Home is where the heart is

In the second of his two-part series on the Garda College at Templemore, Tom Daly considers its uses to the present day

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Richmond Barracks, Templemore, was renamed McCann Barracks and occupied by the Free State Army and remained in steady use until after World War II. It then became one of the huge portfolio of excess Barracks inherited from colonial times and no longer needed by a shrunken, peace time army of a neutral State.

By the early 60s, the 150-year-old complex of buildings was becoming increasingly dilapidated and was only used occasionally for training camps for Reserve Units of the Defence Forces.

Change was afoot, however. Another uniformed body was about to enter a major period of transition.
By 1960 An Garda Síochána, then still small by today’s standards, numbering only 6,400, was in crisis. The official retirement age was 64 so nearly all the cadre of original members of the Force who had joined in the 1920s as young men were retiring or passing away in service and needed to be replaced.

Massive recruitment and a place to train, said recruits, was needed. But where? The solution was allegedly proffered by an enterprising but influential local politician – a well-appointed and vacant military barracks, almost perfectly located in the centre of the country, served by a comprehensive rail network. The government jumped at it and a massive renovation of the old barracks began, estimated to have cost over £560,000. The barracks was redesignated the ‘Garda Training Centre’ and the first recruits arrived by a specially chartered train (the famous Templemore Express) on Valentine’s Day, 1964. They marched in a body, accompanied by a local pipe band, clerics, politicians and most of the local population, to occupy their new home.

The training regime bore no resemblance to that of today. Days were long, and discipline was severe. Summary dismissals for petty matters were common and absolute conformity in deed and thought was a given. Recruits lived in the barracks for the full duration of their training and the weekly routine consisted of rote learning of procedure and law, physical training, endless hours of drill and enforced religious observance. The regular ‘Mass parade’ is long since a thing of the past but it was in keeping with the spirit of the times. Ireland was a country where overt religiosity was the norm and An Garda Síochána was at that time a Catholic police force for a Catholic country. Most strikingly different from today, was the absence of all bar a mere token presence of women – whom now comprise some 27% of the Force. One aspect of the training endured – those who have worked with colleagues from that generation will confirm that most retained a career long knowledge of law and procedure uncommon in the job today.

Templemore became a success for An Garda Síochána, rapidly becoming the showcase of a change resistant organisation modernising quickly. Within a few years it had entered popular culture – a mother with a son (or occasionally, back then, a daughter) in Templemore had nearly as much status in her parish as a mother with a son in religious life – reflecting the unusual social status Gardaí had (and to an extent still have) in Ireland.

In the decades that followed the only constant in the life of the College was change – closed in the late 80s for massive redevelopment, it reopened in 1989, renamed the ‘Garda College’, in much the shape as it is today; as the most modern and newest third level campus in the State with unmatched (at the time) educational and sporting facilities and a fresh, two-year academic programme of training. This was, for many years, one of the longest and most intense training programmes for police officers in the world. More massive development in the early 2000s in the face of there was more development in the early recruitment at the time, added the huge Education Block and the modernised restaurant complex. Largely mothballed for six years following the recession of 2008, the College reopened with a new, pared back training system that has itself been superseded by a much-reduced training cycle as An Garda Síochána responds to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

For over two centuries the complex of buildings that comprise the Garda College have played a central role in Irish and world history. Thousands of men left its gates to die on foreign battlefields. Prisoners from the Great War lived on the Square we spent so much time on. It played a central role in the painful birth of our Nation and the bitter Civil War that followed.
Since 1964 it has been our home – if you spent time there it shaped you and you played a part in its ongoing story. The names of those who paid the ultimate price for our service to the Irish People are recorded on its walls.
It is our home.

Tom Daly is a serving member based in Kilmacthomas. Co. Waterford. The definitive history of The Garda College is in advanced preparation. Its author is the eminent published historian and serving Sergeant, John Reynolds. It will be an essential buy.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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