Hard Station – Frank McNally on a notorious but fictional Garda inspection from May 1923

As the decades passed, the murky context was lost

One of the lesser milestones in the decade of centenaries involves a notorious – and entirely fictional – inspection of a Garda station in rural Galway during the early days of May 1923.

It was purportedly carried out by the then Deputy Commissioner Coogan, who was a real person and who two years later would conduct a real tour of stations, reporting the often-dire conditions in colourful prose.

Everything in his “copy of inspection minute” for Corrofin barracks on May 11th , 1923, however, was a work of mischievous imagination, by an author unknown.

Corrofin did not yet have a Garda station then, in fact. But the phantom inspection somehow found its way into files of the period, with unexpected consequences later.


Here is the text:

“Visited station in conjunction with divisional tour, Sergeant W. Lennon, 231, and station party present. When I entered the Sergeant sat glowering at me and refused to call the party to attention. I called the party to attention and Garda O’Neill tried to rise and fell into the fireplace. I asked the sergeant to account for the state of affairs existing at the station and he replied in a manner as would do justice to the worst corner boy in the slums of London.

“I searched the barracks and found that a seizure of poteen (three gallons) made the previous day had been almost consumed by the station party. The barrack servant sat with a baton in her hand protecting the remainder of it and refused to move. She also had possession of the station books and records and refused to allow me to inspect them.

“In my examination of the barracks I found that the w.c. was filled with station records, apparently used by the station party on their visits there.

“I heard noises coming from the rear of the cells. When I went to investigate I found three young ladies there. I took statements from them and they complained that when passing the barracks they were forcibly taken in by Sgt Lennon and Guards Burke and O’Toole for a purpose better imagined than described [. . .]

“The whole situation at Corrofin was disgraceful. I returned to Tuam and had all the station party suspended immediately. I hope that the Divisional officer will ensure that these men discharge their local debts before they themselves are discharged from the Force.”

Copies of the “report” were circulated widely, making their way into the personal archives of the purported author, Deputy Commissioner Coogan, as well as Free State defence minister Richard Mulcahy, among others. As the decades passed, their murky context was lost. At which point, the text resurfaced as suspected history.

In his 1966 book Ireland Since the Rising, Tim Pat Coogan – a son of DC Coogan – wrote of how the Garda Síochána rose from circumstances of extreme difficulty to become “one of the finest police forces in Europe”.

Then, introducing the Corrofin minute, he added: “The difficulties its founders had to cope with [...] are in part illustrated by this report of my father’s. (For obvious reasons I have left out names, dates and places).”

The damning portrait of a 1923 station was in turn seized upon by one of the book’s reviewers, Proinsias MacAonghusa, who rather unfortunately used it to challenge the “myth” of the force’s heroic work after the Civil War. “A look at Tim Pat Coogan’s book is sufficient to realise how undisciplined many guards were in those years,” he wrote.

A few years later, still gathering weight, the report also surfaced in full in Edna O’Brien’s memoir, Mother Ireland, as part of a reflection on the “national sport” of drinking:

O’Brien’s introduction to it began: “Under the influence men could do anything and even some members of the Garda had lapsed, according to the Superintendent who paid one of his annual though unannounced calls”.

It took another senior Garda, Patrick Carroll – a Commissioner in the 1960s – to put the genie back in the bottle. Carroll had worked alongside DC Coogan during the years in question. Writing in a 1975 issue of Garda Review, he revealed the Corrofin saga to have been a joke that got out of hand.

If the hoax was worthy of Flann O’Brien – whose absurdist novel The Third Policeman resurfaced around the same time as the Corrofin saga – we can rule that serial prankster out of the list of suspects.

In his history of the Garda, the late Gregory Allen suggests the true author had inside knowledge of station rolls and registers and had inherited the “apocrypha of the old police . . . retold by former RIC officers in post-prandial banter”.

Allen had first heard the story from another, later deputy commissioner. But his source was circumspect about the culprit’s identity. As Allen concluded: “The evidence, pointing to one named individual, is far from conclusive.”