Tuesday 21 November 2017

Silence falls on Blackrock, save for the march of a river of blue and the sigh of the sea

Officers gather in Blackrock
Officers gather in Blackrock
The funeral procession of Garda Tony Golden passes through Blackrock village on its way to St Oliver Plunkett Church, Blackrock in Co Louth, for his state funeral
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

Garda Tony Golden's coffin emerged from the church into a world of blue. Ahead lay the broad sweep of Dundalk Bay, a watercolour wash of pale turquoise and yellow, placid under an azure sky which mingled with the sea along the thin cobalt line of the horizon.

On every other side stood a wall of blue, members of the force arrayed side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Uniforms spotless, shoes polish-shiny, gold buttons sparkling in the gentle autumn sunshine.

The silence was profound, save for squabbling seabirds and the sorrowing sigh of the surf. Even the tide had flowed in for a final farewell.

Draped in the Tricolour, his coffin was placed in the hearse to begin its slow passage down through the village. Tony's wife Nicola walked behind it, tightly clutching the hands of their two beautiful little girls, Lucy and Alex, a heartbreaking picture of solemn bewilderment, both dressed in their best navy coats to say goodbye to Daddy. One clutched a pink stuffed bunny, a comforting bulwark against the waves of grief around her. The littlest one, Andrew, soother in mouth, was carried by one of his relatives.

The Garda band struck up a mournful lament as the cortege set off along the picturesque main street which skirts the shore. Blue everywhere. A line of uniforms snaking the length of the village, matched by the guard of honour from members of the public on the other side of the road, everyone united by a profound sadness.

Encircled by blue. Walking in step, a band of brothers stayed close to Garda Golden, flanking the hearse protectively in an unspoken declaration of solidarity. He was family. One of them, now and forever. And behind the cortege, a rivulet grew into a silent flowing river of indigo.

It was a State funeral, yet the ceremony never overwhelmed the intimacy and the desolate sense of loss. President Higgins, his wife Sabina, the Taoiseach and various ministers and dignitaries were in attendance, but the requiem mass was imbued by the presence of the 36-year old "gentle giant" who died in the line of duty in Omeath last Sunday.

Often it's the everyday objects belonging to a life lived in happy contentment which grip the heart. Among the symbols of his life which were placed on the altar were a jersey from his GAA club in his native town of Ballina in Mayo; a framed photo of Tony, surrounded by his beloved wife and three children. Then there were his 'time out' accoutrements: a TV remote control, a can of Coke, a Drifter bar and a packet of Hunky Dory crisps. How easy it was to imagine him in his favourite spot on the sofa, settling in to watch a bit of sport - a restful retreat from the gruelling frontline of police work.

Chief celebrant Fr Padraig Keenan gave the eulogy, recounting how one resident of Omeath had described him as "our garda". He added: "To a person, amongst his family and colleagues, all are immensely proud of Garda Tony and his selfless nature, proud of everything he lived for, worked for and stood for."

And "proud" was also a word invoked by his heartbroken brother Patrick, who gave a reflection at the end of the mass. "Some words immediately come to mind, such as hero, gentle giant, family man, caring, rock and idol. These words cannot explain how good a man he was and how much we all love him," said an emotional Patrick. "I am so proud to stand here and call him my big brother," he said, as outside in the sunshine, many gardaí bowed their heads and wiped away tears.

There were powerful, poignant words too from Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, who began by noting everyone present or watching on screens outside, in the village or online, were present "to register a heroic death". She added: "But the hero he became in death should not rub from our memories the man he was in life." She spoke of how "achingly sad" it was to know that the hopes and dreams of Tony and Nicola would now never unfold, and that their three small children would need help in the future to store their painfully few precious memories of the father who loved them.

'To remember being hefted onto the big shoulders of their daddy to get the best view, to remember the strong sure hands of him."

Her words were eloquent and emphatic - Garda Tony would not be forgotten.

"We don't forget to remember our own. We bring them with us on our journey, in the stories we tell in the dark interiors of patrol cars, while we're waiting for the kettle to boil in the station, or out on lonely checkpoints.

"We will tell stories of Tony Golden in the months and years to come," she vowed.

"They will be the stories of mistakes and triumphs, of jokes and mess-ups. Stories that will keep Tony Golden with us in a very real way. He was a hero protecting a woman and her father. He laid down his life in order to do what he had sworn to do."

At the breath-taking sight of over 4,000 gardaí facing the sea and surrounding their fallen comrade, the word 'hero' seemed utterly fitting.

For perhaps the definition of hero is forged by the likes of Garda Tony Golden and the hundreds of firefighters who died in the Twin Towers in 2001 and all the people in uniform who lose their lives protecting others.

Heroes run into burning buildings as others flee. And burning buildings can take many shapes - a riot, a robbery, thuggery, violence. An armed and enraged criminal inside a house.

Earlier, as the cortege made its way past the estate where Tony Golden lived a peaceful life, a small child caught sight of the lead patrol car. "Bee-baw, bee-baw," he chirped, as his mother hushed him. Even the smallest kids know what a bee-baw is. It's the sound of our unsung heroes, off to fight another fire.

Irish Independent

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