A century after he led the first members of An Garda Síochána into Dublin Castle, or as Michael Collins dubbed it “the dreaded Bastille”, Michael Staines has been honoured in his native Newport, Co Mayo.
Like so many of his contemporaries, Staines’s complex legacy brought him on a road from being a revolutionary to a visionary for the upholding of a peaceful democracy as the first Garda commissioner. During his short tenure in the role — he was also a sitting Dáil deputy — he faced a major mutiny in Kildare barracks during the seismic year of 1922.
His grandson, Michael Staines, told The Irish Times that his grandfather’s complex legacy had left him fighting in the GPO, a stretcher-bearer for the injured James Connolly and interned at Frongoch, Wales, with many others in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising.
“He was the ‘taoiseach’ in Frongoch and it was there he became great friends with Michael Collins,” Mr Staines said. “An Garda Síochána was set up during extraordinarily difficult times in the middle of a civil war. It is really a miracle that the force survived those tumultuous years at all.”
Mr Staines addressed hundreds of people, including 65 from the extended Staines family and the current Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who gathered in sunny conditions on Wednesday on the edge of the Black Oak river, under Newport’s imposing viaduct.
The keynote address was given by Garda sergeant and historian Dr John Reynolds, who explained that in 1982 the Staines family donated Michael Staines’s archive, which has now been digitised as part of the force’s decade of centenary celebrations.
Dr Reynolds noted one interesting anecdote about the Kildare mutiny was the fact that the new recruits had been asked to leave their quarters at the RDS because the horse show was about to be held.
He said a majority of these recruits had come directly from the ranks of the IRA and the 1,000 mutineers demanded the dismissal from the new force of former senior RIC members. Meanwhile, civil war was looming and the challenges to the civic guards would significantly escalate.
Mr Harris said it was poignant to unveil a monument in the town park to a man who was born in nearby Kiltarnaght in 1885 and went on to lead the country’s first police force aged just 37. He said Staines had “moulded the tradition of unarmed policing by consent that has evolved into the present-day An Garda Síochána”.
“Commissioner Staines’s vision for our organisation was for it to depend on its moral authority in Irish society, as loyal servants to its people. And that vision has gone on to define our policing presence in Ireland,” he said. “His contribution to our organisation continues to be seen.”