Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

William Frith 1878-1916

William Frith was born at Clara in 1878. His parents John Joseph and Francis Frith worked as delivery clerks and William was employed as a railway porter before joining the Dublin Metropolitan Police in 1899.

The DMP operated independent of the RIC and modelled itself on the London Metropolitan Police. Apart from its G Detective Division which investigated political activity the DMP largely managed to stand above the fray during the War of Independence.

The DMP’s actions during the Lockout of 1913 had brought them into conflict with the trade union movement. Two strikers were killed in police baton charges at ITGWU rally on O’Connell Street and DMP men were injured a series of riots occurred in August and September. At a commission held into the disturbances…

‘Constable Frith stated that he was on Waterford Street on Sunday, the 31st of August, in company with a party of men and two sergeants. They were assailed by a crowd of about 400 who hurled all kinds of missiles at them. Seven or Eight rioters got out on the roofs of the houses lifted off the slates and tiles and fired them down on the street below. Witness went round to the back of No.31 and arrested two men coming down the stairs at the back.’ (1)

The commission went on to exonerate the police of any wrongdoing, a conclusion hotly disputed by union leaders who formed the Irish Citizen Army as a worker’s defence organisation in direct response to their experiences with law enforcement and privately hired strike breakers during the Lockout.

At the onset of the 1916 Rising, DMP officers were confined to barracks. William Frith was shot dead on 28th April after soldiers from the Royal Irish Rifles mistook Store Street station for a rebel sniping position. A solider from the Royal Irish later called to the barrack to apologise for the mistake. In reply to questions from Tim Healy at Westminster the Chief Secretary for Ireland Mr. Duke stated…

‘I am informed that Sergeant Bannon stated at Store Street Barracks that he fired shots at the windows through one of which Constable Frith received his fatal injury. The military, I understand, were not aware at the time that the building into which they were firing was a police barrack. In the view of the military authorities, while it is possible that the death of, the constable may be attributed to military rifle fire, there is doubt on the point, as rebel sniping was also going on in that vicinity.’  (2)

William Frith was buried at Mount Jerome cemetery.


Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Hansard online at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1916-08-21/debates/cf195525-fce1-4961-ba33-2571fb7728e7/DeathOfConstableFeith

Richard Abbott. Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922. (Cork) 2019.

Daithí O Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin. The dead of the Irish Revolution. (Yale) 2020.

Philip MacConway. ‘Offaly’s links to the 1916 Rising’ lecture online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkEiuHJc8J0

Irish Independent. 24 January 1914.

(1) Irish Independent. 24 January 1914.

(2) Hansard online at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1916-08-21/debates/cf195525-fce1-4961-ba33-2571fb7728e7/DeathOfConstableFeith

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