Brian Griffin, The Bulkies: Police and Crime in Belfast, 1800-1865

Belfast’s police force was established in 1816. Its duties included enforcing quarantine regulations, controlling traffic and arresting drunks. Detectives were employed from the mid-1840s, though officers had been employed on plain- clothes duty since 1833. Members of the force received relatively good pay and conditions, while order was maintained by an often harsh disciplinary system. Popular attitudes toward the force were in large part formed by the nature of some of the duties the force was required to carry out. For example, the suppression of popular pastimes, such as cock fighting, and interference in the drinking habits of some of the lower orders, generated a general hostility to the police amongst Belfast’s working classes. Quite separately from this, the force also gained a reputation as a sectarian body, which alienated Catholics in the town from it.

Griffin’s overall conclusion, though, is that this reputation was largely undeserved. The recruitment procedures of the force did lead to an overwhelmingly Protestant membership, but that in itself, the author argues, is no proof that it was biased against Catholics. Rather, the evidence suggests that some efforts were made to keep politics and religion out of the police. The perception that Belfast was, in fact, policed by a confederation of Orangemen stemmed from at least three unconnected sources. First, of course, was the religious complexion of the force’s membership. Second, the reluctance of the town’s authorities to arm or train their police to cope with large- scale disorders led to them being ineffective in protecting the Catholic community from armed Protestant aggression. Finally, the political and personal animosity of some prominent individuals, such as the Whig lawyer John Rea, toward the town authorities, led them to seize upon every available opportunity to cast the police, and therefore their masters, as biased and bigoted. Such accusation can in the long run be seen as “understandable but exaggerated”

ISBN: 0716526700

1. The police in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Ireland
2. The early years: 1800-1816
3. The policeman’s lot: duties and remuneration
4. Discipline
5. Crime in Belfast, 1816-1865
6. Police response to Belfast’s growth
7. The police and the public
8. The Belfast police and the sectarian problem
9. The Bulkies depart: enter the Peelers
App. 1. Extracts from Instructions to the Belfast police force, 1856
App. 2. Extracts from Belfast borough police day book, 1860-1863