Bray People

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Mary Dinan talks to Garda Brendan Thornhill who is hanging up his hat after 30 years of pounding the beat

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HE HAS BEEN KNOWN to hop on bin lorries for a chat or into a local taxi for just a few metres then maybe pay a visit to the local library or a function. He has worn out shoe leather from the many miles of walking. You may have encountered him at diverse places such as the local amusements, or charity shop.

Originally from West Cork, Garda Brendan Thornhill came from a family of three brothers and one sister. He was educated in Skibbereen, County Cork, where he grew up. His working life began in Bord Na Mona in 1973 and he also worked in a hardware store. After being made redundant, he seized an opportunity to work in a bakery, earning a mere 25 pounds per week. He stayed for five years.

What took him from the bakery into the Garda Siochána? He recalls that he had a miraculous escape, where he was almost accidently locked in and baked in an oven, but that wasn't the reason for leaving. Moving from bakery life into the Gardaí world seemed like a natural progression and allowed him to continue with his passion, which is his interaction with people. He feels those early days prepared him for his new life in the Gardaí.

In 1979, he applied to join An Garda Siochána. After taking the exam he failed the medical twice which still didn't deter him. He was placed among the top 80 candidates in the country. HIS FIRST STATION was in Shankill Co. Dublin, as a Garda. He moved to Bray in 1989 where he was appointed as Community Garda. His mantra was to 'walk and talk, meet and greet, empathise and sympathise with everyone and anyone, young or old, rich or poor and people of all cultures and creeds', and it still is to this day.

In the early days, he attended the Dale Carnegie seminar which impressed him greatly. Dale Carnegie is best known for his publication, 'How to win friends and influence people' and has written books on effective communication. The seminar had a very profound effect on his career as a policeman and his personal life.

So what is the secret to being a good Garda? His secret is to listen to people and to focus on them rather than himself. The most important ingredient for the job is communication. As a family man, he reckons that being married to Bridie and having his three daughters, Emily, Ruth and Rebecca, people can identify with him.

There is hardly a corner of the community he hasn't covered or a home he hasn't visited and there are many adjectives to describe this man, some of which may surprise you. The most appropriate ones being dynamic, unique, empathetic, humorous, articulate and inquisitive, in a good sense.

He meets the people where they are at in their lives, be it rich or poor, whatever their circumstances. It's all been a part of the job. He has built up trust with many people and he has made some lifelong friends. By his own admission his life has been, 'mostly based on listening and learning from other people'.

He is primarily and has been a people's person, not only to the Irish community but to many people from other nations. He has a very special affinity with the local Chinese Community

He may do a TEFL, (Teach English as a foreign language) course in the future and another ambition is to travel. China is on his travel list. He has come to love the Chinese language and can hold a contrived conversation in Mandarin. St Cronin's National School in Bray is twinned with a National School in Beijing and more recently he met with a visiting delegation.

His linguistics extends to being a fluent Irish speaker with a great love of the Irish language, which has led to his involvement as chairperson on the Board of Management in Schoil uí Cheadaigh Chuillan Bray. Many local schools have benefited from Brendan's visits.

'Being a Garda hasn't been all plain sailing,' said Brendan. 'Being a Garda has had its moments. It can be a dangerous job depending on the area you work in.' He has had some narrow escapes, one of which was falling down a manhole. He had to cling on for dear life or he would have ended up in the river. He had to spread his arms in a desperate attempt to stay above ground and didn't even lose his hat.

In 2002, he won a local Endeavour Award from the Bray Chamber Of Commerce for his outstanding service to the community. Previous winners of this prestigious award are Katie Taylor, World Boxing. Champion and rugby hero Reggie Corrigan.

He has had a string of strange coincidences throughout his life and for him the month of November has been very significant. He was born in November; he joined An Garda Siochána on November 11. He was first posted to the November District in the Dublin Metropolitan District, he did his pre-retirement course in November and he opted to retire in November, on what he calls an, ' iconic date' - 11/11/11.

Is retirement the end for Garda Brendan Thornhill? No, it's the beginning?

With extensive interests, the chances of Brendan suffering from boredom following retirement are slim. He is a keen photographer and his subject interest is people from all walks of life. He also became a proficient golfer.

Now he is involved with the Toastmasters and has developed a love of public speaking. One of his first talks was on the topic of his own life story, with a speech titled 'If the cap fits?'

Just because he is hanging up his uniform doesn't mean he is going to disappear, in fact he is going to be even more active in the community.