The British government started advertising in British cities for men willing to “face a rough and dangerous task”, helping to boost the ranks of the RIC in policing an increasingly anti-British Ireland. There was no shortage of recruits, many of them unemployed First World War army veterans, and by November 1921 about 9,500 men had joined. This sudden influx of men led to a shortage of RIC uniforms, and the new recruits were issued with khaki army uniforms (usually only trousers) and dark green RIC or blue British police surplus tunics, caps and belts. These uniforms differentiated them from the Army and the Regular RIC, and gave rise to the force’s nickname: Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo on 25 March 1920 that, meeting a group of recruits on a train at Limerick Junction, the attire of one reminded him of the Scarteen Hunt, whose “Black and Tans” nickname derived from the colouration of its Kerry Beagles. Ennis comedian Mike Nono elaborated the joke in Limerick’s Theatre Royal, and the nickname soon took hold, persisting even after the men received full RIC uniforms.
The new recruits received three months’ hurried training, and were rapidly posted to RIC barracks, mostly in Dublin, Munster and eastern Connacht. The first men arrived on 25 March 1920. The British government also raised another unit, the Auxiliary Division of the constabulary, known as the Auxiliaries or Auxies, consisting of ex-army officers. The Black and Tans aided the Auxiliaries in the British government’s attempts to break both the IRA and the Dáil.
Due to the ferocity of the Tans’ behaviour in Ireland and the atrocities committed, feelings continue to run high regarding their actions. “Black and Tan” or “Tan” remains a pejorative term for the British in Ireland, and they are still despised by many in Ireland. The term can still stir bad reactions because of their remembered brutality. One of the most famous Irish Republican songs is Dominic Behan’s “Come out Ye Black and Tans”. The Irish War of Independence is sometimes referred to as the “Tan War” or “Black-and-Tan War.” This term was preferred by those who fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War and is still used by Republicans today. The “Cogadh na Saoirse” medal, awarded since 1941 by the Irish government to IRA veterans of the War of Independence, bears a ribbon with two vertical stripes in black and tan.
Photo: A Black and Tan on duty in Dublin, smoking and posing with a Lewis gun, circa. 1920