The story of one of Collins inside men in the DMP G Division

Eamon “Ned” Broy was born into a farming family on the edge of the Bog of Allen in Ballinure near Rathangan Co. Kildare. In later life he recorded his youth as having been influenced by the pervasive power of local landlords backed by a substantial British garrison in the nearby Curragh camp. He also recalled a sense of local pride during the centenary of the 1798 Rebellion, during which the United Irishmen had prosecuted a successful battle at Rathangan. Broy counted one of his ancestors among the republican forces and could relate some specifics of his participation. He also recalled that a local valley was known as the Soldier’s Gap and was reputedly the site where a British dispatch rider was killed on his way to summon reinforcements to Rathangan. It seems the tale had considerable validity as the soldier’s body was found during road widening operations more than a century later. Broy claimed that he and his neighbours ‘hated the very name of England.’[1]

Broy’s Witness Statement is a romantic portrayal of life in rural Ireland. It continually refers to the people’s desire for self-government and their hatred of the English (not British) oppressor. The continual recurrence and re-iteration of these themes is not subtle. Broy seems very keen to justify the revolutionary violence in which he participated, by ensuring that the reader is repeatedly reminded that the people wanted self-government and hated English rule. Like a modern-day politician, he draws very firm conclusions about what the people wanted, liked, disliked, and which rebellions they approved of and didn’t, without ever mentioning which survey technique allowed him to reach these sweeping conclusions.

Broy was a keen and talented athlete and competed in running, hurdling, high jump and long jump. He had several wins at local meets in the Kildare and Dublin areas. He claimed that his interest in athletics was what initially made him interested in joining the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) as they had a talented athletics team at the time. He also emphasises his desire to go to America ‘later on’ and claims that the DMP would come under the authority of the Irish parliament after the passing of the Home Rule Act, where the RIC would not. This is not strictly true of the 1914 Act where the Irish parliament could have placed itself in charge of the RIC six years after the passing of the act. Broy makes some interesting distinctions between the DMP and the RIC, claiming that the latter were a far more militant force instructed in military tactics, and that many of the ‘higher officers … belonged to an anti-Irish caste’.[2] By contrast, he opines that the majority of the DMP members would not have allowed themselves to be used in opposition to Home Rule and that several of them ‘neither touched the bible nor repeated the words’ of the oath which prevented their belonging to secret societies. He paints a picture of a police force which was openly nationalist, and where many of its members were unafraid of public expressions of defiance.

Broy passed the examination for the DMP’s dective service (G Division) in 1915. He explains his appointment to the G Divison’s political section as being a product of his ability to assist in its modernisation, as officers of his comparative youth were not usually appointed to that service. Nonetheless, it is difficult to understand why Broy, who according to himself was openly nationalist and defiant in former years, was appointed to such a sensitive area. One would have to assume that either Broy was exaggerating his Nationalist credentials, or his employers were extremely negligent in their investigations of the backgrounds of officers staffing their most secretive section. Broy ended up typing weekly reports of the movements of Republican suspects, to and from, and within, Dublin. The men who shadowed them around the city handed hand-written reports to Broy, and he typed them up for further distribution.

Broy is perhaps the most famous rebel to have served in the British forces during the Easter Rising. Although he claimed that he was not under arms, he was within the police office on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street Garda Station) which was defended by a rag tag garrison of British military home on leave. It seems that he was peripherally involved in some British intelligence operations in the wake of the rising and shared in their habit of referring to the rebels as ‘Sinn Féiners.’ It was in the months that followed that Broy first made contact with IRA personnel returning confiscated literature to them in a piecemeal fashion that he claimed was some ‘help to them in picking up the threads of their organisation again.’ His key contacts during this period were the Healy and Hanrahan families in the North inner city. He transferred documents to Hanrahan’s shop on 384 North Circular Road via his cousin Patrick Tracy who would call to the shop thereby ensuring that G-Man Broy was never seen regularly entering a known Sinn Féin premises. Broy had considerable leverage in his section of G Division as it had been run-down and understaffed following the rising. Those who retired or were transferred were not replaced as the authorities had formed the opinion that the Irish republicans had been defeated. Broy therefore, spent a considerable amount of time in the office on his own.[3]

Broy played a dangerous game when asked to photograph republicans pretending that he couldn’t use the camera, or that it was broken, on seral occasions. It seems that at least one of his superiors suspected that he was deliberately avoiding photographing suspects. Nonetheless the authorities did nothing to remove him from his position within the G Division. Shortly afterwards Broy passed information about the forthcoming German plot arrests through O Hanrahan’s shop. To his astonishment and annoyance, the men who he had so warned, were still arrested. He could only conclude that they had wanted to be.

In the wake of this event, Broy was first brought into Michael Collins’s circle of confidants. Collins and Broy seem to have enjoyed a friendly relationship. Each had an interest in athletics and each was deeply committed to the republican cause. Broy claimed that his knowledge of policing, as imparted to Collins, was essential in the latter’s decision to wage war on the RIC and smash their network or rural barracks. Broy also claimed that he advised Collins not to wage war on the DMP (with the exception of political detectives in G-Division) as it was generally a more nationalist force. Thus, after consultation with Broy, it was decided that DMP targets should be generally avoided, and even the famous G Men, warned before further action was taken. The first man to receive such a warning was Denis O’Brien who was tied to a railing and told that further intelligence work directed against the republican movement would be more sternly dealt with. Broy claimed that O’Brien was grateful for the warning. Others like Detective Sergeant Patrick Smyth chose to ignore such warnings (he had been warned not to testify against Piaras Beaslai in Court) and were killed for so doing. Smyth was killed in July 1919 and his death was followed by a lull in IRA activity against the G-Division. Broy claimed that the lull was a result of Collins’s nervousness regarding public opinion in the wake of the attack. Smyth didn’t die instantly but lingered for five weeks and his eventual death seems to have provoked a flurry of anti-republican activity. It was against this backdrop that Collins formed the famous ‘Squad’ in September.[4]

Broy played a central role in bringing uniformed members of the DMP into Collins’s confidence. Some of those men, and Broy himself, were key in planning the events of Bloody Sunday. He also provided Collins with interpretations as to the reasoning behind various DMP deployments, movements and general activities, as well as providing Collins with the method by which RIC messages could be deciphered. Throughout this period Broy met with senior republicans in a social manner on several occasions. It seems like remarkable risks were taken by men who should not have been seen in each other’s company, but they had such affection for each other that they found the temptation of socialising, too strong. But Collins, Broy and their company had a daring streak that one suspects was not common. At no time were their ‘nerves of steel’ better illustrated than in the now famous story of the night Broy snuck Collins (and Seán Nunan) into the file room in Great Brunswick Street Station. There, the two IRA members, spent some five hours pouring over G-Division’s records of Republican activity.

Broys activities might have been uncovered after a raid on Eileen McGrane’s flat on Dawson Street secured documents left there by Tom Cullen. The document cache made it clear that the IRA were receiving help from inside the DMP and an investigation was launched. As a result of the investigation the political section of G-Division and most of its files were moved to Dublin Castle, where Broy no longer had access to them. Although Broy escaped for a period, due to some of the captured documents being verified as not typed on his typewriter (Collins’s secretary had made copies on hers), he was eventually arrested and detained in Arbour Hill. He remained there until the truce, with Collins’s agents outside making sure that it was difficult to mount a case against him. To that end, they re-located a witness to America, and dropped a note into Great Brunswick Street demanding who ‘this Ned Broy was’ of another unknown agent. [5]

Broy accompanied Collins to London for the Treaty negotiations having been appointed his ‘private Private Secretary.’ In that capacity Broy employed himself in ensuring Collins’s security. He accompanied him to morning masses and even went as far as procuring an aircraft should Collins need to make a quick exit from London. The plane was called ‘the big fella.’

After taking the pro-treaty side in the Civil War Broy was appointed Secretary in the Department of Civil Aviation. He was subsequently re-united with the ‘Big Fella’ aircraft after he was appointed adjutant to the Air Corps of which it formed a part, in 1922. But policing seems to have been his first love and he soon returned to the DMP, becoming Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Gardai in 1925. Further promotion followed in 1929 when he was appointed Commandant at the Garda Depot. The installation of a Fianna Fáil government in 1932 changed the political climate in Ireland as tension between elements of the former Anti-Treaty IRA (who supported Fianna Fáil) and the Gardai mounted. A further election in 1933 was peppered by violent altercations between the factions. A particularly violent incident in Kilrush resulted in the Head of the Special Branch David Nelligan being removed from his post. Nelligan had been another of Collins’s intelligence agents and he was now replaced by his former comrade, Broy. In his new capacity Broy investigated the leaking of sensitive papers regarding an investigation into alleged communism within the IRA from Garda files, resulting in the arrests of senior Gardai who had been close colleagues of Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy. The newly installed Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera had already become alarmed at O’Duffy’s involvement in trying to persuade WT Cosgrave to attempt a military coup rather than hand over power to Fianna Fáil. DeVlaera had had enough and fired O’Duffy (though he did offer him an alternative position) replacing him with Broy.[6]

In his new position Broy quickly came into conflict with O’Duffy. O’Duffy had become involved in the ‘Army Comrades Association’ – an organisation set up to protect Cumann na nGaedheal election rallies from IRA attack. He changed its name to the National Guard, though the organisation was better known as ‘the Blueshirts’ after it took on many of the trappings of European fascism. As the Blueshirts seemed to drift closer and closer to fascism, they planned a show of force reminiscent of Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome.’ The Blueshirts planned their ‘March on Dublin’ for August 1933 to mark the anniversaries of Griffith and Collins. DeValera banned the march and Broy’s police raided the homes of key Blueshirts seizing arms. The following year Broy, fearing that he could not command the support of Treatyite sections of the Gardai, formed a new force of armed Special Constables, many of them formerly republican IRA. They were tasked with censuring the Blueshirts after the organisation was proscribed. This organisation was nicknamed the ‘Broy Harriers’ which reference the Wicklow athletic club, Bray Harriers. [7]

Broy’s harriers were used against all proscribed organisations. First against the Blushirts, but later against the remnants of the IRA. They entered their most controversial phase when they were used against protesting farmers during the Economic War, when the seizure of cattle in lieu of withheld annuities became the policy of the de Valera government. The Blueshirts backed the farmers (and many farmers joined the Blushirts) while Broy’s harriers upheld the law seizing cattle and auctioning them off. The most infamous clash came at Marsh’s Yard in Cork city in August 1934. Farmers tried to disrupt an auction of seized cattle and the Broy Harriers fired into the crowd. There was one fatality and several injuries. Ned Broy’s name would forever be associated with the forcible seizure of cattle from Irish citizens, by an Irish government.

Broy pursued his love of athletics through his appointment as President of the Olympic Council of Ireland. He served in that capacity from 1935 to 1950. He retired from his position at the top of the Gardai in 1938. His wife Elizabeth died twenty years later but Broy himself lived into his eighty fifth year. He died in January 1972 and was survived by two sons and two daughters. A monument to Broy was unveiled in 2016 at his grave Coolegagen cemetery[8]

Ned Broy reported directly to the two giants of twentieth century Ireland, Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera. He was affectionate towards the former but served with equal distinction under the latter. Through his decades of public life, Broy served Ireland.

[1] BMH, Eamon Broy Witness Statement, WS1280.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid.

[4] T Ryle Dwyer, Michael Collins: The Man Who Won the War, Mercier Press, Cork, 2009, pp118-126.

[5] BMH, Eamon Broy Witness Statement, WS1280.

[6] McGarry, pp192-6. Nationalist and Leinster Times, 28 January 1972.

[7] McGarry, pp216-217.

[8] Nationalist and Leinster Times, 28 January 1972.

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