Saturday, 8 November 2014

What happened to Generation Three? Sylvester Donoghue, born 1821, Sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary

What happened to Generation Three?

sYLVESTER dONOGHUE, BORN 1821, Sergeant in the royal irish constabulary

By Rod O’Donoghue

The latest O'Donoghue Family Tree (one click on tree to see full size)

i must first refer you to our family tree.  I intend to research the folk in this generation in birth date order.  It will take me some time!  I have been very lucky to find such an interesting subject in Sylvester as my first case.  Also Sylvester is not a common name which makes the research easier.  In Kerry the name seems to be centred on the Killarney area which may support the theory that our ancestors migrated north from that area.
You will recall that a tomb in Rattoo’s historic churchyard was erected by Sylvester Donoghue.  Here’s the inscription ‘Erected by Sylvester O’Donoghue for him and his posterity Anno 1820’.

At much the same time that the tomb was put up, Sylvester’s son, Bartholomew, and his wife Bridget Ferris were expecting their first child.  This Sylvester, named after his grandfather in good Irish practice, was baptised on April 1, 1821.  They lived in Ballyduff.
His sponsors were John & Catherine Connor.  They were almost certainly our ggggrandmother, Ellen Connor’s, father and aunt.

In 1824, two Bartholomews (Bat) were living in Ballyduff.  One on Chapel Land, an acre just behind the village church and the other on the east of the village in East Benmore.  Sylvester, the grandson, later describes himself as a farmer so his family had a patch of land somewhere.
We meet up next with Sylvester when he enrolled into the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in 1838.  His service record says he was twenty, so he fibbed, as he was clearly only seventeen.  Quite a common practice I imagine.  The minimum regulation age was nineteen.

He enrolled on June 16, 1838 and is shown as being 5 feet 11 inches tall (all recruits had to be at least 5 feet 9 inches).  By the standards of the time he was a biggish man.
He was pensioned in 1875 and so I will describe the RIC and its operations up until around that time.
The Royal Irish Constabulary

The Constabulary (Ireland) Act, 1836, introduced by Thomas Drummond, Under Secretary for Ireland, centralised the police forces (with about 5,000 men) under the direct control of an Inspector-General in Dublin Castle with a standard code of regulations and became known as the 'The Constabulary of Ireland'.  The discipline was strict and the pay low.

A year later the first ‘Irish Constabulary Code’ was published with a comprehensive code of discipline and regulations and decreed that the standard colour of the uniform would be rifle green. The new force did not have jurisdiction in Dublin, Belfast and Derry, who had their own police forces.  Following serious sectarian violence the Belfast Borough Police (Belfast Bulkies) was abolished in 1865 and replaced by the Irish Constabulary. The Londonderry Borough Police (‘Horney Dicks’ perhaps due to the bone reinforcements in their top hats) were disbanded in 1869 and replaced by the Royal Irish Constabulary following an inquiry into the deaths of two Apprentice Boys who were killed in riots during the visit of Prince Arthur. 

The Revenue Police was formed in 1832 to enforce the unpopular excise laws. The R.I.C. was later given the Revenue Police's work when the two forces were amalgamated in 1857.

In 1839 a Reserve Force of 200 men was created for assignment by the Inspector General to assist the Irish Constabulary in any part of Ireland. The Depot at the Phoenix Park, in Dublin, was built to house the Reserve Force and as a training centre for the Irish Constabulary replacing the four provincial training centres. The Depot also later housed a riding school and the Irish Constabulary Band (1861).

The Force grew to over 8,600 men in 1841 and gradually began to have its effect on law and order

with the quashing of William Smith O'Brien's Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 without military support.  The police faced civil unrest among the Irish rural poor, and was involved in bloody confrontations during the period of the Tithe War. Other deployments were against organisations like the Ribbonmen, which attacked landlords, their property and stock.

The new constabulary first demonstrated its efficiency against civil agitation and Irish separatism during Daniel O'Connell's 1843 ‘monster meetings’ to urge repeal of the Act of Parliamentary Union, and the Young Ireland campaign led by William Smith O'Brien in 1848, although it failed to contain violence at the so-called ‘Battle of Dolly's Brae’ in 1849 (which provoked a Party Processions Act to regulate sectarian demonstrations). This was followed by a period of relative calm.

The advent of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, founded in 1858, brought a plan for an armed uprising.  Direct action began with the Fenian Rising of 1867.  Fenians attacked on the more isolated police barracks and smaller stations.  This rebellion was put down with ruthless efficiency.  The police had infiltrated the Fenians with informers. The success of the Irish Constabulary during the outbreak was rewarded by Queen Victoria who granted the force the prefix 'Royal' in 1867 and the right to use the insignia of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick in their motif.
The RIC presided over a marked decline in general crime around the country. The unstable rural unrest of the early nineteenth century characterised by secret organisations and unlawful armed assembly was effectively controlled.  Policing generally became a routine of controlling misdemeanours such as moonshine distilling, public drunkenness, minor theft, and wilful property crimes. A Land War broke out in the 1879–82 Depression period causing some general unrest.

The RIC was pulled in two directions. To some extent it had a quasi-military ethos, with barracks, carbines, and a vivid class distinction between officers and men; and it used a dark green uniform with black buttons and insignia, resembling that of the rifle regiments of the British Army.  However, it also followed civic police forces in the rest of the UK in preferring to military terms of rank more emollient ones such as ‘constable’ and ‘inspector’; and there was a gesture towards policing by consent in its attempts to match its men's postings to the religious affiliation of the communities they were to police.
The lower ranks were
  • Head Constable Major (insignia of a Warrant Officer)
  • Head Constable (insignia of a Warrant Officer)
  • Constable (from 1883, Sergeant)
  • Acting Constable (from 1883, Acting Sergeant) (insignia of a Corporal)
  • Sub-Constable (from 1883, Constable)
Enforcement of eviction orders in rural Ireland caused the RIC to be widely distrusted by the poor Catholic population as the mid nineteenth century approached, but the relative calm of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods brought it increasing, if grudging, respect.  From the 1850s the RIC performed a range of civil and local government duties together with their policing, integrating the constables with their local communities. In rural areas their attention was largely on minor problems such as distilling, cock fighting, drunk and disorderly behaviour, and unlicensed dogs or firearms, with only occasional attendance at evictions or on riot duty; and arrests tended to be relatively rare events.

Despite their armed status, constables seldom carried guns, only waist belt, handcuffs and baton. Often, along with the priest, they would have an informal leadership role in the community, and being literate would be appealed to by people needing help with forms and letters. While ‘barracks’ in cities resembled those of the British Army, the term was also used for small country police stations consisting of a couple of ordinary houses with a day-room and a few bedrooms; premises would be rented by the authorities from landowners and might move between different sites in a village. Their pay was low, it being assumed by the authorities that they would get milk, eggs, butter and potatoes as gifts from local people.  By 1901 there were around 1,600 barracks and some 11,000 constables.

The majority of constables in rural areas were drawn from the same social class, religion and general background as their neighbours. Measures were taken, not always successfully, to maintain an arm’s length relationship between police and public.  Constables in charge of police stations made an elaborate series of regular reports to their superiors, and would from time to time be moved around the district to prevent acquaintanceships from developing too closely. The majority (over 70 per cent) of constables and sergeants were Catholics from the rural areas of Ireland, and during rebellion and uprising many were torn between their duty and their sympathy with the nationalist cause.

A constable could not be posted to his home county, his wife's home county or any county in which either had relatives.  He was posted to a different area on a regular basis, was required to live in the barracks (and could not leave them at night) unless he was married, and might not marry until he had had at least seven years' service.  A potential bride was vetted by the authorities and even after marriage the policeman and his family had to live by a set of strict rules, including a ban on taking in lodgers, selling produce or the wife indulging in certain trades or employing apprentices.  Police officers had no official rest days or annual leave and were not permitted to vote in elections. They were drilled every morning and formally inspected at least once a month.  The job was not well-paid, but was secure and in the past there had never been a shortage of recruits.  Most RIC men had a great esprit de corps, pride in and loyalty to their force, and there was little corruption.

The RIC was disbanded after the War of Independence in 1922.

Sylvester’s service record

His service number was 3338, so, on June 16, 1838, he was one of the earliest recruits to the force.

He was recommended by the Reverend R.Plummer who in 1837 was the parish priest for Causeway, the parish within which was Ballyduff.  The Plummers were quite an eminent Kerry family.

The counties and ranks in which he might have been employed were:-

Waterford - Promoted to Constable October 1, 1847
Reserve (Force, see earlier) – rank is hard to discern but it looks like Reduced to Sub Constable December 13, 1861
Waterford – Promoted to Constable, March 1, 1863
Waterford – Reduced to Assistant Constable (Month unclear) 1, 1866
Roscommon – Reduced to Sub Constable April 24, 1868

He received more rewards and distinctions than his one recorded punishment.

He married Ellen Power on July 16, 1848 at Trinity Without, Ballybricken, Waterford City.  They are both shown as living in Barrack Street, which ensures that we have the right man.  Perhaps she worked for the RIC as well.  The marriage record is rather bleak with no parents recorded for either of them.  The witnesses were William Ross and Elizabeth McDonnel.  I have been unable to find any children from this union.

Sylvester retired on May 1, 1875 after 36 years 9 months service.  He received a pension of £54 p.a.  This would be the equivalent of about £4,500 today.

The family and post retirement

Sylvester was the eldest in a family of eight.children.  He might have expected to take over the family land but sometime before 1848 that had passed from his father Bartholomew’s tenancy to James (our ggguncle) and Thomas Donoghue (our gggrandfather).  I imagine Bartholomew died and the children were too young to take over.

Joining the RIC would probably not have been a popular thing to do, particularly in a rural family, for all the reasons described earlier.  However work would not have been easy to obtain and like many others who joined the British Army, the RIC would have been seen as a real opportunity, especially as it was newly formed when he joined.

In 1865 Sylvester was the sponsor at the baptism of his sister Mary’s son Bartholomew in Moybella, which is a couple of miles north of Ballyduff in today’s parish of Ballydonoghue.  The father was James Sullivan.  I think Mary must have gone by the name Bridget as well because there was a couple married in Ballyduff in 1855 (with Margaret Ferris as a witness, perhaps Sylvester’s aunt) and James and Bridget are shown in 1869 in Moybella baptising another son, John.

Sylvester lived for another 24 years.  His death is recorded on February 7, 1899 in Moybella.  His occupation is shown as ex-Sergeant RIC and the informant was James Sullivan.  So Sylvester must have lived with his sister for many years. 

James was living in House 29, Moybella in the 1901 census but had died by the 1911 one.  The house had only two rooms and two windows.  This was a Class Three dwelling: Mud cabins/cottages with two to four rooms or windows.  Around 30% of the houses in Kerry were of this class.  At No.21, which also only had two rooms, there were eleven people in occupation!

As Sylvester does not appear to have had any children his line has died out.

Sources & acknowledgements
Lewis, Samuel - A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

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