Friday 16 November 2018

John Hannigan was a highly respected garda

Famous story of discovery of a baby boy at the Whitworth Hall

The death of former local garda, John Hannigan, brought to light again the story of his role in the discovery of a baby in a phone box outside the Whitworth Hall in 1965.

Speaking at his funeral mass in Holy Family, Fr David Bradley told the tale of how John was on duty in Drogheda in May of 1965. Two local lads Paul Murphy and Pat Bailey came across a baby in a telephone box outside the Whitworth hall.

John was sent up to Laurence Street to oversee the investigation and ensure that the baby was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital where it was received by Nurse Nancy McDonnell. That baby - John - made contact with Paul in January 2013 and was able to meet up with Paul, John, Pat Bailey and their families a few days afterwards.

John Hannigan 'was one of those people who was a great human being, someone who always sought to do his policing with humanity. John always had a lot of stories to tell but you'd have to tone them down a bit before you'd tell them here!,' Fr Bradley added.

John, who would have been 90 in July 2018, was one of the last people to be born on the island of Haulbowline in Cork Harbour before it was handed over to the Irish Navy in 1923. The family was relocated to Cobh without, as John would often say, without a penny in compensation. Haulbowline and Cobh always had a special place in his heart. After school he found work in a local shop and later at the Commodore Hotel.

He joined An Garda Siochana in 1954, training first at the Phoenix Park and served in a number of stations around the region.

'In a time before mass transport, mobile phones, and computers, he would often recall having to walk from Slane to Ashbourne and recounting how it would often rain all the way!

'He made many friends among the Gardai and many beyond it. He also recalled being within a few feet of President John F Kennedy when he came to Ireland in 1963 and later when Pope John Paul II visited Drogheda in 1979,' Fr Bradley explained.

'His generosity extended to many organisations and he was very much associated with the RNLI, and helped establish Drogheda River Rescue. 'He was also a great suporter of the Holy Ghost missions, making sure their collection boxes were distributed and collected throughout the area. He also helped out with bingo sessions at St Mary's and at Holy Family Church.

'John was able to put across his views quite forcefully and he made it clear to the church authorities that railings were badly neded to assist the elderly negotiate the steps up to the church - so they were installed in quick time!'

He was instrumental in organising an annual mass every November for deceased memebrs of the garda force.

In 1996, the Highfield man, who served as Hon Secretary of the Drogheda branch of the RNLI for decades, was honoured by the organisation for his dedication. He was awarded a Silver Badge at the Mansion House by songwriter, Phil Coulter.

In 1988, he was also honoured for his years of fundraising, beginning back in 1977 and raising thousands for the organisation. That day, Lord Mayor of Dublin Carmencita Hederman presented him with a statuette, but he dismissed his role, laying all the credit on his wife, Brighid and the band of collectors.

He famously declared, 'You know how it is with collections on the street. You're standing there with your box and you see someone coming down the street. They spot you and then walk out on the road to avoid you, or perhaps cross over to the other side of the street. I've no backbone when it comes to going after them but thankfully some of my helpers are better.'

His role with the lifeboat began by accident, remarking 'I was at my desk (in the Garda Siochana station) when someone came in and asked me if I knew anyone who would help with the collection, that funds were badly needed. I didn't like to suggest anyone else, so I offered to do it myself."

John was involved in many incidents in his years in the force, including one in April 1968. That night, two young Drogheda boys were dramatically rescued on Friday when they had been stranded on an island on the River Boyne. The youths, Noel McGuirk (12), Marian Park and Billy O'Neill, same address were trapped by a swirling high tide. Gardai, including John, Sgt. J. Kerins, Pat O'Boyle, Martin Noone, Paddy Dolan, Pat Curtin, Joe Delaney and Michael Fanning and civilians took part in the rescue.

He is survived and missed by his wife Brighid, children Cecilia, Dominic, Seán, Cormac, Alice, Frankie and niece Anne, his son in law Kevin, daughters in law Amy, Carol and Susannah and by his much adored and adoring grandchildren Lily, Georgia, Nancy, Zara, Rafferty, Gabriel, Amelia and Fionn, his brothers Daniel and Finbarr, brothers in law and sisters in law. He will also be greatly missed by his nieces, nephews, relatives, fantastic neighbours in Highfield, friends and carers.

Drogheda Independent