Irish Revenue Police, 1832-57
Fig. 1: Irish Revenue Police sword, circa 1840. Bronze hilt showing 'Revenue Police' on a band with crown over three shamrocks.
Formed in 1832 to enforce the unpopular excise laws, the Irish Revenue Police’s duties involved the detection of illegal liquor stills and the capture of their operators who were attempting to avoid the payment of excise duty on their product. The distillation of illegal liquor, known as poitín, was widespread and lucrative and the heavily armed Revenue Police met fierce and dangerous opposition from the beginning.
The Revenue Police patrolled in bands of twenty to thirty men. It was not unusual for them to come under fire from not only illegal still operators but in some instances from the inhabitants of districts which they patrolled. In June 1833, after surprising a group making the illicit drink, the Revenue Police brought two men into custody. As the captives were being transported back to Crossmolina, County Mayo, the Revenue Police were set upon by country people who attempted to rescue the prisoners. One man was shot dead during the clash. A more vicious scene took place on an island in the River Shannon, between counties Longford and Roscommon the same year. The Revenue Police had just seized 800 barrels of illegal malt when up to twelves boats of armed men challenged them. Several police were seriously wounded by gun fire and an attacker was killed.
In Mountfield, County Tyrone in November 1851, a party of Revenue Police came upon a still in full work and took three prisoners after a scuffle. When returning to Mountfield at 2.30am, the party was fired upon by men concealed in heath. When a policeman was shot, the Revenue Police immediately formed a forward moving square with the prisoners held in the centre. The hindmost rank of the square returned fire in the direction of the heath. The volley of shots only ceased when the prisoners called out for their comrades to stop firing for fear they would be shot themselves. Only then could the revenue party move on safely to Mountfield.
The uniforms of the Revenue Police were not unlike those of the County Constabulary and the later Irish Constabulary of the time. Early full dress included a plain shako as head gear and during the summer months white trousers replaced the blue (Fig.2). Shoulder scales were worn to display rank and for protection. The undress shell-jacket was also popular (Fig.3). Weapons carried by the Revenue Police included sword and carbine.
Fig. 2: Constable of the Revenue Police, 1835.
Fig. 3: Officer of the Revenue Police, 1850.
Despite an upsurge in illicit distillation in the north and west of the country, it was reported as early as 1843 that the Revenue Police would be shortly altogether dispensed with and drafted into the Irish Constabulary, who would then perform their duties.
The Revenue Police were subsequently amalgamated into the Irish Constabulary in 1857. A report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue which was published in June 1858 stated that the Irish Constabulary were so successful in aiding the Revenue Police in halting the distillation of illegal liquor that it was recommended that the former should replace the Revenue Police altogether. The Revenue Police had consisted of 1,131 persons. That figure comprised of one chief inspector, 78 officers, 1,010 men, 3 clerks and a messenger in the chief inspector’s office as well as 38 officers and men of the steamer ‘Seamew’. The 1858 report continued, “It was desirable not only as a measure of economy, but of justice to this large body of public servants, to find employment elsewhere for all those who could perform efficient service”. The Inspector-General of the Irish Constabulary agreed to admit 564 of the 1,010 men and 27 of the 78 officers into the ranks of the police.