Ulster Special Constabulary Identification Card Issued to Joseph Martin

The identification card seen here is for Joseph Martin, a member of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Martin was a Class C Special constable in West Belfast. The C Specials were a part-time, volunteer, constable group, founded to bolster the ranks of the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence. They were typically employed for guard duties in their home area. The C Specials recruited the local Unionist militia groups, like the Ulster Volunteers, to assist with these duties in hopes that they could move these groups under government control.

Joseph Martin was issued his ID badge on 6 December, 1921. He was twenty-eight years old and described as being five, foot seven inches tall, with a medium build and fair complexion. His ID lists him living at 67 Riga Street in Belfast.  He is also listed as having tattoos on his right and left arms, likely resulting from his former military service.  An image placed in the Belfast Evening Telegraph states that Martin was wounded in France on 6 May 1915 and was now in a hospital in Bristol recovering from his wounds.  Based on the timeline of the First World War, Martin was most likely wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres, which began on 22 April, 1915 and lasted until 25 May, 1915.


Former soldiers were prime targets for Royal Irish Constabulary recruiters because they already had discipline and training that would aid them in their roles as constables, however, in many cases the part-time special constables were known for drinking heavily, damaging property, and abusing the local population. Some of this can be seen as local conflict. The part-time special constables patrolled their own neighborhoods; and, therefore could use their on-duty authority to get revenge for personal conflicts with other locals. As many of these men were also veterans, who had fought in the First World War, they were also likely suffering from what we now call post traumatic stress disorder which made them unstable in stressful situations.

Martin may have had his own personal reasons for wanting to volunteer for the Royal Irish Constabulary.  His family was a unionist leaning family.  Lizzie Martin, also of 67 Riga St, signed the women’s Ulster Covenant, pledging her allegiance to the crown and her opposition to Home Rule.[1]  Those who signed the covenant believed that Home Rule, and the break from Britain, would prove disastrous for Ulster and therefore wished to maintain their connection to the crown.  Joseph Martin may have been troubled by the ongoing conflict in Belfast and saw an opportunity to do his part to restore order in Ulster by joining the RIC.

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