THE IRISH IN IOWA

THE EVOLUTION OF THE IRISH-AMERICAN POLICEMAN

    

Davenport Times
Davenport, Scott, Iowa
November 7, 1900

Panoplied in the Uniform of the Force and Vested with Authority, He Blandly Interprets the Law Alike for the Citizen as well as the Alien.

     The age of superstition has not passed, William McKinley and his cabinet flatter themselves with the harmless notion that they rule America. And a percentage (a small percentage) of American citizens, too, are fooled into the same belief. But my respected countryman, the Irish policeman, smiles behind his hand, for he knows who the true ruler is.
     On the third day that I was in this country, travelling up West Side quarter of New York, I was attracted by a voice smacking of Cork, raised high in rebuke, and I drew to it. I found a burly Irish policeman in dispute with a citizen. The latter began quoting the law to the former. "That's the law of the United States," said the citizen with a triumphant crow. "D--- both you and the law of the United States," said the policeman. "It's my law that runs this block while I'm on it." The outraged citizen threw up his hands, but he yielded the field to his foe and went astray, cursing the Irish policeman in his heart, I know. Though the policeman was in a fury of natural indignation, and the fellow having dared to dispute this law, I approached him and said in a mollifying voice, " A contentious scoundrel, that!" "Oh, d--- every fool of them," he replied. "One would think they were running the country! Humph!", and he walked away snorting.

Brogue in the Night

     In last October I was once at midnight returning from Brooklyn. There was beautiful moonlight, so I walked the bridge. Just before me were three young scamps, English bloods. They were not behaving themselves as they might in aristocratic London. They pretended drunkenness and staggered so as seriously to disconcert the passers-by. And when they succeeded in annoying a gentleman who was conducting a lady over the bridge, they laughed, or rather brayed loudly and long. I was sorry some one did not volunteer to ring their necks. The further they went the worse they conducted themselves; but just as they reached the first pillars, a big policeman stepped forward, and, with a brogue that would butter bread, accosted them.
     "Look a-here, you three young jackanapes, straighten up and follow your nose home as fast as yer feet can carry ye. And imagine ye're Christians till ye got out o' my sight."
     The three lads did straighten up at once, but they looked at the big policeman with that haughty and astonished indignation which is a prerequisite of blue blood for the duty of the British policeman is to look after the conduct and the morals of the "lower classes" only.
     "Sirrah!" said one of them," do you know who you aw talking to?"
     "Faith, and I don't, its God only knows who ye are. But if ye don't take yerselves off o'here in good order and purty quick time, I'll be after makin' the inside of a lock-up acquainted with who ye ara."
     I stood to one side enjoying the comedy.
     "We aw Englishmen, saw" English gentlemen, saw! we have only come to yo' d----d country to see the yacht race."

He Was a Connaughtman.

     "To here ye talk I know ye're Englishmen; and yer behavior shows yez to be English gentlemen, sure enough. It's too bad that yez have missed seein' the yacht race for so far, after coming to our d----d country; but yez must get some valuey for yer money. Race yerselves now as if it was the divil take the hindmost. Right about face and go without stoppin' to thank me. He blew his whistle and drew his club and made a feint of annihilating them whilst the three bloods scattered and bounded along the bridge like rats in a panic. I laughed heartily, and when I came up to my blue-coated friend he laughed heartily too. "The Castlebear races," said I. And thereupon he shook me cordially by the hand for he was a Connaughtman.

Irish Policeman at Home.

     The Irish policeman at home is a British policeman, and consequently no spirited Irishman enters that force. He has an idolatrous regard for the "better classes," whose boots he is almost expected to shine and he is the terror of the weak. If he finds a rich and loyal man overtaken by liquor, he calls a car and conveys him home, but a poor man caught under the same circumstances is taken neck and heels and bundled into the Black-hole. He is as ignorant as he is truculent; and his moral strut, withal is almost imposing. A trader in Ireland cannot sell liquor on Sunday to any one but a bona fide traveler and under the act a man must have slept on the previous night three miles at least from the whisky, or from the town in which the whisky is ladled out to him. A policeman once in a little Donegal town was examining a witness in the prosecution of a publican who had violated the Sunday liquor law, and he propounded the question, "On the vartue of yer oath, were ye or were ye not a boney fidey traveler?". "I object," said the opposing attorney. The policeman must explain to the witness the meaning of boney fide." The peeler (as he is called in Ireland) gave a supercilious smile. Said he to the witness in the off-hand manner of a linguist, "Boney fidey is French for 'Did ye sleep in this town last night'".

Peeler Wants Goat in Plain Clothes.

     There was also a policeman in my part of the world, who finding that a goat was a very necessary requirement to complete the family circle, desired to go to Ballyshannon Fair to purchase one. A comrade, Patrick McCaffrey, had obtained permission to to to the fair in civilian dress, or plain clothes, and Michael (his name was Michael Brogan) ambitioned going in the same manner. So, writing his inspector for permission he said:
     "Respected Sir: I wish leave for the second of February for to go to Ballyshannon fair to buy a goat in plain clothes like Constable Patrick McCaffrey, and has the honor to be,
          Your obedient servant,
               MICHAEL BROGAN."
     I believe Michael obtained leave to go to Ballyshannon Fair, but whether he succeeded in getting a goat in plain clothes, and if he did, whether said goat or did not  bear a flattering resemblance to Patrick McCaffrey, subsequent history saith not.

Celtic Officer in America

     The Irish policeman in America to the Irish policeman in Ireland, in qualities is as a man to a mouse. And it gives me supreme and amused pleasure to find a brigade of boys, who swung a fir hatchet or a caman (hurley) at home, wielding the truncheon and running the country, in America. The brawny autocrat who stands at the noisy crowded crossings and by merely raising his hand stops the roaring tide of wagons, cabs, coaches, motors and trolley cars whilst he arms you safely through like the Israelites passing through the embanked Jordan-that autocratic fellow first opened his eyes on a mountain side in Kerry. A barefooted, mischievious little rascal whom his mother could not control he scampered about its hills and its glens, and ploughed through its hogs and clambered its cliffs, and skipped like a goat from boulder to boulder, little dreaming that one day the American born, whose boast it is that he does not fear the devil himself, would in his presence stand in awe, admiration and trembling. As he grew up he trained for an autocrat with the spade and the grain in his fist round the week, and the Hurley on Sunday evenings and perhaps a scientific twist or tow of an oak stick or blackthorn, on Fridays, when a man is naturally inclined to be light hearted.

Conspicuous Characteristics

     The flashes of wit, the cordial grip of comradeship, the quick word and the hasty blow were his characteristics at home. He passed through the best training schools for the man required to awe our bold but generous American.  And he always graduated with honor and taken up the task that falls to him here with as much ease and self possession as if, when he was born, his destiny was to police America. All this anyone can see for himself who pauses at a crossing at six in the afternoon. The Irish policeman, with an heroic calm, stands in the center of danger and with his finger beckons this interrupted stream of humanity and that, to flow forward, and the confidence-inspiring ease of the man nerves the repressed mass to walk with assurance the gauntlet of quick danger. In his bounteous goodness he is not above leading a child by the hand and at the same time conducting a timid woman with his protecting arm around her. Or he keeps a hand on this boy's head and the other flat against that old gentleman's back, prepared to help him forward when in the apprehension of coming danger he would retreat. And anon he lifts a hesitant dapper little old maid, whose su

 

 

 

 


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2001 Cathy Joynt Labath