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4 – The Special Constabulary

Six counties, security and the birth of the U.S.C.

In the aftermath of the Swanzy Riots, Lisburn Urban District Council swore in hundreds of special constables to help keep peace in the town. Several of these Special Constables were later charged with rioting and looting offences in connection to the August violence.

Ernest Clarke, Assistant Under-Secretary for Ireland, had visited Lisburn in September and October 1920, examined the Lisburn Specials, and left ‘delighted with all that he learned and saw’. By November, recruitment for a new province-wide Special Constabulary (later known as the U.S.C.) was underway. Alarmed at the rising tide of violence in the north, Sir James Craig had argued that the six counties (future Northern Ireland) needed an armed force to protect the ‘loyal’ population.

The force was split into three classes: the ‘A’ specials would top up the R.I.C. in Ulster, while the non-uniformed and unpaid ‘B’ class patrolled their local area regularly. ‘C’ class constables were only mobilised in emergencies. Potential recruits enlisted in local police stations. Lisburn had two barracks, at Smithfield and Railway Street; Largymore barracks had been closed following the August riots. With limited training, the new special constables were deployed by December 1920.

While recruitment was initially slow, by 1922 there were over 35,000 members. Very few Catholics joined the U.S.C. it was viewed as a partisan force.

Recruitment ad for the Ulster Special Constabulary, Lisburn Standard, 3rd December 1920

Advert, Recruitment for the Ulster Special Constabulary in Lisburn, 3rd December 1920

ILC&LM Collection

Uniform, Early Ulster Special Constabulary, 1920-2

Uniform, Ulster Special Constabulary, 1920-21

LMILC.1984.2000

The A-Specials were originally given R.I.C. uniforms.

Special Constable George Graham - ILC&LM Collection

Photograph: Special Constable George Graham, 1921

ILC&LM Collection

Special Constable George Graham, a 22-year-old ‘A’ Special from Church Street, Lisburn, was wounded in an ambush in Newry in April 1921. He had previously been a member of the 11th battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, although was initially too young for deployment to France in 1915. He later spent time in Germany as P.O.W. Constable Graham died of his wounds on 28 July 1921, and a large funeral was held in his honour. In attendance was the Lisburn Specials and R.I.C., members of the British Legion, Temperance L.O.L., and his coffin was pulled on a gun carriage by the Norfolk Regiment.

Many unionists were reassured by the presence of the specials. Yet, General Nevil Macready (1862-1946), head of the British Army in Ireland saw the danger of raising a one-sided force to help police Ulster – it would ‘probably sow the seeds of civil war’. In Parliament one of the leaders of nationalists in Ulster, Joe Devlin M.P., argued that ‘the protestants are to be armed’, and the pogrom against Catholics ‘is to be made less difficult. Instead of paving stones and sticks they are to be given rifles’.

Special Constabulary Castle Gardens - Lisburn Museum Collection

Special Constabulary, Castle Gardens, Lisburn c.1922

ILC&LM Collection

Silver cup, Ulster Special Constabulary, County Antrim

Object: Silver cup, rifle shooting, Ulster Special Constabulary, County Antrim

LMILC.1991.82

This cup was presented by the Officers and men of the U.S.C., Co. Antrim, in honour of Lieut Colonel James Sargent, DSO. Originally from Bristol, he was a Boer War and Great War veteran, and served with the U.S.C. from 1922-48. Sargent oversaw the work of the Specials on behalf of the R.U.C. Inspector General, and was awarded an O.B.E. for his services in 1938. The cup was won by Langford Lodge in 1949, and Lisburn in 1960-2, 1964, and 1968-69.

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