The idea for book, Ireland’s Special Branch – Defending the State 1922-1947, came to me as I sat in my office in Special Branch HQ in Harcourt Square, Dublin around 2003. Yes, it may have taken James Joyce seven years to write his opus Ulysses but it has taken me nearly twenty years to finish this book. Following a check on Amazon and the public library archives I discovered there was no book in existence exclusively on that section of the Garda Siochana though they always got a passing mention in books on the force.
Had I realised what a mammoth task it was going to be, I probably wouldn’t have started, however, to borrow a phrase – “I’ve started, so I’ll finish”. I always loved history in school and I have written many historical articles over the years for garda magazines. I gradually began collecting information on the early years of the Special Branch, reading many books, scanning the contemporary newspapers online and spent many weeks perusing files in the National Archives in Bishop Street.
As time went on it almost became an obsession and I came to realise the invaluable services to the state provided by these early detectives whom I came to admire. They were tough men I can tell you – all former pro-Treaty IRA volunteers who had supported Michael Collins’ decision to sign the Anglo-Irish treaty. The early years of the new Irish State were fraught, or as Kevin O’Higgins described it – “The Provisional Government was simply eight young men in the City Hall standing amidst the ruins of one administration, with the foundation of another not yet laid and with wild men screaming through the keyholes.” These “wild men” considered themselves to be the real government of Ireland and viewed the newly elected government as traitors and British stooges to whom they owed no loyalty, as they had failed to achieve a 32-county Republic. It was the job of the Special Branch to deal with these malcontents, which they did with gusto, backed up by draconian emergency legislation providing for sweeping powers of arrest, internment, and summary executions.
Sometimes I would hit a mental block and leave it aside for a few months before starting again with renewed energy. I gathered up over two hundred photographs, many kindly donated by relatives of murdered detectives, although only a maximum of thirty or so were suitable for inclusion in the book. I finally had reams of information assembled and I then started the task of sorting it into chapters and putting things in their proper sequence. I finally had it all sorted and decided to send it to a publisher in the naive expectation they would of course be delighted to take it on. But back came rejection No. 1 – which did not improve my ego, so I then decided to try a second publisher – this time I didn’t even get a rejection, just silence – no answer. My teeth were grinding at this stage – bad enough to get a rejection but to be ignored was even worse, and out of pure pig iron I didn’t even contact them to enquire about it.
I was determined to get it published however – even if I had to self-publish, and I found plenty of companies online who would do it. I then saw an advertisement for a creative writing seminar which was given by a certain Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, founder of this website. I decided to ramble along to the seminar hoping I would learn something. It was the best move I ever made. I had a notebook and pen with me and made copious notes. I learned a lot about the dos and don’ts of the writing game and the websites that should be consulted by the novice writer. Back to the drawing board again and I made many changes to my draft based on Vanessa’s advice. With her recommendation I then had the book professionally reviewed and some weeks later back came eleven pages of a report. My jaw dropped on reading it. I had too much detail about certain incidents, I should remove large sections of it completely and I should even merge certain chapters.
I was completely deflated and frankly not a little annoyed at how my “masterpiece” had been slated. Having calmed down however I could see the logic in what I was being advised to do and realised he was right and I was wrong. I took on board what was suggested and practically re-wrote the text from start to finish, removing several thousand words completely, shortening and rewording many paragraphs, and tidying up many mistakes in grammar and syntax.
Mission finally accomplished, my book was finally accepted by Wordwell Books and I now wait with trepidation on what the reaction of the critics will be. I feel a pride however that there is now a record for posterity of the courage and dedication of those Special Branch men who kept the new Irish state safe from the gunmen, though many paid with their lives in the process. To paraphrase Othello: “They have done the State some service…”
(c) Gerard Lovett
About Ireland’s Special Branch – Defending the State 1922-1947
“A gang of police thugs.”
“Renegades and perverted types.”
These were just some of the ways in which the men and women of the Garda Special Branch were described by their enemies within the anti-Treaty IRA. What follows in this work is the gripping narrative of the often brutal and violent struggle for supremacy between these two sides.
It explores the foundation and the inner workings of a squad of detectives, initially called the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), based in Oriel House, Dublin, in August 1922 and their transition into what became known as the Special Branch. It further details the history of the turbulent decades which followed, and the regular confrontations with the IRA in which many officers of Ireland would make the ultimate sacrifice.
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