FORMER members of An Garda Síochána, and their families, are being encouraged to dig out their memories and memorabilia, as a new oral history is compiled to mark the centenary of force next year.
The project, which will be an online archive, is being coordinated by Garda Headquarters with the assistance of members of the Garda Siochána Retired Members Association (GSMRA), including Clare-based Billy Saunderson. “In February 1922, General Michael Collins and others met in the Gresham Hotel and set up the Civic Guard, which later became An Garda Síochána,” the retired Garda sergeant explained. “To mark next year’s centenary, we are collecting as many memories and items as we can to produce an archive and oral history collection. We’re really appealing to families to bring this project to the attention of people who were in the force. 5% of our members are over 90 years of age. They didn’t grow up in the era of WhatsApp and Snapchat, so, to get the message out, we’re asking children and grandchildren to help them. If they have family members in the force who have passed away, we would be delighted to include any items they might have like membership cards, badges, photos or discharge papers, and the like. People might have these up in the attic and they might have more time now during lockdown to have a look for them. The association would also be very interested to hear the memories and stories of families and former Gardaí.”
Billy, a Cork native, came to Clare in 1968. He was stationed in Ennistymon in the 1970s and later in Ennis. His wife, the late Pauline, was a Clare native and he put down roots in the Banner County. Billy, who is also a former President of the Irish section of the International Police Association (IPA) noted that the nature of policing has changed over the years. “In the past, the local Garda knew everybody and people didn’t mind being seen talking to Gardaí,” he said. “That changed later, unfortunately, but I think people have begun again to appreciate the role of Gardaí more lately because of the support they have given the community during the pandemic.”
The centenary since the foundation of the force covers a period of huge change in Irish society and the oral history project aims to reflect this. “The 100-year period covers many turbulent times for the fledging unarmed police force – many very difficult, many very tragic,” Billy noted, “but [it is also a time when] members of the community contributed generously in sport and community activities. All aspects will be brought to life and contribute to this unique oral history, a history coordinated by an academic advisor. We will be organising interviews for people in different parts of the country and will take inspiration from the oral history archive compiled by the army. Everyone will be treated with the greatest respect. We are aware that the early years were very difficult for the force and there may be family members now who are prepared to share the experiences that their relatives had as Gardaí.”
Capturing our History – An Oral History of An Garda Síochána 1922-2022 is being run by a 15-person committee. Following a call for expressions of interest last year, it has appointed an academic adviser. On the 50th anniversary of the force in 1972, an attempt was made to compile an archive, but efforts were hampered by a lack of recording and other technology.
The provisional government of the Irish Free State set up a committee to create the Civic Guard in 1922. Symbolically, in August of that year the new police force marched into Dublin Castle to take the building over. The Civic Guard became An Garda Síochána in August 1923.
The oral history project committee can be contacted through retired superintendent, Mick Lernihan, who was also stationed in Ennistymon at one stage during his career. Mick is General Secretary of the GSRMA and can be reached at 086-8121860.