Friday 27 April 2018

Community plans true-blue party as longest-serving garda steps down

Martin O'Malley who is retiring from An Garda Siochana after serving in Ballintra Station for 38 years. Photo: Jason McGarrigle
Martin O'Malley who is retiring from An Garda Siochana after serving in Ballintra Station for 38 years. Photo: Jason McGarrigle

Paddy Clancy

THE country's longest-serving village garda believes the force has lost contact with the local community -- and he would love the trend to be reversed.

Garda Martin O'Malley, who will retire this week after 38 years at the same station, said: "The lack of the community guard is a big loss, definitely. They now try to treat the Garda Siochana as a business instead of as a service to the people."

Villagers in Ballintra, Co Donegal, are planning a huge party for Gda O'Malley in the local community centre on Friday, his retirement day.

So far, Ballintra has avoided Justice Minister Alan Shatter's axe, which will close 31 stations.

Up until 1996, the 59-year-old's only official transport was a bicycle, before he was given a Ford Fiesta car for the job.

When he wasn't walking the main street in Ballintra, where he lives close to the garda station, he would hop on to his bicycle to help solve the problems of the community.

Callers to the station might occasionally be offered a cup of tea and a biscuit as he listened to their problems. It wasn't always garda business but Gda O'Malley was always prepared to help if he could.

When one woman complained that her new washing machine wouldn't work, he realised it was similar to his own at home. So he travelled the three or four kilometres to the woman's house to see if he could do something. He said: "I suggested to her it might be a good idea to plug it into the socket."

The Co Mayo native spent only six months at his first station, Ballyshannon, before he was transferred 10km up the road in February, 1974, to the two-officer Ballintra station.

For a while during the Troubles, Ballintra sub-district, which runs from the Atlantic Ocean at Rossnowlagh to the border of Northern Ireland, was a six-officer station but then it reverted to a single-person station for eight years before he was joined by another officer.

When Gda O'Malley and his wife Rene started their family of two daughters and a son -- who is now a guard in Monaghan -- he decided he didn't want to move. He never sat a sergeant's examination in case it would mean transfer from a community where he knew everyone.

Instead, he became completely involved in the community and is now chairman of the parish's Naomh Brid GAA Club.

And as Ballintra is 60pc Protestant and 40pc Catholic, Gda O'Malley remembers fondly the friendly neighbour woman who proudly wore her sash when she took his children to watch the annual Orange Order parade at Rossnowlagh while he policed the event.

Despite the remoteness of the area, murder has been a visitor. Among the cases on his patch was the gruesome murder of 39-year-old Dolores McCrea by her estranged husband Gary eight years ago.

An earlier murder, of 23-year-old former RUC reservist Harry Keys, from Co Fermanagh -- who was shot dead by subversives in his car outside his Ballintra girlfriend's home 23 years ago -- remains unsolved.

Gda O'Malley could have retired on full pension eight years ago but he wasn't interested. "I enjoyed the job. I wanted to give more to the community," he said.

And on Friday, Ballintra plans to show him just how much it appreciates how much he gave.

Irish Independent

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