First garda was a bigamist and debtor

It’s enough to make the toes of every serving garda curl. The first member of the force has been exposed as a bigamist, forger and debtor, and was sacked for beating a prisoner.

Jim Herlihy, a historian and genealogist who is a serving garda in Co Cork, has uncovered the life of PJ Kerrigan, the first person to take the force’s oath on Feb 21, 1922.

Kerrigan, who was born in Westport, Co Mayo, in 1892, was friendly with the first Garda commissioner, Michael Staines. In 1913 and although declared medically unfit by an RIC surgeon, Kerrigan had been accepted into that force as a constable.

Two years later, he joined the Irish Guards and fought in the First World War. After returning in 1918 and marrying Molly Finnegan, Kerrigan joined the gardaí and, within six months, was promoted to sergeant.

Shortly afterwards, though, he was dismissed from the force for beating a prisoner at Portobello Barracks. His appeal was rejected by commissioner Staines but that wasn’t the end of his policing career.

After a spell in the National Army, he enlisted in the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which amalgamated with the Garda Síochána, and Kerrigan found himself serving as a garda again.

But he ran up debts and his creditors informed the force who charged him with breaches of its disciplinary code.

Kerrigan resigned in Feb 1926 and later emigrated to Albany, New York, without telling his wife or family. There he changed his name to Joseph Kerrigan and altered his date of birth to 1898. He also married again.

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