Wednesday 13 November 2019

Terry Prone: Garda Golden's death sparks shock - and true gratitude

Tony Golden went with Siobhan Phillips to protect her
Tony Golden went with Siobhan Phillips to protect her

Terry Prone

It is strange how the death of a garda on duty shocks the community. It is a local shock but a national shock too.

In one fell swoop, it moves us beyond the day-to-day headlines to a reminder and a recognition of what officers in the force actually do, and what they actually stand for.

They are the Guardians of the Peace, and, every now and then, the peace is not easy to guard.

It’s not as if the threat to the peace is constant. What is constant, in the life of a guard, is routine. A daily round of deeds and days, some of them mind-blowing in their capacity to bore.

The demand to defend the peace and the violent challenges that can come with it are sudden – they come out of nowhere and often require immediate and selfless courage.


Sometimes, they take the life of the officer involved, as happened last Sunday with Garda Tony Golden.

Since the force was founded, officers have died on duty. Each time, the name of the guard – as in the case of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe in 2013 – becomes imprinted on our memory, tragically reminding us of the risk implicit in the job.

Yet every time An Garda Siochana starts to recruit, the numbers applying are enormous. Not only are the numbers enormous, but the individuals are determined in a unique way.

When applicants are not successful, they re-apply. Men and women all over the country take other posts to keep themselves housed and fed, but dream of becoming gardai. They join the Reserve to get closer to the job they eventually hope to hold.

Every one of them knows the statistics, the numbers of men who have given their lives to their job, dying with honour in a way not demanded of any other public servant. Thus far, and because it was for so long an exclusively male service, the dead have been men.

The first garda to be killed was Henry Phelan, who was shot dead just a few months after the force’s foundation.

He was followed by 86 others, each of them dying trying to rescue and protect individuals endangered by crime, facing down criminals, by accident or by terrorism.

That was before this weekend in Omeath, when a woman who – with good reason – feared for her life, asked An Garda Siochana for help. She got that help. Garda Golden died in its delivery.

He becomes the latest link in what Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan has called “a shining chain that goes down all the days to the first link, the first man who laid down his life”.

It is a roll of honour, but it is also a linked set of familial tragedies.

The Golden family, supported though they will be by the service and by the community, have nonetheless suffered the loss of a father and a husband.

Pride in a hero parent can be a distant concept to children who simply need the daily presence of a loving dad. Nothing can replace that figure in their lives. No rhetoric can touch that deep grief.

We react to the big things in crime. We get angry about gangs of criminals roaming free. We worry about terrorism. Yet we use the most euphemistic of words about situations that endanger spouses and partners every day in every county in Ireland. We call them “domestic incidents”. 


The reality is that women stand a greater chance of dying in a domestic incident than they do at the hands of a random killer. Intervening in a domestic incident can carry the threat of very real danger.

When a tragedy like Omeath happens, it forces us to remember what we would rather forget – that violence can be found in every community.

It also reminds is that the gardai – who many of us only meet when we need a form signed – are the ones who intervene. And they often do so in the full knowledge that they are entering a dangerous situation.

Because that is their duty, as Guardians of the Peace. And it is one for which every citizen is grateful.

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