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Monday 21 January 2019

It's a long way from Tipperary for the gaeilgeoir PSNI officer

Irish-speaking PSNI officer John Bannon, from Clonmel, on patrol during the fleadh in Derry
Irish-speaking PSNI officer John Bannon, from Clonmel, on patrol during the fleadh in Derry

Greg Harkin

THERE won't be any language barriers for gaeilgeoiri at the first Fleadh Cheoil north of the Border – thanks to a PSNI officer from Tipperary.

PC John Bannon is one of four Irish-speaking officers helping to police the estimated 300,000 visitors to Derry city this week.

And after 10 years' policing the city once famous for its Troubles, the 38-year-old is the new voice of law enforcement.

The city has a growing Irish language movement, but this week a huge influx of speakers from across Ireland and the world will add to the numbers chatting as Gaeilge.

"I don't get a chance to speak Irish too often," Constable Bannon told the Irish Independent.

"To be honest, I sometimes get shouted at and it's the usual stuff – Tiochfaidh Ar La, or Pog Mo Thoin – and when you challenge that behaviour back in Irish, in every case you discover that's the only Irish the person has. Sometimes it does end in an arrest, unfortunately," he said.

This week, however, the Irish spoken is more friendly as Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann comes to Derry for the first time. PC Bannon was brought up in Clonmel, although he supports the hurling team of the county of his birth – Offaly. And he's always had a 'gra' of the culture and the language.

So this isn't his first fleadh.

"In 2003, it came to Clonmel and I was working in a bar serving drink," said John.

"Later that year, I applied to join the PSNI. I wanted to do something different and thought of a career in policing.

"This year I'm working at the fleadh again but I won't be pulling pints," he laughed.

CONNECTIONS

He does have family connections in the North. "My grandfather was from Belfast.

"I've been to Celtic Park here to watch Derry play Gaelic football but it's hard to beat hurling."

Derry is the UK City of Culture and PC Bannon is enjoying every minute of the festival.

"I was on duty at the BBC Radio One Big Weekend and there was no bother at all. The music was brilliant and the atmosphere in the city was electric," he said.

Fourteen PSNI officers in this North West District speak Irish.

"I'm always looking at my books, checking the dictionary for new words and I'm always tuned into TG4," said John.

"The PSNI have language courses and they pay for you to do A-Level Irish so I'm going to do that next."

Irish Independent

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