Sunday 25 March 2018

The river of tears that never stops

A numbed nation paid its final respects to brutally murdered Garda Tony Golden this week, but for his widow Nicola and children Lucy, Alex and Andrew, a life sentence of loss and grieving is only beginning

Tony Golden
Tony Golden
Garda Tony Golden's widow Nicola at Thursday's state funeral.
Tragic loss: Gardai at the scene of the fatal shooting in Omeath
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

As Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan paid a visit to the devastated wife and children of Garda Tony Golden, she would have noticed the million and one little ways in which the big, kind, devoted dad had made his presence felt around the house.

No doubt there were family photographs mounted on the walls and children's drawings hung proudly for all to admire and all the signs around the home of two young, busy working parents doing their best to keep the show on the road.

"You only had to look around their home to see the esteem in which he held his family," the Commissioner later said, her face etched with grief and empathy.

The basis for her visit may have been in a formal and official capacity - but there was no hiding the genuine compassion expressed by the Garda Chief after she had witnessed first-hand the harrowing depths of the family's grief.

Because, unfortunately, she has seen this all before with the tragic death of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, gunned down in cold blood in January 2013 during a cash-in-transit raid in Lordship - just 12 miles away from where 36-year-old Tony Golden lost his life.

She knows all too well how the Donohoe family continue to struggle, privately, amid a crushing grief that never ends. It is a pain with which other families are also far too familiar, if they have had a parent snatched away - whatever the circumstances.

Every birthday, every Christmas and every lazy Sunday sees the void magnified, the empty chair the silent focal point at the table.

Little things like the school run, bedtimes and mealtimes become a daily struggle amid the painful, sudden adjustment to life as a single parent.

Alone, the sole parent tends to the needs of their children. Alone, they attend functions and family get-togethers. And alone, they lie in bed at night.

And at times like match days, as other children carelessly enjoy the comforting support of their father cheering them on from the sidelines, this yawning, miserable chasm feels impossible to breach.

How much worse, then, must it be to lose a parent and partner in such bewilderingly cruel circumstances as Garda Tony Golden died - in the course of his duty while attending a scene of domestic violence?

Along with grief and loss comes the emotions of anger, bitterness and helplessness.

The funeral notice for the Mayo man said that Garda Golden's wife, Nicola, a district nurse, and their three young children, Lucy, Alex and Andrew - who all under the age of eight - are "heartbroken" by his death.

But the word only insufficiently describes how they truly feel at this time.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, extending sympathy to the family, said it may seem impossible for those left behind to find sense and that as we approach Christmas, it will be difficult for them.

Tony Golden was described as a gentle giant and a proud family man, diligent, unassuming and utterly selfless. He was a credit to An Garda Síochána, friends and colleagues said.

Born in Ballina, Co Mayo, to David and Breege Golden, he had been in the force for 11 years, first at Kill O'The Grange in Dublin, transferring to Dundalk in 2007 and moving to Omeath station six years ago.

"He was meticulous in the way he went about his work," said Superintendent Gerry Curley of Garda Golden's district.

"He was a quiet and unassuming person, who did his job in a diligent manner and he was a credit to An Garda Síochána."

Supt Curley described his death as a tragic loss for Dundalk district, following on such a short space of time after the death of Adrian Donohoe.

Among the local people who queued up at Dundalk station during the week to sign the book of condolence, was an elderly woman, Mary Moran.

Her own father, Tom Brennan, had been a garda since the very foundation of the State, she explained, and had been stationed at Kilkee, Co Clare, and at Kinvara and Tuam in Co Galway.

The loss of Tony Golden had struck her like the death of a family member.

"I felt sick when I heard of it," she said.

"You're always a part of them," she said of An Garda Síochána.

Even to this day she can instantly recognise a garda, she claimed.

"They're always so well dressed and shake you by the hand. ­ Manners."

It struck a particularly poignant note that such a devoted father and husband as Garda Golden had died while protecting another young woman and mother, Siobhan Phillips (21), from her brutish partner, Adrian Crevan Mackin, amid a situation of domestic violence.

Black and blue from Mackin's blows, Siobhan had been accompanied by Garda Golden as she attempted to collect her clothes from her home at Mullach Alainn in picturesque Omeath, Co Louth.

Neither knew that Mackin was waiting at the top of the stairs, armed with a high-powered 9mm Glock.

Siobhan's father, Sean Phillips, has thanked Garda Golden for laying down his own life.

"Garda Golden, in the service and protection of others, laid down his life for my daughter Siobhan, myself and my family," he said. "There are no words to express our gratitude for his bravery, we are forever in his debt."

And Mr Phillips said they would pray for Garda Golden's family "as they face their immeasurable grief".

Groups supporting domestic violence victims have praised Garda Golden's actions, saying his death and the life-threatening injuries sustained by the gunman's partner highlighted the crucial role of gardaí in such situations.

The pomp and ceremony of a State funeral was a small gesture - the least the Irish people could do in gratitude for the brave manner in which Tony Golden lost his life, protecting the vulnerable of our society.

We will never forget him, though we move forward with our own lives.

The Golden family will not have that luxury. For them, time will stand still, the pain immortal; ever-fresh and wrenching.

The Commissioner has vowed that the garda family will support Nicola and, in the future, will support her children.

But it is the much smaller and more tightly knit circle of the Garda Survivors Support Group - an association of mostly widows and families of gardaí who have died or been killed in the course of their duties - that is likely to provide the most solace down the road.

At Adrian Donohoe's graveside, Caroline Donohoe and Ann McCabe embraced in tears. Strangers to one another at that stage, they were united in a similar grief.

Ann's husband, Jerry McCabe, was gunned down without warning by an IRA gang robbing a post office in Adare, Co Limerick, 19 years ago, leaving her the sole parent of five children.

In an interview two years ago, after she had publicly rejected Gerry Adams' apology for her husband's death on behalf of Republicans, Ann revealed she had been very emotional before approaching Caroline, thinking "what am I going to say?"

"It's just that I know how she feels. I know exactly how she feels and what she will be feeling for a long, long time," she said.

The children would keep Caroline busy, she said, but adding: "The river of tears never stops."

She added that despite the lapse of time, "it never goes away. Ever."

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