To 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 tense.

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 O’Duffy 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 Collins’s “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 Republican community.

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 Cosgrave regime.

Cosgrave’s 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 O’Donoghue.

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 “old sod”.

Courtesy of the Clare Champion
March 2003