THE smell of malt vinegar and chips lingered in the air as the last five gardai manning the Stepaside garda station bade farewell and closed the doors for the final time.
"It's the last supper," a guard quipped of his colleague's dinner before Sgt Michael Whitely closed and bolted the door to the station at 9pm last night.
But for the 35 gardai who will be transferred from the station as part of the Government's decision to close 39 stations around the country, the closure of the station is no laughing matter.
None of the gardai on duty last night were willing to talk about their final shift in Stepaside as they gathered up their belongings and switched off their computers.
But there was a sense of sadness and finality in the air as they went about their business surrounded by empty desks and bare cupboards.
The massive opposition by local residents to the closure was evident in a 13-page "book of condolence'' in which they left comments about their fear, anger and apprehension over what will happen next.
"This area has too large a population for it to be without a station. Response times will be vastly reduced. Where has community policing gone?" wrote Karl Burke.
Aileen Eglington, of the Kilternan Residents Association, who has led a campaign by local residents to retain the station, was one of the first names to appear in the book.
"A disgrace to close a full service station with outlying areas, an older population and estates and Traveller sites which generate social issues which must be dealt with sensitivity," she wrote.
Even local schoolchildren voiced their opposition, with hand-drawn cards from pupils at St Patrick's NS thanking the gardai for their work and wishing they would return.
"That was my favourite station," wrote Ben Murray. "We hope that you come back to visit us."