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Death In The Line Of Duty

The first Garda to die on duty in Cork was to bring about debate on the controversial issue of whether or not to arm the Gardai. The Guards of St Luke’s Garda station had been sitting down having tea at around 6:30pm when they heard a knock on the door. the Barrack orderly answered the door and being confronted with three armed men immediately closed the door knocking a revolver out of one of the raider’s hands. A shot was fired through a panel in the door which hit Sergeant James Fitzsimons. The Cork Examiner that Monday reported that ‘the streets were quite dark at the time but the district [was] a thickly populated one and there were many people around.

The Sergeant was brought to hospital by the Fire Brigade ambulance but by the time he reached it he had died from his wounds. He was 30 years of age and had been stationed in Cork city for the previous 18 months. It later transpired that the murderous party did not use ordinary ammunition but that the bullet removed from the body of the deceased Sergeant was a dum-dum bullet. This was a kind of modified bullet  that exploded or expanded on impact.. This led to a larger wound channel, with multiple exit points, and greater blood loss and trauma. They were illegal even for military use and automatically would greatly increase the malice of an attack. Elsewhere, in Tipperary another Guard was shot in the mouth and was in critical condition in hospital for several days before finally dying from his wounds.

Soon after the attack the military and civic Gardaí around Cork entered the streets and civilians were stopped and searched at many points in an effort to track down the culprits. Drastic plans were promised to stop further raids and that night 112 men were detained throughout the country for the attacks. ,

On Wednesday the 17th of November the funeral for Sergeant Fitzsimmons and Guard Ward were held in Dublin. An ‘impressive’ guard of honour, consisting of 100 Civic Guards from the Phoenix Park depot and 100 men of the Civic Guard Metropolitan Division escorted the caskets. The Taoiseach himself W.T. Cosgrove gave an oration by the Sergeants graveside saying that the Guards were ‘ the guardians of all, ready to protect the rights of their slayers’ and calling them ‘Great, Gallant Souls who have sealed their devotion to duty and to country by the supreme sacrifice.’ The guards were buried in St. Patrick’s plot at the Mortuary chapel.

Messages of condolence and regret poured in, the Arch Bishop of Cashel, Reverend Dr. Hardy, said the events were a ‘source of sorrow and shame’; Limerick Mayor P.A. O’Brien officially stated that the murder of two members of ‘that splendid force’  was an unexplicably dastardly act that could not be condoned by any person.

Speaking to an Irish Times representative on Monday the 15th General O’Duffy,Chief Commissioner of the Civic Guard (as they were then known), resisted renewed pressure to arm the Guards after the attacks,

‘General O’Duffy said that the courage displayed by the Guards in the face of these attacks was in keeping with their splendid record. No amount of intimidation, he declared, would prevent them from from doing their duty… It was not the present intention to arm the force. The Guards at present, he mentioned, were a completely unarmed force, with the exception of the detective branch which had only a small number of members in every county’.

This was a hugely contentious issue at the time as O’Duffy had originally acted as though the Guards were going to be an armed force before changing his mind and stating it was ‘sound policy and a magnificent experiment to send out the Garda unarmed’. Many of the original Gardai were edgy at the thoughts of risking their lives for the sake of a ‘magnificent experiment’ and were less rather than more assured by O’Duffy’s 1922 speech to the first detachment of Civic Guards that if any of them was murdered they would be ‘armed to the teeth’.

This would never come to be although in 1925 the Special Branch was formed and trained in the use of arms. These were the detectives O’Duffy mentioned in his interview with the Irish Times. However, despite these official missives O’Duffy was, behind the scenes, attempting to get the guards armed. He strongly urged the government to give him the authorisation to arm the entire force if and when he thought necessary. If this was not possible he suggested increasing the special branch to around five times its size but both proposals were declined by the Minister for Home Affairs, Kevin O’Higgins.

He argued that arming the force would diminish their moral authority and give them a military, oppressive image reminding people of times gone past. Arming of the Garda Síochána would probably also guarantee that patrols would be fired on and barracks raided for arms,

‘The revolver would always be a bait… It is just possible that many of the public who would condemn and resent any attack on a Garda barrack… would be inclined simply to “keep the ring” if the Gardaí were armed’.

Eventually in 1931, due to increased I.R.A. activity, Chief Superintendents were issued revolvers and numbers in the detective branch were doubled. There was also a limited number of guards trained for armed protection duty but, on the whole, the force was to remain unarmed. The events that occurred on the 15th of November 1926 were to be a key moment in Garda history,  a catalyst that brought the issue of whether or not to arm the Gardaí to the forefront.



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