Monday 14 October 2019

A fond farewell to Balbriggan's first ever female Garda officer

A farewell party was held in the Bracken Court Hotel recently for Balbriggan's very first female Garda, Mary O'Connell.

Mary recently decided to lay down her cap and retire, having spent 28 years faithfully serving the people of Balbriggan. Joining the force in 1983, she was transferred to Balbriggan Garda Station three years later in 1986. For the past 20 years, she has held the post of Junior Liaison Officer (JLO), dealing with 'problem' youths in Balbriggan.

Up to 100 people attended Mary's farewell party, including the new Superintendent Tony Twomey, the Superintendent from the National Juvenile Office, Chief Superintendent Colette Quinn from Community Relations and Mary's JLO colleague Janine Kelly.

Here, Mary speaks of what it was like being a woman on the force in the nineteen eighties, changes she's seen since she joined Balbriggan Garda Station, and why she decided to step down.

She says: 'I was the three hundred and thirty first female to join the guards, so they were only really beginning to recruit more women into the force at that stage. I think in my group there were eighteen women, with maybe fifty seven in the force altogether. It was only three years before that when they started recruiting women, whereas now, every third person is female.

'We were a scarcity initially, and I was the first female guard in Balbriggan. When I went to Harcourt Terrace, the first females arrived only about two weeks before I arrived.'

Mary (56) lives in Stamullen, which she says was originally part of the Balbriggan district when she first started working at the station. Areas as far afield as Ashbourne and Rathoath were also then part of the Balbriggan district, Mary explains, before it changed to the Dublin Metropolitan Region in 1999.

She has always had, she says, a 'very good relationship' with the people of Balbriggan. She explains, however, that Balbriggan was a very different town when she first joined the force:

'Balbriggan was a different place altogether, but the guards would have always had a good relationship with the locals.

When I came to Balbriggan first, there were only about twenty uniformed guards at the old station, with another eight including the Superintendent and others.

'Now all together, there's about a hundred guards, with specialised units, the detective branch, the drugs unit, child protection unit and other specialised units.'

She adds: 'The Garda station was up in Dublin Street at that stage, the building just before the Bank of Ireland, and we kind of knew everybody back then, because there were less than ten housing estates in the Balbriggan district.'

As for plans for her retirement, Mary says she'll be quite happy with her two hobbies - travelling and gardening. Asked if she'll miss life as a garda, she says: 'I think there's a time to go. I spent twenty years doing juvenile liaison work, so in my head it was time to go. Of course I'll miss my colleagues, but you'll always keep in contact with the people you want to anyway.'

Fingal Independent