In less than a month, I will be on a flight to Dublin and Belfast where I hope to learn more about the 30 year conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles” where the IRA and other Catholic paramilitary groups used bombings, kidnappings and murder. They wanted to end British rule of Northern Ireland and join the Republic of Ireland to the south. Violent Protestant paramilitary groups fought back. While I was in college, I had to do a report on Michael Collins. He was an Irish revolutionary, soldier and politician who was a leading figure in the early-20th-century Irish struggle for independence. He was also the director of intelligence for the Irish Republican Army. Collins is also known in some counter-terrorism fields as the father of modern terrorism tactics that you see today from Islamic terrorism. He used hit-and-run guerrilla tactics against the British. So is he a terrorist or a freedom fighter? It depends on what side you are on. This sparked my interests on the subject and I began to read some books on the IRA. Ireland has a violent history especially the last one hundred years with the conflict between the British, their own civil war after a peace treaty was signed and the 30 year period of Sectarian violence in Northern Ireland from 1968 to 1998. This conflict was captured in the music of many artists such as U2 and the Cranberries.

Being a police officer anywhere is a dangerous job. In Northern Ireland during the Troubles, it was the most dangerous place to be a police officer anywhere in the world.


During the height of the Troubles, there were more British troops deployed in Northern Ireland than there was in Iraq. There was bombings, shootings, assassinations, even rocket and mortar attacks. Civilians causalities were mounting. Construction workers were targeted by the IRA because they were rebuilding government buildings for the British. Postal workers were targeted as well. No one was safe. What was it like for the police officer on the ground trying to keep the peace between these factions and try and maintain a normal life in Northern Ireland and the city of Belfast. One book peeked my interest to try and answer what is was like to patrol the dangerous streets of Belfast. A Force Like No Other. The real stories of the RUC men and women who policed the Troubles by Colin Breen gave the reader a glimpse into this world.

Between 1969 and 2001, 319 RUC officers were murdered, and over 10,000 were injured, 300 of them left disabled or seriously injured. Almost 70 officers committed suicide. A police force that had 8500 personnel at its peak had an average of 30 officers and over 300 injured every year. Staggering statistics.

The author who was a 14 year veteran of the RUC himself, interviewed Royal Ulster Constable Service Officers to get more of insight and stories for this book. The situations and stories ranged from basic crime that any police department would face such as theft and drug dealing to terrorist bombings and assassinations.

There are three sections of the book to reflect the RUC’s basic eight-hour shift pattern: Earlies, Lates and Nights. The author hoped that using the RUC shift pattern to shape the book would give the reader a sense of the unpredictability of a typical day for an officer on duty. You literally did not know what you would be facing when the the call came in.

What was very captivating about about this book is some of the stories of the first day these officers were on the job and what they experience. Imagine graduating from the academy and going out on your first patrol. Its too dangerous to drive to your post from the station because of snipers and bombings along the route. So the army puts you and a helicopter because it is safer to take you to your Patrol site as you land you hear a big boom from a mortar that explodes near the tail rotor and a helicopter starts to crash. The place where the mortar was fired was booby trapped to kill or maime any officers arriving to investigate.

This is a excellent book to read for anyone in law enforcement or anyone who wants an insight into the profession and how officers survived during one of the most turbulent times in history. It also contains humorous stories and how the men and women of this police force cope with the horrible sights they see. It also details the emotional toll that these officers face and how some turn to self medication of alcohol to cope.

Shane is a retired Navy Chief and a former Deputy Sheriff. He now works in the aviation field ensuring the safety of the flying public. The views expressed here are his own personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.

One Comment on “Book Review: “A Force Like No Other”—Colin Breen

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