The Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force – to give them their official name – were a force of Temporary Constables recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during the Irish War of Independence. They were the idea of Winston Churchill, Secretary of War for the United Kingdom in 1919. In 1920, the government advertised for men willing to “face a rough and dangerous task”. It would turn out that their roughness would only make things more dangerous for everyone.
The Black and Tans got their nickname from the colours of the uniforms that they wore: khaki army uniforms (usually only trousers) and dark green RIC or blue British police surplus tunics, caps and belts. Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo on 25 March 1920 that, meeting a group of recruits on a train at Limerick Junction, the attire of one reminded him of the Scarteen Hunt, whose “Black and Tans” nickname derived from the colouration of its Kerry Beagles. Ennis comedian Mike Nono elaborated the joke in Limerick’s Theatre Royal, and the nickname soon took hold, persisting even after the men received full RIC uniforms.