Brushing Up: The Heads at Pearse Street Garda Station

Garda Stephen Moore looks up.

Above him, for 100 years, four carved heads of officers of the former Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) have been noticeable to astute passers-by. Two of the heads are turned towards Pearse Street, and the other two towards College Green.

On either side of the main entrance to Pearse Street Garda Station, two of these small heads wear custodian helmets. Further along the building’s granite exterior, above the sides of a closed wooden door, another two faces with flatter hats look out.

Despite efforts by historians and relatives, though, few details are known about the sculptor behind them.

Officers and Constables

When Great Brunswick Police Station, as this station was known then, opened its doors in December 1915, it was without pomp.

“This wasn’t long after the Lockout in 1913, so the DMP weren’t exactly in favour with the public,” says Moore, author of the commemorative history book Pearse Street 100, on a recent Friday. “There was no big ribbon-cutting ceremony like there would be today.”

The DMP had been formed in 1838 as part of a series of reforms instigated by then Under-Secretary to Ireland Robert Drummond.

Political agitation and corruption had left the former self-policing system in Ireland ineffective and much maligned.

By 1915, the DMP had become the “peace keepers” of the city. For the station’s centenary – in 2015 – Moore decided to delve into its history.

The style of the building is Scottish Baronial, he says. Built in concrete with expandable metal, the whole building is clad in snecked granite, the same material used to create the four DMP heads flanking its exterior, says Moore.

There are several documents relating to the building’s construction, but less is known about the origins of the carved heads.

The placement of the four heads was important in 1915, however, even if they appear today to be only architectural quirks.

Today, the building’s main entrance is where the rank-and-file constables of the DMP would have, in the past, entered to get to their barracks.

In 1915, constables wore conical custodian helmets, like those seen on the two sculptures above the main entrance.

To their left, the now-closed entrance was where the officers would enter, hence the flat caps seen on the two men above it.

“The constables would have been the equivalent of the Garda today, out on the beat,” says Moore. “The officers would be like a superintendent or chief superintendent today.”

As the sculptures show, the uniforms of the time were intricate in design.

The sculpted constables wear the helmets still seen on many of the “bobbies” of London, with the royal insignia embossed on the front. One wears an overcoat, the other a brass-buttoned shirt.

One of the flat-cap wearing, higher-ranking officers wears a shirt with an embossed pattern on the chest. The other – on the left – wears an officer’s overcoat.

They’re detailed and have weathered well, says Moore. But little is known about the sculptor himself.

Unmarked Grave

Plans were drawn up in 1912 for the new DMP headquarters on what is now Pearse Street.

Andrew Robinson was tasked with fronting the design of the new build, and it would have been up to Robinson to find a sculptor, says Moore.

Enter Ringsend-based stonemason Henry “Harry” Thompson.

It’s likely, says Moore, that Thompson would have used the same exterior granite to create his mustachioed police heads.

The granite was transported from Ballybrew quarry in Co. Wicklow, and then set throughout the structure.

After the DMP’s new headquarters opened in 1915, home rule for Ireland was on the horizon. After the 1916 Easter Rising, the struggle for independence meant the new police station was only under British administrative control for seven years.

Historian Moore leads me around the outside of the building, past the policemen’s heads, to the back. He points out a closed wooden door.

“[Michael] Collins would knock on this door and someone would let him in, lead him up by candlelight to the files upstairs,” says Moore. “He’d go through the files, and that’s how he found out about the G-men [British spies] – who they were and where they lived.”

Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Royal Irish Constabulary was replaced by An Garda Síochána in 1923. The DMP were then amalgamated with the Gardaí in 1925, to form one police force.

Due to the financial straits of the newly independent state, says Moore, many of the uniforms seen on the granite busts would have remained in use up until the 1940s. “They simply tore off the old badge on the constable’s helmets and replaced them with new ones,” he says.

Inside Pearse Street Garda Station, sculptor Thompson’s great-grandson, Garda David Sharkey, has tried with little success to trace his ancestor’s movements.

According to a Mullingar parish letter from October 2014, Thompson completed similar sculptures for the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, which he worked on in the 1930s.

The parish letter goes on to note that Thompson carved a number of headstones in Ballyglass Cemetery, as well.

He was buried there in 1942, in an unmarked grave.

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Reader responses

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Mícheál Ó Doibhilín
at 19 October 2016 at 17:09

The “someone” who let Michael Collins in (just once, not often as implied in the article) was DMP man and Collins’ best spy Ned Broy, one of the most important men on the Republican side in the War of Independence.

Gareth Jones
at 4 March 2018 at 21:01

The G men you refer to were not British spies, they were Dublin police officers assigned to the political unit or G-Division. They were all, or nearly all, Irishmen who were the victims of the times in which they lived. One such was Detective Sergeant Edward Halley from Tipperary. Wounded whilst defending the Lord Lieutenant in the Ashdown Ambush, he went on to win a medal for fighting off 25 IRA men whom he caught raiding his home as he got home from work. He retired in December, 1922 but felt unable to stay in Ireland and transferred to Scotland Yard.

Eric Thompson
at 8 August at 18:59

Hi Cónal, Interesting read thank you. The Henry Thompson you speak of is my great grandfather. He also carved the heads of Policeman above the entrance of Pearse Street Station. Also many stone works on George's street and as you correctly identified the church in Mullingar but was not paid by the priest for his work. Their correspondence is interesting to read and is "very much of its time". Thanks for your article. Eric

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