Christopher Warner remembers the Kildare athlete who rose through the ranks of the Irish police force, becoming an invaluable spy for Michael Collins and the Irish independence movement
Athlete. Policeman. Officer. Patriot. Ned Broy wore many hats during his long distinguished lifetime. He also managed to pull off one of the most daring acts of espionage in the 20th century during Ireland’s struggle for independence.
Although his legacy has been largely overshadowed by other historical titans of the revolutionary era, Broy’s immeasurable contributions warrant a befitting spotlight.
The eldest of four children, he was christened Edward (Eamon in Irish) but went by the nickname of Ned most of his life. He grew up with a keen awareness and understanding of Ireland’s turbulent past and counted one of his ancestors among the Republican forces in the 1798 Rebellion.
His statement to the Bureau of Military History, given years later, candidly describes his ardent nationalist views: “We of the Rising generation hated the very name of England, her shires, towns, and rivers, and that hatred was intense before we had yet read a line of Irish history.”
Broy attended local schools and competed in athletics, excelling in sprints, hurdles, and jumping events.
It’s worth noting his generation produced Ireland’s golden age in the sport, a period that saw Irish-born athletes dominate the world stage with the likes of Olympic champions Tom Kiely, Peter O’Connor, and the legendary throwers known as ‘the Irish Whales’.
In 1910, Broy joined the Royal Irish Constabulary but left after a short period when a position became available with the less political Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP).
The move had also been motivated by the DMP’s robust sporting facilities and the opportunity to train under Inspector Denis Carry.
In a career spanning some 30 years, Carey won 13 Irish national titles competing in events ranging from the hammer throw to the pole vault. As a coach and mentor, he helped to instil confidence and discipline in Broy – traits that would well serve him on the track and as a future top spy.
After being promoted to the detective branch in 1915, Broy was assigned to the headquarters of G division located in recently built Great Brunswick Street Station (now Pearse Station).
The plainclothes unit served as the intelligence branch of the DMP, primarily tasked with monitoring individuals and groups deemed politically subversive. Snippets of information were collected from the streets of Dublin, which were then typed and transferred to the records section at the station.
Continue reading in this week’s Humour Annual