How to look for records of... Royal Irish Constabulary, 1836-1922
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
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1. Why use this guide?
This guide will help you find records of the Royal Irish Constabulary, whether you are looking for records of people or policy, reports or correspondence or various kinds of other administrative records created by the service itself and by the governing department in Westminster. The records of service stretch back to 1816, covering service in the Royal Irish Constabulary’s predecessors.
2. What was the Royal Irish Constabulary?
The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was formed as a result of the Irish Constabulary (Ireland) Act 1836 and was responsible for keeping the peace in Ireland, though not of Dublin which retained its own police force, the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Prior legislation, the Constabulary Act of 1822, established Ireland’s first country-wide police force, known as the County Constabulary, made up of four provincial police forces which were subsequently merged to form the RIC. Before 1822, the Irish police force was composed of small groups of sub-constables. It was not until 1867 that what had been known as the Irish Constabulary became the Royal Irish Constabulary.
Initially, the main function of the Royal Irish Constabulary was keeping the peace which in practice involved the suppression of armed rebellion, sectarian riots or agrarian disturbances. Their role expanded when it inherited the functions of the Revenue Police which involved inquiries on behalf of departments of state, collected agricultural statistics, enforced the fishery laws and performed a variety of duties under the laws relating to food and drugs, weights and measures, explosives and petroleum.
From 1920 to 1922, Royal Irish Constabulary ‘Temporary Constables’ made up largely of ex-soldiers and commonly called the Black and Tans, were employed to suppress revolution in Ireland, alongside an Auxiliary Division (ADRIC) of former military officers. These former officers, like the Black and Tans, were mostly First World War veterans, including those who had served in the Royal Flying Corps.
The Royal Irish Constabulary was disbanded on 30 August 1922.
3. How to use this guide and search for records
How you search for RIC records depends on whether you are looking for the records of a person or records of the work and administration of the service.
3.1 Records of a person
For details of an individual’s service in the RIC there are two types of records to search for: service records and pension records. Most of these records have been digitally copied and made available online at Findmypast.co.uk, one of our commercial partners, where you can search and download them (£). For more details see sections 4 and 5 of this guide.
After the disbandment of the service in 1922, pensions continued to be paid by the paymaster general in London, and the service records of members of the force passed to the Home Office which were subsequently transferred to The National Archives.
3.2 Reports, correspondence and other administrative records
These record types do not have online copies and to see these you will need to consult them at our building in Kew. The search for records held at Kew can, however, begin online, using our online catalogue. Section 7 of this guide provide links to key record series that you can search within our catalogue, helping you to target your searches more precisely. By clicking on the series links (for example, CO 906) you will arrive on the respective ‘series description’ pages from where you can search the series, using keywords and/or dates/years. Series description pages provide information on the arrangement of the records and sometimes some of the historical context in which they were created, as well as suggesting related series you could explore.
Use the advanced catalogue search to target the records of one or more entire departments (for example, the Colonial Office or Home Office). Use the department reference, which is always a letter code, to do this (the code for the Colonial Office is CO and for the Home Office it’s HO).
Catalogue search results provide short descriptions of our records and a document reference for each one – you will need the document reference to see the record itself. Bear in mind that a search in our catalogue from the catalogue homepage will also search for records in other archives around the country – keep your eye on the ‘Held by’ field to establish whether the records are here or elsewhere.
4. Royal Irish Constabulary ranks
There were two ways to enter service in the Royal Irish Constabulary, either as a constable or as an officer by obtaining a cadetship. The rank of an individual will determine which records you search in and how you search – there are separate records for constable and officer ranks.
4.1 Officer ranks
In order of seniority, these were:
- Inspector General
- Deputy Inspector General
- Assistant Inspector General
- County Inspector
- District Inspector 1st Class
- District Inspector 2nd Class
- District Inspector 3rd Class
4.2 Constable ranks
In order of seniority, these were:
|Before 1883||After 1883|
|1st Class Head Constable||1st Class Head Constable|
|2nd Class Head Constable||2nd Class Head Constable|
|Constable||Constable (re-titled Sergeant in 1918)|
|Acting Constable (introduced 1859)||Acting Sergeant (abolished 1918)|
|1st Class Sub-Constable|
|2nd Class Sub-Constable|
5. Service records, 1816-1922
Some service records predate the establishment of the RIC and cover service in the County Constabulary and before. Separate sets of service records, more accurately referred to as registers of service, exist for constables, for officers and for members of the Auxiliary Division (‘Black and Tans’). They are all held in series HO 184. Registers normally provide the following information:
- full name
- age (but not full date of birth nor information about parents)
- religious affiliation
- native county
- trade or calling
- marital status
- native county of wife (but not her name)
- date of appointment
- counties in which the man served
- length of service
- date of retirement and/or death
- reference numbers quoted refer to papers which have not survived
There are two ways to search the registers of service. The easiest way is to search online as this way you can search by first and last name, or by service number or years of service or any combination of these. The alternative is to search the microfilm copies of the registers, held at our building in Kew. This is more cumbersome and time consuming but provides an alternative if you have been unable to find an individual’s records online. Access to the online and microfilm copies is free of charge if you are searching at our building in Kew.
5.1 Searching online
Search Royal Irish Constabulary service records by name online at findmypast.ie (£).
5.2 Searching on microfilm
Search methods differ slightly depending on whether the individual started in the RIC as an officer. If the individual was promoted to an officer rank during his career, there may be two separate records for him.
Follow these steps:
Step 1: Consult the book Royal Irish Constabulary: a complete alphabetical list of officers and men to find a service number. A copy is available behind the enquiries desk in our open reading rooms.
Step 2: Note the service number or if the term ‘cadet’ appears instead of a service number. ‘Cadet’ indicates that the individual started service as an officer.
Step 3: Click on the HO 184 piece ranges hyperlinked below, arranged either by service number or, for individuals who served as officers, by date of appointment:
- Browsing by service number: select a piece from the general register in HO 184/1-43 where the range of numbers shown covers the service number you are looking for (if he served with the Auxiliary Division – the ‘Black and Tans’ – select from HO 184/50-51 instead)
- Browsing by date of appointment: among the four volumes with references between HO 184/45-48, select the one which covers the date of appointment in question
Step 4: Note the HO 184 piece number (for example, HO 184/19)
Step 5: Locate the reel of microfilm for your piece number in our reading rooms
Step 6: Using a microfilm reader, scroll through the reel:
- By service number if your piece number is between HO 184/1 and HO 184/43 – the register records the service history of constables up to the point before they became officers (or their entire service if they were not promoted to an officer rank); the record should indicate the date of appointment if they became an officer and in these cases there may be a second record in HO 184/45-48 (go back to step 3)
- By date of appointment if your piece number is between HO 184/45 and HO 184/48
5.3 Transcriptions of some service records
Browse an incomplete set of transcriptions of service records on the website Ireland: Genealogy Project Archives. They are arranged by county under the heading ‘military and constabulary’. A copy is available behind the enquiries desk in the reading room at Kew.
6. Pension records, from 1873 onwards
6.1 Online records
Search the Royal Irish Constabulary pension registers and allowances granted to officers, men and staff, and to their widows and children, between 1873 and 1922, on Findmypast.co.uk (£), drawn mostly from series PMG 48. The original registers were arranged either alphabetically by surname or by pension award number. They normally include the place of residence of the recipient.
6.2 Records not online
There are a small number of pension records unavailable online covering pensions awarded in the final few years of the RIC’s existence:
- Fifteen files documenting pensions and allowances awarded to RIC members and their dependents, including those who served as temporary constables (‘Black and Tans’) after 1919 – search by name in HO 340 or see the descriptions of all fifteen files
- Two files containing pension options for Royal Irish Constabulary servicemen offered when the service was disbanded in 1922 are in CO 904/175 and CO 904/176
6.3 Records in Parliamentary Papers
A list of superannuations awarded to police in Ireland before the unified force was created was published in 1832 in House of Commons Sessional Papers 1831-1832, XXVI 465. Locate the published source via Parliamentary Papers. The list supplies:
• period of service
• amount granted
• nature of injury leading to the superannuation
7. Reports, correspondence and other administrative records
- police reports
- papers on criminal offences
- attacks on the police
- the Special Branch
- establishments circulars and instructions
- constabulary codes
Other records include:
- Correspondence with the Treasury in series HO 184
- Intelligence notes in series CO 903
- A memorandum on the training and organisation of the force in 1905 in file CO 884/9/3
- Papers relating to RIC involvement in combating the disturbances throughout Ireland between 1916 and 1922 in series WO 35. Reports on assassinations and police operations are included
- Information about the expenditure on the force for the period 1920-1922 can be found in T 192
- Other administrative material can be found in Treasury Board Papers in series T 1 up to 1919, and for the later period in Finance Files in series T 160, Supply Files in series T 161, Establishment Files in series T 162, General Files in series T 163 and Pensions and Superannuation Files in series T 164
- Correspondence of the secretary to the governor of Northern Ireland are in series HO 267 which includes some policy files and a few case files on pensions and compensation claims
8. Records in other archives and organisations
Find background information relating to the Royal Irish Constabulary at the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin. Even though Royal Irish Constabulary service records were passed onto the Home Office in London, it is still possible to find other information in Ireland.
Find a computer database of Irish Constabulary service records from 1822 -1922 at The Police Museum in Northern Ireland. You can also find other items which relate to the history of the Constabulary in Ireland such as uniforms, photographs, medals and other equipment relating to policing in Ireland from the early 19th century to the present day.
9. Further reading
Search The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.
Learn more about tracing your Irish ancestors including those in the Royal Irish Constabulary by viewing our webinar tracing your Irish ancestry.
Jim Herlihy, The Royal Irish Constabulary: A Complete Alphabetical List of Officers and Men, 1816-1922 (Four Courts Press Ltd, 1999)
Jim Herlihy, The Royal Irish Constabulary: A Short History and Genealogical Guide (Four Courts Press Ltd, 1997)
Jim Herlihy, The black & tans, 1920-1921: a complete alphabetical list, short history and genealogical guide (Four Courts Press Ltd, 2021)
Robert, Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism (Penguin, 2000)
Neil Cobbett, Guide to Irish Records and Sources (unpublished source)