The Black & Tans 1920-1921: A Complete Alphabetical, Short History and Genealogical Guide
by Jim Herlihy (Four Courts Press, €50/£45.00, also in paperback)
Back in 1971 the Rev. Professor Edward Norman remarked in his controversial History of Modern Ireland that journalist Richard Bennett›s sensational 1959 book on the Black and Tans, the only one that then existed, read like a novel.
So indeed it did, not that I suspect that many people now know the book. Historians have now taken over this territory. Yet mysteries still surround the force and its activities. We have to remember that given the post-war unemployment, and the willingness to do anything that the government would pay for, men were easily recruited.
This book gives a meticulous roll call of their name as recorded; who they were, where they came from and where they later went to remains unexamined. A friend of a friend that I used to meet in other years in the National Library or in the Kilkenny Centre was engaged on a great task of assembling the names of those officers involved in intelligence work in Ireland; this great work never came to completion.
It used to be said that the well-blooded ex-Tans were packed off to the Palestine Mandate where the British employed them as police men where they were able to indulge themselves in indiscriminate killings of Arabs and Jews.
(They could not, I think, have been employed in the Treaty Port of Shanghai, as I understand on the authority of a footnote in Dr Conrad Arensberg’s Irish Countryman (1936), the British police for that enclave were all recruited from one favoured Catholic townland in Clare.)
So this is a valuable book, exemplary work by Jim Herlihy, who has done so much work on the policing of Ireland a century ago. But for others this is only the beginning: what became of the Tans and where they came from will occupy some researchers for years to come. Let us hope they fare better than my acquaintance in the National Library.