Legendary Garda ‘ Lugs’ Branigan
Published: March 14th, 1953 Photograph: Dermot Barry
Looking at this photograph, which appeared in the Times Pictorial supplement in 1953, there are a number of questions you might ask – and one you almost certainly wouldn’t. Who is this chap, you might wonder. And why is his picture in the paper? What you shouldn’t need to wonder about, whether you recognise the man or not, is why he was known as “Lugs”.
The photo was taken at a boxing match between Ireland and Austria at the National Stadium. The caption tells readers that “Garda ‘ Lugs’ Jim Branigan represented the Garda boxing team both in cruiser and heavyweight, and in 1938 he boxed for them in Berlin as a cruiser.” It adds that during his boxing career he was never knocked out.
It’s as if Branigan is still boxing for Ireland in 1953, although in fact he retired from the ring in 1939. He would have been 43 at the time the photo was taken, but continued to spar with younger boxers and weight- trained until he was well into his 60s.
Was our photographer a boxing fan? The image presents its subject in a positive light; to the casual reader Branigan would have appeared fresh- faced, affable, open, relaxed. Should the need arise, however, those folded arms could still pack quite a punch – and his small smile for the camera doesn’t quite cover the wariness in his eyes. There is, this picture hints, another side to Jim Branigan.
And so there was. For 30 years he headed up Dublin’s Riot Squad, administering his idiosyncratic brand of tough love to anyone who was caught causing trouble on the streets of the city. He was feared and respected in equal measure: even now, the jury is out on whether his highly personal approach to policing was good, bad or even legal. The nickname “Lugs” was dreamed up by a Dublin criminal in the 1940s, but rarely applied. To his face – and to his Garda colleagues – Branigan was known as Branno or The Bran.
So maybe our intrepid snapper took his picture, wrote his caption, and ran. Fast.
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