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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Giving You The Black and Tan Police of Ireland (Reserve Police Force)




The problem of Irish Independence flared in 1916 during the Easter uprising. The Irish Volunteers wore uniforms and tried to fight according to rules of war. However, the British government refused to accept this. When the IVF were defeated, many high ranking officers of the Volunteers were executed by firing squad. The Irish Republican Army learnt and adapted their methods. They went underground and became more ruthless in a new and covert method of combat.

The Black and Tans were recruited from Britain because the Royal Irish Constabulary needed more manpower. Police barracks throughout Ireland were being attacked by the IRA rebels and as a consequence it was becoming difficult to recruit R.I.C. members. Many were killed when police compounds were raided and destroyed by the Flying Columns of the I.R.A. (Irish Republican Army) 

In Britain there was a huge surplus of unemployed ex-soldiers from the great war of Europe. Many of these men had no apprenticeship except that of fighting and killing in the trenches of Europe.  They were thrown upon the scrapheap of economic necessity when suddenly in 1919 an opportunity to earn 10 shillings a day came about. This involved being in a reserve police force attached to the Royal Irish Constabulary and serving in Ireland combating the rebel I.R.A.


Crossley Tender with Black and Tans

This covert rebel force wanted to pull Ireland away from the United Kingdom to become an independent republic. The desire for Irish independence had been about for hundreds of years and was a problem that the British Government kept pushing along – like kicking a tin can down the road and continuously coming back to it as one journeyed along. Sooner or later the issue had to be faced. In the past; Irish uprisings were brutally put down, but by 1919 this was not going to work.


Irish Rebel Flying Column

The British Government thought they could fight the I.R.A. conflict as a police action and keep it low key. If ever a mistake could have been made it was this one - it proved to be monstrous and monumental. The recruitment of reserves among the ranks of Britain’s unemployed soldiers might have seemed an appropriate thing, but there were hundreds of thousands of unemployed. Only 8,000 were recruited as there were so many applicants. The most brutal and thuggish of the men were cherry picked to do the job.

The large number of recruits that went to Ireland quickly found there was not enough dark green R.I.C. police uniform to go around for 8,000 men. Therefore they were supplied with part R.I.C. uniform and part British Army khaki – hence the nickname of Black andTans.

The first Reserve (Black and Tan) units were introduced to the conflict in March of 1920 and the men quickly earned a grim reputation for themselves. Their brand of community policing and winning hearts and minds left much to be desired. They started off with a carefree attitude and had diabolically scant respect for the local population. Often they took their frustration and anger out on the ordinary people. This was because the rebels were fighting a covert war and the towns and countryside among the local population was where they could hide. The rebels were proving much more evasive and adapt than anticipated.

The Black and Tan recruits did not have the proper skills or patience for the type of conflict they were in. When one of their numbers was hit; the Black and Tans would often retaliate by rounding up all people in a district. It rapidly became clear, to the British Government, that the Black and Tans and then the Auxies were doing more to further the Irish Republican cause then the rebels were. Their disrespect and aggressive tactics drove the populace to support the I.R.A. more.


At home and abroad, the British Government came under enormous pressure to redress the situation as a spiral of tit-for-tat murders began to get out of control. By 1921, both sides began to put out feelers. Eventually there came a ceasefire in August of 1921 and the reserves (Black and Tans and Auxies) were kept in their barracks. A peace treaty came about and in November 1921, the British pulled out of Dublin as a new Irish Free State came about.

It brought about a civil war between the pro-treaty rebels and the anti-treaty rebels. The Black and Tans were disbanded and sent back to Britain. They remain a blighted organisation and something we Brits don’t like to talk about much.

They have left a lasting scar upon Ireland. The Black and Tans are an enigma to most Brits – many have never heard of them, but among Irish people they are remembered with bitterness and aversion.


The Black and Tan Summer



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