clear his name ...
William Geary recently celebrated his 104th birthday in
New York. For most of his life he tried to clear his name
following his sacking from the Clare Garda Division in 1928,
writes Nollaig O Gadhra.
Time-wraps are always a curious thing. They are similar
to the feeling you encounter when meeting people of a great
age, who lived and worked in different era. Sometimes they
find it difficult to come to terms with the changed situation
of their heyday some 20, 50, even 60 years ago.
One such man is William Geary, the Limerick-born Garda detective,
who was sacked in controversial circumstances from the Clare
division of the force in the summer of 1928 and whose life-long
attempt to clear his name only gained results a few years
ago when he was 100 years of age.
Mr Geary, who is still hale and hearty, spoke to me on the
phone from New York recently, celebrated his 104th birthday
of February 28. He intended to go on a retreat for the day
with some clerical friends; he has been a devout Catholic
all his life and some of the local parish clergy in New
York, along with the Co. Limerickmens Association
have been some of his most loyal supporters during the long,
when he was campaigning to clear his name.
William was born in the neighbouring parish of Nallyagran,
on the Limerick-Cork border. He took part in the War of
Independence activities in that area where he took the Free
State side in the Civil War and joined An Garda Síochána
shortly after the force was founded.
Young and talented guards of the homegrown variety were
in short supply at that time, since most of those involved
in the RIC tradition had either been shot, retired or run
out of town during the independence effort.
William, therefore was promoted rapidly in the new force
and finished up in Clare in the mid-1920s, where there was
still huge opposition to the Free State compromise and relations
between the new Gardaí and the local IRA units were
These were the people who had established local Sinn Féin
courts and police in the year up to the Treaty. They totally
rejected the idea that they were illegal or criminal in
any way, and could point to their record of peace and justice
enforcement in pre-Treaty days, to prove this.
But there were also, of course, outlaw elements who had
availed of the opportunity presented by the civil unrest
and that probably a majority of people in clare had no time
for the Free State administration.
This was particularly difficult in rural situations where
old scores about land and evictions, land grabbing and repossession
had not always been resolved.
Also local Gardaí and IRA units were seen to take
sides in what were bitter and complex family rows.
William Geary freely admits that he had been moved to Clare
by Commissioner Eoin ODuffy and Deputy Commissioner
Eamonn Coogan to clean up the place.
The chief superintendent was David Neligan, a fellow West
Limerick man, best known perhaps for the role he played
as Michael Collinss Spy in in the Castle
during the Tan War and who wrote a book with the title.
Neligan was also in Jerry in the spring of 1923 and is said
to have advised on the selection of untried and uncharged
prisoners, who were tied around a mine an blown to bits
at Ballyseedy and other places in Kerry in March 1923.
Given this hard school of training, it is not surprising
that Neligan might have looked the other way when Sergeant
Geary and his officers decided to use draconian powers which
the Gardaí possessed, against local Republicans thought
to be involved in criminal activity.
Within a short while of his arrival in Clare, Sergeant Geary
has acquired a bad reputation amongst a broadly
Even those who supported the Free State or even law and
order felt that he may have been too enthusiastic in his
use of the emergency legislation of the period.
It seems the IRA at national level decided to teach Geary
a lesson, if only because they wanted to make sure that
the type of efficient, anti-Republican policing would not
spread to other counties.
These were troubled times. Fianna Fáil had broken
with Sinn Féin in 1926 and Eamon de Valera was heading
up a new constitutional party in bitter opposition to the
Cosgraves Government lived on a knife-edge from September
1927 until they were finally defeated in the next General
Election in February 1932. In the intervening years further
measures were introduced against Republicans of all types,
including the reintroduction of flogging, while the Catholic
Church took an anti-Republican stance in 1930-31 especially
against the new socialist grouping Saor Éire.
William Geary now fully accepts to teach him a lesson in
1928 was the Director of IRA intelligence, Seán MacBride.
Later on Mac Bride had a distinguished legal career, founded
Amnesty International in 1961 and won both the Lenin and
Nobel Peace prizes.
Sadly, William had gone to America in disgrace following
his dismissal on allegations of having taken an IRA bribe.
He tried to get his name cleared and his pension restored.
He was not finally compensated until he reached his 100th
birthday in 1999 and the honours for this in the end went
to Bertie Ahern and John ODonoghue.
Even after the death of Seán MacBride it seems that
ministers in the Department of Justice were reluctant to
pursue the Geary case. But his daughter Helen, who calls
to see him in his flat every day, has a daughter teaching
in Dublin and this helps him maintain his links with the
Courtesy of the Clare Champion