The infamous and notorious Black and Tans will not be forgotten in Irish history. 100 years ago, the first tranche of them arrived from Britain, mainly recruited from the unemployed veterans of World War 1. They had 3 months training and their pay was ten shillings a day. Their ‘uniforms’ were mixed, some with Khaki pants, some with black pants and vice versa with jackets, there were different hats, belts, coats and boats; their mismatched uniform got them the name ‘irregulars’ but the name that has stuck with them most is Black and Tans. Though they served with the RIC, they never acted as policemen, their experience being in the trenches of World War 1. They did not have the experience or training to deal with ordinary civilian populations and assumed the role of an occupation army as the War of Independence was raging and the English authorities needed more ‘help’ controlling the natives. They were irregular in every sense of the word; there was no definite period of service, no pension rights and practically no discipline.
Eventually, there were over 20,000 Black and Tans distributed throughout Ireland to help police and authorities to quell any discontent.
They were given carte blanch to shoot on sight if orders were not obeyed. Their ‘mistakes’ over overlooked. They burnt towns and cities, tortured and killed people and terrorized citizens up and down the country.
As written by Meath TD Peadar Tóibín last year after the governments announcement of a commemoration of the RIC : “1920 was the year that Irish War of Independence/Tan War really gathered pace. That year many incidents that remain ingrained in the Irish psyche took place, including the murders of 14 civilians by the Royal Irish Constabulary and the British Army at a football match in Croke Park; the murder of the republican mayor of Cork, Tómas Mac Curtain, by camouflaged RIC policemen; the death on hunger strike of three imprisoned IRA volunteers, including Terence Mac Swiney, Mac Curtain’s successor; the RIC and British Army’s burning of numerous population centres, including Cork, Balbriggan and Trim; the hanging of 18-year old IRA volunteer Kevin Barry; and the IRA’s ambush of RIC Auxiliary paramilitaries at Kilmichael.
Some less remembered incidents include the RIC/Black and Tan murder of Galway’s Fr. Michael Griffin; the IRA’s assassinations of prominent Dublin G-Division political detectives; and the particularly savage torture of IRA volunteers Tom Hales and Patrick Harte.”
Or to consider consider the fate of Thomas Hodgett, a non-combatant, a Loyalist, a Protestant and Postmaster of Navan Post office in 1920. The RIC took him from his house in the early hours of the morning, dragged him through the streets, shot him in the chest and threw his body into the river Boyne only for it to be found five weeks later.
Or the fate of pregnant Ellen Quinn, (24), who was shot while sitting outside her house with her 9-month-old baby near Gort and bled to death the same night. She left three children, the eldest of whom was not yet four years old.
The Black and Tans indiscriminate brutality and violence will not be forgotten.
Photo: Eileen Quinn, the pregnant mother of 3 who was murdered by the Black and Tans as she waited with her baby in front of her house : credit: RTÉ website