The Gardaí, symbolism and secularism… or it may be more difficult than we thought folks! August 29, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Ireland, Religion, Secularism, Visual Culture.
In light of the current debate on the wearing of a Turban I have to ask has anyone looked, and I mean really looked, at the symbolism of the Gardaí. Fintan O’Toole has raised some interesting aspects of the culture of the Gardai, noting that:
The Garda organises Masses to mark the anniversaries of the opening of police stations. The Dublin metropolitan traffic division, for example, holds a Mass in Dublin Castle which has been attended by the President at least once in recent years. The Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, attended the Mass in Knock Basilica to mark the beatification of Mother Teresa, of whom, on her death in 1997, the Taoiseach informed the Dáil, “no one doubts the evident saintliness”. Gardaí on duty, like the Taoiseach in the Dáil, wear ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
But there is a vastly more basic element of the imagery of the Gardai which might give one pause for thought as regards secularism.
The Garda badge, designed in the early 1920s by John Maxwell, of the Dún Laoghaire technical school and a member of the Gaelic League is an explicitly Celtic Christian device in the general style of the Gaelic Revival. It was commissioned by the first Garda Commissioner Michael Stains who was also in the Gaelic League.
Note the way in which the four decorative circles are positioned at each quadrant emulating the boss of a cross. There is some aspect of a ‘sunburst’ motif, often used on military badges (including the original Oglaigh na hÉireann badge from 1913) in the additional four curvilinear points on the emblem, but there is no way of avoiding the reality that this is to all intents and purposes an emblematic Christian Cross.
This is directly positioned within the aesthetics of the Gaelic Revival which saw emblems such as the GAA and Gaelic League use imagery which has linkages between cultural nationalism and Christian signification.
Is this imagery sufficiently beyond religious signifiers? I’d argue probably not. The visual elements are simply too obviously rooted in that discourse.
Seems to me that we might just have a bigger task than just thinking about the ashes on Ash Wednesday.
I should note that while not a huge fan of Celtic Revival material generally I actually think the Garda badge works pretty well visually. There’s a certain balance to the composition and decorative features that applies to most media or surfaces.