Sergeant 'Lugs' Brannigan
DETECTIVE SERGEANT" Lugs " Brannigan is probably the most famous policeman in Ireland today. He is admired by most young Gardai as an example of what they, minus his features, would want to be. I remember a young Guard telling me that he had , just heard that Brannigan had put six people in St. Vincent's Hospital an hour earlier. The young garda seemed to think this an exemplary achievement. The force admires him for his fearsome reputation in Dublin and his image as a good, fearless cop.
He is known as " Lugs" throughout the city because of his ears. They are large and unwieldy. For years he was a heavyweight international boxer and after that an international referee. But hitting people in the ring was only a pastime; his joy for thirty years has been that of leader of what is popularly known as the Riot Squad. They are called" Red Cars" officially and can be called to any part of the city where there is trouble. The red cars actually consist of one car and one van. The van carries two members of the Riot Squad and a few British-trained Alsatians to pacify difficult members of the public. The car carries Lugs and two or three other members of the squad. Every night of the week they tour the city seeking to quell troublemakers.
Surprise to meet
For one who is so feared and hated by very many people, he is quite a surprise to meet. He is a quiet, gentle and childlike sort of person. He has a quite normal suburban house out past Dolphin's Barn.
The house has a well-kept back garden where two pet Alsatians play. These may, of course, be retired riot squad dogs.
Lugs' career began back in the 1930s when he "had a choice of taking the boat to America or joining the force." There was a lot of unemployment in those days and widespread juvenile crime. Brannigan proved himself in 1938 when he dealt with a gang called "The Animals." "The Animals" was a gang centred in the slums in the centre of the city. "The gang were mixed up in a bookie crowd," he informed me. They used to attack bookmakers who were not too popular with 'other bookmakers.
Transfixed by a fish knife
Brannigan dealt with them at a meet ing at Baldoyle racecourse. He searched and questioned twelve well-known members of the gang as they entered the course. However, he must have made an unfortunate oversight because three hours later a bookie was found transfixed by a fishknife. "Luckily it hit nothing vital," continued Brannigan. This knife was used to gut fish and it must have been quite an oversight to miss it since it was a foot and a half long and serrated on both sides. But with a different sort of efficiency Brannigan arrested seven of the gang at the course and four of them that night. "The last one got away," he remembered wistfully. Within a month all eleven were despatched to Mountjoy and" The Animals" were put paid to for the time being.
This success persuaded the authorities to formalise a riot squad and Brannigan was made its head and remains at the helm today.
The fifties were the toughest time for Brannigan. Ten gangs flourished in the city. Nightly they used to attack each other with knives, knuckledusters, belts, sharpened toecaps and chains. They attacked Brannigan, of coursc, whenever he appeared. Police were not very popular in Dublin at the time. Some members of the force had boiling water poured on them when passing the flats in Corporation Place. The riot squad got it hardest.
Juvenile crime was rife in the city. There were no jobs at all for schoolleavers. Wages were low and drink was the only entertainment available for the denizens of the new housing estates and slums in the city. "The Animals" were once again the biggest and best gang in the city. They used to attack the police regularly. The Riot Squad, in their view, were asking for it anyway. They were never the most intelligent part of the force. Two of the least bright of them really got it hard from "The Animals". One night, to their delight, they saw a single unguarded "Animal" walking home. They chased him and saw him running into an empty building. Thinking they had him, they eagerly followed him in, whereupon they were attacked by about fifty " Animals" with knives, lighted cigarettes and fists. Fortunately enough they survived.
Brannigan did not escape either. He keeps a selection of their armoury in his bedroom. All of these he used as evidence in Court when youths werc charged with personal assault on himself. He never wears a shirt at home, so it was a simple matter for him to show some of the effects of these weapons.
Opening his jacket he proudly displayed his chest. It has round welt marks where studded belts hit him. Stitches wherc knuckledusters tore some skin off and various differcnt coloured areas which hcaled less well than the rest. Far from being selfconscious of this, he is rather proud of it. "I gave what I got," he informed me.
Stigmata on legs
He is, howcvcr, even more proud of his legs. These got more abuse since the most usual retaliation of drunken youths on his arrival was to kick him on the legs. Sometimes they kicked him with ordinary shoes, sometimes they kicked him with sawn-off toecaps. Anyway he pulled up his trouser legs and showed his wounds. He regards these in the same manner as stigmata. His legs are a mass of scar tissue. There are lumps on them, some of which are black and others which are bright white. This scarred terrain extends to the kneecap. Above that he left to the imagination.
During this period Brannigan not only left his mark on some of the most respectable fathers in Dublin today, but endeared himself to the District Courts. With so much juvenile crime, life was difficult for the District Justices. All they wanted to do was despatch, as quickly as possible, the culprits which turned up daily before them. Brannigan helped them enormously. He was a witty, quick, efficient witness. If he decided to bring a young lad to Court the force of his evidence left the latter little chance of acquittal.
Not that Brannigan was inhumane. Even on stabbing charges he could get people off. "If a lad had decent parents I did my best for him," he said. This pleased the Justices no end. They had little sympathy with the sociological type of justice which saw that perhaps fellows with indecent parents or unemployed parents were more entitled to leniency. Brannigan remains the darling of the District Court. When he appears everybody listens eagerly for a really good story. Such a case appeared last month whcn Brannigan" took the bull by the horns and attacked the dog" when he had a dog set on him in Ballyfermot. The dog naturally took off and was chascd by Brannigan along with its master.
Reluctant Fare payers
Things are quieter now. "There are a few bowsies,in every area but the worst places arc Corporation Place and St. Tercsa's Gardens," he claims. But mostly hc has more mundane jobs now. One of these is following the last bus from Bray on Saturday nights. Another is following the 78 bus from Ballyfermot. On these routes he regularly deals with great efficiency with passcngers who won't pay their farcs Hc spends a lot of time in Bray because during the summer tourists fight outside pubs nearly every night. He also follows the Sands Show band. "They attract a bad crowd, real bowsies. Although the lads themselves are very decent lads." When they play he makes forays through the packed dancc-hall to forcibly remove drunks.
Things are not that safe nowadays for him. Pointing to his upper lip with his characteristic crooked smile, he informed me that it was dead. Two years ago a drunk stabbed it with a knife.
A short while ago he got a tremendous blow on the forehead. That explains the large brown birthmark here. In fact it is not a birthmark but a freckle. When it was hit it started spreading like a cancerous haematoma and now covers most of his forehead. Shortly after that mishap he ran into more trouble. While passing a drunk he had just pacified in Kevin Street Garda Station he got a vicious blow on the side of his face. The drunk was pacified again, but Brannigan lay stunned on the floor. He was paralysed over the whole of the left side of his face. He could not talk or move it at all. Slowly it thawed out, but left some muscular weakness. For that incident he was awarded damages in Court, which he was not paid.
Altogether it has been a hard life for Brannigan, but as he says, "I love police work." He is proud of the law and order he has brought to the city. He is no coward and the pacification programme for each new industrial estate in Dublin has been led by him. Howevcr, the law and order he has brought Dublin has left him problems. This is the Law itself. Youths nowaday knows more about the laws of arrest and Justices feel less inclined to intern a delinquent unless there is plenty of evidence.
Brannigan's main worry is the small penalty which can be imposed for breach of the peace. The maximum fine is £2. However,the Criminal Justice Bill will solve this problcm. In the meantime Brannigan finds it very helpful if he is assaulted. His presence very often is sufficient to effect this. If he is not assaulted he falls back on methods which have become part of Dublin's mythology.
Brannigan arrests, preferable
It is easy to condemn such behaviour. But some things do need to be borne in mind before any such judgement is passed. "Brannigan is not unique. Our . borstal system is particularly primitive and vicious. Neither are our police as a whole so good and when it comes to a position where blows are exchanged, Brannigan is a good deal safer than the ordinary raw Guard." The hapless marchers and bystanders who were attacked by the police outside the British Embassy recently will testify to this. While Brannigan's statement" I never hurt " may be an overstatement, he has never killed anyone which in thirty years of combat, is a remarkable record. The ordinary policeman is not as expert as Brannigan nor as careful in his aims.
When Brannigan retires in two ycars he will take a rest he does not want.