Telephone: +353 (0)91 532 460  |  |  Contact Us

The Civic Guard by Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy

This week, in conjunction with Galway County Council and An Garda Síochána, the Museum launched its new temporary exhibition to mark the centenary of the establishment of the Civic Guard (later An Garda Síochána). Here is an interesting contemporary account of the Civic Guard by Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy from “The Voice of Ireland (Glór na hÉireann),” which was compiled by W.G. Fitzgerald and published in in 1924:

‘The Nation’s New Civic Guard’ by EOIN UA DUBHTHAIGH (General Owen O’Duffy, Chief Commissioner of the Garda Siothchana, or Civic Guard: Late Chief of Staff of the Irish National Army).
[“They are the finest body of men I have ever seen.”—President W. T. COSGRAVE, reviewing the new Civic Guard.]
The Civic Guard! ‘Tis little more than a name as yet; but after all there is something in a name, and Ireland’s new police force has been well named – the guardians of the civic destinies and rights of the people, the right to live their own lives in their own way – the wardens of the citizens of the Irish Free State.
Ireland had another police force, formed in 1836, with the title of the “Constabulary of Ireland,” under the Statute passed in the sixth year of William IV. The name was changed in 1867 to that of the Royal Irish Constabulary for services rendered – not to Ireland – during the Fenian Rising. The early months of 1922 saw the passing of that force. A Statute of the State which created it decreed also its extinction. The R.I.C. has ceased to exist. Its members were Irish, too, and that is the pity of it. They were used as a repressive and coercive arm of alien rule, and faithfully they performed the part allotted to them, although often employed on duties which must have been distasteful to the rank and file. The higher and well-paid officers were not of the people, but carefully selected from the ruling caste – men of the most reactionary type.
The Guard had no easy task in front of them. They were faced with a people torn by faction, longing for peace, but doubtful if this generation will witness settled conditions. Life was unsafe, and property insecure, with such a loosening of the bonds which held the social fabric together as would a short time ago have been deemed impossible. Ireland, as the Guard found it, was a country where, in the name of higher patriotism, the gravest crimes against life and property were encouraged and condoned.
It is not to be an unwieldy force. When fully recruited, its strength will not exceed 4,500 officers and men. It is to be absolutely unarmed, and that in a country the desire of whose people for arms has been proverbial. The use or possession of arms was forbidden by alien rule under heavy penalties – therefore every nerve was strained to acquire them. But the Guard will depend for success on moral rather than on physical factors. They have much to do, but with the support and confidence of the Irish people they hope to do much for the social uplift of the nation.
The Guard will be distinctively Irish. A premium will be placed on the history and ancient language of the Gael, and a large proportion of the men are Irish speaking, intended as they are for service in the Gaeltacht. The syllabus of examinations for promotion are such as to foster a knowledge of the language and literature of Ireland. We anticipate the day when the Free State will have a bilingual police force. These are sober men. There is not room in the Guard for a man addicted to drink. The lapses which will sometimes occur in ordinary civilian life will not be permitted in the guard. He is to be a sober and steady custodian of Ireland’s peace – first, last, and all the time. The badge of total abstinence will be one of the decorations, and permission has been given the members to wear this distinction on their uniforms, openly and publicly. It will be seen on their breasts with the ‘Fáinne’ – the ring-symbol of the Irish speaker and the Irish Irelander. One can turn with confidence to the Guard on whose uniform these two emblems have pride of place.
And now what of the people and of their attitude towards the new force? It is gratifying to record that the reception of the Guard throughout the country has been all that could be desired. The people have long sighed for a police force of their own, to whom they could look with confidence for help, and they have shown in no uncertain way that they regard the new force as fulfilling all their requirements. It is true that in some instances their countrymen have so far forgotten themselves and in the not too distant past they attacked with arms the houses occupied by the Guard, and even ill-used and molested unarmed men. In one case a promising recruit lost his life at the hands of one of these misguided men; but it is clear that such acts find no favour with any section of our people. It would be inexplicable if it were otherwise; for who are the Guard, what are their credentials, and from what sources are they drawn?
They are the flower of the young manhood of Ireland. By the terms of recruitment, they must be between the ages of 19 and 27, and of a high physical standard; not less than 5 feet 9 inches in height, robust and active beyond all ordinary standards. The stoppage of emigration for some years past has resulted in the presence of large numbers of young and athletic men in the country. These are now available for service in Ireland. Many of them have seen active service in war. They are inured to hardship and danger, resourceful and self-reliant in action, trained in the football and hurling grounds, and having withal the keenest appreciation of the wants and ideals of their own people. There is no dearth of such recruits. The allotted number is being rapidly reached, but the supply is far from exhausted.
The Guard is now fairly launched as a self-contained force. The highest posts are open to all in the ranks. The way to advancement is by hard work and sheer merit. These facts are appreciated by the Guard and by their masters the public, who are sure to benefit by such wholesome striving and competition. No longer does the prize go to a privileged class; promotion is the reward of efficiency and hard work, so that the future is full of hope. There are difficulties to be faced, and obstacles to be overcome; but young Ireland is not easily intimidated or denied.
The Guard goes forward. It has no past for which atonement must be made, and the future is in its own hands. From this national force much is expected, and a long-tried and suffering people must not be disappointed. The new Civic Guard will repay with interest the big debt they owe the people for taking them on trust – with all their faults and shortcomings. They will surely give loyal, unselfish and devoted service to all Ireland.


Eoin Duffy (1890–1944), later O’Duffy or Ó Dubhthaigh, was born 28 January 1890 at Carrickaduff (Cargaghdoo), near Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. Following the Easter Rising of 1916, he joined the Irish Volunteers (IRA) and Sinn Féin. A member of the IRB supreme council, he also held command of Monaghan Brigade IRA during the War of Independence (1919–21). Supporting the Anglo–Irish truce in July, at which time he was IRA director of organisation, O’Duffy became deputy chief of staff to Richard Mulcahy and Michael Collins at GHQ in Dublin. In February 1922 he became chief of staff of the National Army, forerunner of the Free State army. In September 1922 he became commissioner of the Civic Guard (An Garda Síochána), an unarmed police force that he intended would conform to his own national ideals in contrast to the semi-military RIC which it replaced (source:

Visit the Revolution in Galway, 1913 – 23 exhibition for more on this period of Galway’s history.  The exhibition is open for visitors on the first floor gallery, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm and admission is FREE!



Get the latest Galway City Museum news directly to your inbox!

Scroll to Top
Skip to content