge, Cork. Police operations in the city were divided into North and South districts, composing of nine barracks in each district. North district headquarters was located at King Street, (now MacCurtain Street) and Union Quay was headquarters of the South district.[13]

Organisation of policing in Cork, 1921

Figure 3: Organisation of policing in Cork, 1921.



The 1911 census records North Abbey Street as the location of Shandon Barracks, a house with eleven windows and home to thirteen residents, with Sergeant Peter Warren in charge.[14] According to Commandant P.J. Murphy, Company Commander, Fianna Eireann, Cork, 1912, ‘the topographical features of Cork City, made operations very difficult.’ After an attack, the only means of Volunteer withdrawal was over one of the cities bridges, where an RIC barrack was generally located. In addition, to complicate matters, ‘at the sound of an explosion or shots, the bridges were manned by B. and Tans and everyone was subject to a search.’[15]

Byzantine mosaic at the Chora Church, Constantinople

Figure 4: North Abbey Street 2019, location of Shandon RIC Barracks



Shandon Barracks was noted for its ‘murder gang’ led by Sergeant Chance. The Black and Tan, Chance was notorious in Cork, and known for his cruelty towards the enemy. He was responsible for the murder of the six Volunteers ambushed at Ballycannon, Clogheen on 23 March 1921. He generally carried two revolvers, one strapped to each leg.

The Volunteers made several attempts to assassinate him, including using ‘the charms of [a] young lady, but all were unsuccessful.’ Another witness statement refers to the ‘mysterious "Sergeant Chance" who regularly paraded Cork's principal streets in a small single-turreted armoured car with its flame "the Fiend" printed in large conspicuous type on the front of the turret.’ Chance was regularly accompanied by a spy known as Monkey McDonald, a barber who lived a charmed life, surviving Volunteer bullets. McDonald betrayed many Cork Republicans and eventually slithered away disappearing unscathed.

Armoured car on Henry Street, Dublin

Figure 5: Similar armoured car on Henry Street, Dublin.

The summer of 1921 was a fraught period for Shandon Barracks. On 14 May 1921, a patrol of seven men was attacked in Blackpool. Three constables were killed and more angst was to follow a month later. On 23 June 1921, a bomb attack was carried out on Shandon Barracks. When the Active Service Unit (A.S.U. or flying column) car threw the bomb, ten men from D Company of the First Battalion, Cork Brigade opened rapid fire on the barracks.[16] Civilian Josephine Scannell fell foul to the unrest in Cork City.

Irish Independent - Unrest in Cork 1921

Figure 6: Reports of unrest in Cork. [17]

Death Notice - Josephine Scannell

Figure 7: Death Reports of Josephine Scannell. [18]


End of an era

On 28 March 1922, the Royal Irish Constabulary withdrew from Shandon Barracks handing the key to ‘an IRA officer … on behalf of the Provisional Government’. The barracks remained open until 1984 when it was replaced by Gurranebraher Station, finally closing its doors.

Opening of new Garda station Gurranabraher

Figure 8: Opening of new Garda station Gurranabraher.[19]


Shandon Garda Barracks 1952

Figure 9: Shandon Garda Station Party. [20]





[4] Patience Pollard Adams, ‘Fenian Attack on Kilmallock Barracks, 1867’, History Ireland, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring, 2003), p. 6.

[5] D.M. Leeson, The Black and Tans: British police and auxiliaries in the Irish war of Independence, 1920-21, (Oxford, 2011), p.22.


[7] D.M. Leeson, ‘Black and Tans and Auxiliaries’, 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson (eds), issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-10-08. DOI: 10.15463/ie1418.10539.

[8] D.M. Leeson, 'The Black and Tans', (Oxford, 2011), p. 1.


[10] Atlas of the Irish Revolution, John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil, and Mike Murphy (eds), John Borgonovo (associate editor) (Cork, 2017), p. 377.

[11] Irish Examiner, I July 1920.


[13] Francis Guy, Francis Guy's county and city of Cork directory 1921, (Cork, 1921), pp 115-6.


[15] B. and Tans refers to Black and Tans, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement (W.S. 869) of Commandant P.J. Murphy available


[17] Irish Independent, 24 June 1921

[18] Irish Examiner, 25 June 1921

[19] Irish Examiner, 8 August 1984

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