Why? Garda Museum Closure

The sudden closure of the Garda Museum at Garda College has shocked the Frontline and many others in the Force. Tom Daly expresses the disappointment of many

The Garda Museum is gone. Closed. Kaput. To borrow a phrase from Monty Python’s famous, “Dead Parrot Sketch,” it is now an “ex-Museum.” And the Python parallels don’t end there. By the time word got slowly out that the Museum was under threat, less than two months ago, it was already a fait accompli. The deal was done. The initial deep upset turned to outrage amongst the volunteers who have staffed it for nearly 20 years, the hundreds of contributors, and the many thousands who have enjoyed it.
A curious media inquired. It is not closed, they were assured. It has simply moved. It had been turned into a walking tour. And anyway, it wasn’t a museum. That is in Dublin. It was simply a collection of policing memorabilia.

The museum in the Garda College was located in the old Garrison Church of what was once Richmond Barracks, Templemore. Staffed entirely by volunteers, it was formally opened as a museum in 2002 by then Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne. The official Garda Museum in Dublin Castle had suffered years of neglect and under funding and was shortly to be evicted on health and safety grounds from its ancient home in the Records Tower in the Castle, and the small exhibit of artefacts related to Irish Policing in the National Museum had not yet opened.

In every sense this was, until its closure, the only real museum to the rich tapestry of policing on this island. The tiny interpretative centre type exhibit in the Lower Courtyard is now the official Garda Museum. It is glossy. It is well done and nicely presented. But a museum it isn’t. The small section in the National Museum makes a good effort, but it is no more than that; a small section.

The College Museum, from a small start, had grown to be the most impressive collection of policing artefacts on this island. In the past few weeks many of the exhibits have been reclaimed by their owners. Most of the remaining exhibits have been boxed up and returned to storage. It is all but impossible that items of this nature, curated with such skill, will ever be gathered in the one place again.
Many thousands of historical documents collated during the life of the Museum have been boxed up. No plan to archive these, nor any discussion on conserving and archiving this treasure trove of documentation, has been advanced.

A handful of artefacts are being redistributed in cabinets around the College, un-curated and without context; reduced to decorations.
The removal of Garda Management from the financial management of the Garda College was inevitable, in the current climate. The scaling back of services and training that will follow on the reopening of the College at the conclusion of this period of this emergency, is to be regretted and hopefully temporary.

But the closure of the Museum is a mistake, a step too far and one that cuts too deep.

Policing is a lonely profession. We fight battles, take casualties but score few victories and there are few statues to police officers. We serve and pass from public memory, soon forgotten. We and our colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland are successor forces to the Royal Irish Constabulary – a Force that served the Irish People, for good and bad, for 86 years, before being written out of Irish history for nearly a century – its epitaph being written by those who defeated it.

One of the offspring of the RIC – the Royal Ulster Constabulary – was likewise consigned to history in 2001, and mainstream opinion has cast them as the villains of modern Irish history. We need to draw a lesson from the manner in which these two Forces have lost out to history – it is folly to expect others to preserve your memory as you would hope.
Our Museum was more than a collection of artefacts – it was a repository of our collective memory. It belonged to us and, more importantly, those we serve.

In less than two years, we celebrate our centenary as a police force. Let it not be a sterile celebration. It would be a fitting gift to a Garda Síochána under reform to have a Commissioner, who served in our sister force, the PSNI, reopen and rededicate our Museum, which has always celebrated all traditions of policing on this island.

Garda Tom Daly is a serving member of An Garda Síochána based in Cappoquin

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

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