A Low Stooping Branch

Former blanketman Tony O'Hara with an acccount of how he experienced Garda Special Branch in action after his release from the H Blocks. His story was prompted by the writing of Kevin Doyle.

Kevin Doyle’s interesting article Silence Now Pervades has brought up some personal memories of how low the Branch would stoop. When I got released from the H Blocks in August 1981 I was based in Dublin out of the National H Block office in Mountjoy Square, kindly loaned by the esteemed Architect and writer Uinseann MacEoin.

I was never stopped by the Branch when on my own. But if I had people with me I would get stopped and they would be questioned and myself ignored. I remember a group of people over on a fact finding mission from Belguim. We got pulled when leaving the H Block office. And a young female member of the group was in shock, and started giving me strange looks. Coz in Belgium its only ‘bad’ people that get stopped by the Police.

When the H Block campaign ended. The Branch did the same tactics to anyone involved in the Free Nicky Kelly campaign. I also remember a lot of the activists telling me that when they 1st got involved in the H Block campaign, the Branch called to their homes and harassed them for a few weeks in an attempt to put them off from working in the Campaign.

In 1982 I got a job working in a Hotel in Wicklow. I was there for about 2 months and busy organising a union in the place as the owners were from the William Martin Murphy and never tolerated a union in the place. I was doing great in secret and had over half the staff committed to joining. One night I was out near the front of the building in the store room, when a Branch car pulls up and actually thought I was up to no good. When I told them I worked there they left. That was a Thursday, When I came in for work on the Monday, I was told the hotel was cutting back and they were so sorry but they had to terminate my employment there and then. The Branch told them who I was of course. The Owners must have shit bricks LOL.

I got another job in a Dublin hotel where Charlie Haughey had a free use of the penthouse suite, which the staff had nicknamed ‘the Monto’ after the famous red light district of Dublin, due to the many ladies of the night that visited there to entertain the politicians and their cronies.

After about 6 months working there, some Arab Sheik oil billionaire came to stay. And he had insisted that his 30 bodyguards be with him, supposedly armed. I believe this as the Sheik was there on invite from the Irish Government. Anyway, they posted 10 armed Branch men to guard the Bodyguards. I came in to work nightshift at midnight and seen the place crawling with them. I didn't know any of them.
At 2 am one of the head Branch men came in to inspect the place and to make sure things were going fine. He turned chalk white when he saw me and had me grabbed and pinned down by a few of the lowly Branch men. 'Why are you here? ... who is with you? ... where are they?’ etc. Blind panic. I was pissing myself laughing at him as he had lost the plot.

One of the lowly one's said 'Sir I think he works here'.’ And he motioned for them to let me go. He went and told the owners of course. But the place had a union so they couldn't sack me for no reason. But for the next 3 months I worked there, the management were finding fault with everything I did. I left due to my band starting a Dublin show that was to run 8 times a week. I bet they were relieved. I wasn't an isolated case as they did this and still do it to everyone.


  1. Tony,

    you never fail to bring a great story to your writing. I love reading you and hope you continue to write for TPQ. A lot of people enjoy what you have to say. A few ex blanket men are writing for us now and the mroe the merrier as far as I am concerned. Thanks for giving it to us.

  2. c.1981-3,The 'branch' spent a lot of their time raiding innocent people's houses,in Dublin.They also caused,by diret intervention/influence many workers contracts in employment to be terminated.In my case the [municipal]union did not want to get involved,using an arrears of dues excuse to walk away.that was in June 81'.in 82 they succeeded again to have me 'laid off',i became 'self employed' thereafter till '97.i have heard others experiences of the same.judges signed search warrants based on a suspicion of a persons involvement in 'activity' etc.These raids into family homes created a situation of homelessness for many who were deemed the 'black sheep' on the word of some 'Dick'[=D.Con.inspector etc]and were usually rounded up and harassed on the streets.Some were used as eyes/ears on the streets,or found themselves 'inside' on various trumped up charges,under vagrancy acts etc. a small part of the free state history.It is good to hear Tony's experience related now.how many others were harassed/arrested etc,during those times of special powers acts I wonder?

  3. This has always been part of the Free-State branch's repertoire.

    I remember the late John Joe McGirl explaining these often as 'lights on bicycles' petty harassments. He pointed out that where-as the majority of people got off with a caution from an over zealous peeler for such behaviour, a republican could expect to be brought before the District Court.

    Like Tony and Tarlach I had Branch men inform employers of my alleged history. I remember after I left the North and when employed in retail in Dublin City centre the manager called me into the jacks for a private word. The big Kerry man told me the Branch had been making 'enquiries' about me, he smiled, touched the end of his nose and said "Thought you best know about it boy".
    Thou it all backed fired on the Branch as the Kerryman had even more respect for me after that, and later recommended me for me a managerial position when a post became vacant!

  4. Go Raibh Mo agat AM , I haven't blushed in ages. Was never any good at the Queens English and that is not a handicap. :) One footnote, I used to walk everywhere in Dublin, especially around the city center as I loved the pulse of the place and to think of all the history.
    I used to walk really quickly as my long legs loved a good stretch, especially after being cooped up in a tiny cell for nearly 5 years.
    One day I was zooming down from Dorset St to go to Pearse St Via O Connell Street. I passed the opposite side of the GPO. On the way back I crossed over to the GPO side as I wanted some fruit and Veg in Moore St. One of the Comrades selling AP/RN at the GPO told me that he had seen a very over weight Branchman following me and struggling to keep up. (Usain Bolt would not have kept up) And he actually stopped and sat down on the street, totally fucked at Arnotts, and his pals nearly killed themselves hauling him into a Branch Car about 10 mins later.

    Don't you just love Karma

  5. Nice little article Tony. Certainly rings true to me.
    Memories like this have a lot of value to future generations.

  6. Great post Tony the Broy harriers are as active as they were when first formed,their tactics have changed little over the years,I had the pleasure of allowing them to use my body as a football in the late 70,s and as you know they give it their all,its a sure sign how vulnerable the state feels when they let these thugs loose.

  7. Who are the worse criminals – the shoplifter or the thugs who attack him? Hard to teach an old bully new tricks.

  8. I remember a story from years ago. There was a policeman who was a total dick and use to stop people and abuse them non stop. One day he was on his motorbike and sat right up the arse of a loyalist man in his car. The fella did an emergency stop at 40mph and the peeler went head first over the car.
    Many peelers put on that uniform and think they can abuse anybody.

  9. Tony,
    I'm gonna have to echo AM - I really enjoy your work - great story, told excellently. You have a very conversational feel to your writing, and more importantly a distinct voice.
    The tale left me smiling , those little victories when life smirks with you are grand.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
    Who will guard the (sheik's body)guards? Apparently the branch men will!

    Police who intimidate and harass (and far worse) are no more than thugs (or worse)

  10. Well written indeed. I don't know if you would remember me from long ago, just after the Hunger Strikes, but we exchanged a few letters back then (I'm in America then and now) but I'd love for you and the family to know my son is named Patrick, in honor of your brother and also for my own grandfather, Pat Neely, as well. He's twelve years old, almost thirteen, my son. Blessings and know you remain always in my memory as does Patsy.