Since the formation of An Garda Síochána in 1922 many fine upright and intelligent members have joined our organisation, according to Noel Hynes, Naas Branch. Here he highlights the career of the late Detective Sergeant Charlie Gaffney, who was responsible for solving 21 murders during his career as a member of the Fingerprint Section in Garda Headquarters.
Sadly, Det/Sgt Charlie Gaffney (12612) died in 2011 and I hope to highlight his career as a member of An Garda Siochana, in particular as a dedicated fingerprint expert. His son, Cathal founded Brown Bag Films in 1994 which was the same year his beloved Leitrim won the Connaught Football Final. Brown Bag Films was nominated for Best Animated Short Film in the 2002 Oscars for ‘Give Up Yer Aul Sins’. Charlie was a native of Gowel, Carrick-on-Shannon, in lovely County Leitrim, where the late author John McGahern and son of Sergeant Frank McGahern also resided. Charlie joined An Garda Síochána in May 1955, along with 219 other ‘raw recruits’, and that year is remembered as having a very hot summer. He retired in 1988 and sadly died in Dublin in 2011 in his 80th year. He had a quiet unassuming disposition and became one of the best-known fingerprint experts in An Garda Síochána. He was responsible for compiling a dossier of the Henry System of fingerprinting, which saved the Government hundreds and thousands of pounds, as previously members had to attend Scotland Yard to become proficient in same. In the March 1999, Tim Doyle, ex-Kerry senior footballer, author and well-known member of An Garda Síochána, profiled Charlie under the heading ‘A Detective Who Left His Mark’. In his glowing tributes, he stated: “To herald the oncoming millennium and in tribute to past colleagues, it gives me great pleasure to honour one member, whose zeal, persistence and flair made him in my opinion our greatest ever fingerprint expert – a man, whose eagle eye and steady hands, have become the best known in our organisation”.
SALUTING ‘A PERFECTIONIST’ Tim also made reference in his article that between 1970 and 1988 – the year Charlie retired – when armed robbers, subversives, drug barons and murderers stalked our land, some of our most famous detectives rose to the challenge and will feature when an accurate history of that period is written. In concluding his article Tim Doyle stated: “Today I salute one, a perfectionist who appeared in communities when fear, terror and chaos threatened and used his expertise to restore peace and harmony”. I concur with the sentiments expressed by Tim, hence this article regarding one who deserves no less and who, at the drop of a hat could quote Hamilton’s Quaternion fingerprint records by classifying fingerprints according to gross physiological characteristics and was developed to facilitate orderly storage and faster search of fingerprint cards, called ten print cards. It is interesting to note that Henry was regarded as one of the great Commissioners and was responsible for bringing the Metropolitan Police into the modern day and away from the class-ridden Victorian era. However, as Commissioner he lost touch with his men as others before him had also done. Sir Edward Henry was born in London to Irish parents and survived an assassination attempt in November 1912 at his home in Kensington. He died in February 1931 of a heart attack, aged 80.
ADVANCED TRAINING AT SCOTLAND YARD Charlie Gaffney was sent to Scotland Yard to undergo an advanced course in Fingerprinting and became an expert in Henry’s system and exactly 80 years later, he died in his 80th year. When Charlie Gaffney retired in 1988, he was employed in the National Museum in Dublin. One day in 1997, Prof Louis Scharf from Colorado University visited him. This Professor had travelled to this country searching for the bridge made famous for William Rowan Hamilton’s Quaternion Multiplication and after two fruitless days of searching under numerous bridges on the Liffey and Grand Canal, he failed to find the bridge. Having explained his reason for calling, to a young employee in the Museum, he was directed to Charlie stating “Mr Gaffney is a gentleman who knows Dublin and its history”. Here is what this eminent mathematician wrote to Charlie some weeks later – ‘I shall never forget my question to you – Sir, I am looking for a thing here in Dublin which is evidently very hard to find. It is the bridge where William Rowan Hamilton …… You interrupted me and said: “It’s the William Rowan Hamilton Bridge, formerly the Broome Bridge in Cabra, where Sir William Rowan Hamilton in a flash of genius discovered his equation for quaternion multiplication: i2=j2=k2=ijk=-1’. Professor Scharf was flabbergasted – so are all of us Charlie! Louis Scharf was indeed a very grateful American tourist who never forgot his encounter with an Irishman and a retired Garda Síochána Detective who studied and remembered Hamilton’s Quaternion equation 50 years after his school days in Leitrim. Scarf’s story concerning his meeting with Charlie has been recited many times since in the hallowed halls of Colorado University.
To be continued in Part II publication…