Retired Community Policing Sergeant John O’Connor talks to Trevor Laffan, Cork City Branch, about what influenced and attracted him to join the Gardaí, and says he’s been asked this question hundreds of times during his service, but he never knew how to answer it!
My grandfather, Peter Hynes, probably had something to do with it. He had been a Garda for over 36 years and retired a few years before I was born. I spent a lot of time with him when I was growing up. He often took me for walks along the banks of the river Blackwater and taught me how to skim stones. He also taught me how to play cards and draughts and was a great man for jokes and yarns. He took me to horse races in Mallow and introduced me to betting on the tote, we sometimes had a few winners. The most exciting adventures were the trips to Dublin Zoo on the train. I remember the smell of Mick McQuaid tobacco from his pipe. On the way to the zoo, he would always stop outside the gates of Garda HQ or the Depot as he would refer to it.
DRILLED ON MARCHING He told me stories of his training days and how the Drill Sergeant would complain about their marching, telling them in a loud voice that the monkeys in the zoo had more coordination than they had. I remember being confused about the monkeys and the Drill Sergeant and I had a picture in my mind of the monkeys marching in perfect formation. I joined the Force in 1984 and my grandfather was delighted. He attended my passing out parade and met the then Commissioner, Larry Wren. He always talked about that day and I remember being with him once when he told the story to all his friends in Longs Pub in Ballydaheen. I became aware of another influence after a chance meeting with a retired member in 2018. Myself and my wife Gillian, were checking in to The Sheen Falls Hotel, when we met Eamon Leahy and his wife. Eamon had served in Mallow in the 1970’s and we knew each other so we sat down for a pint. He recalled a famous investigation he was involved in back in 1979. It began when my bike was stolen from outside the disco hall one night in Mallow.
MY MODE OF TRAVEL I lived on a farm about a mile outside the town and the bike was my mode of travel so my world caved in when it was gone. Eamon was on duty the night I called in to the Garda Station to report it. I was never in a Garda Station before, but I must have made an impression because nearly 40 years later, Eamon still remembered it. Apparently, I called in every day for a month or more checking the progress of the investigation. Having spent 30 odd years in the job, I now realise that those lads must have been fed up with me. They must have been in dread every time they saw me arriving at the station. I knew every member of the station party by then and they definitely knew me. I felt I was part of their team, so I continued with my own investigation on the side. One day I got a break in the case when a classmate told me the name of the culprit. He also told me the bike was in a yard in Ballydeheen, near my grandparent’s house on the other side of the town. I went straight to the station with this breaking news and met Eamon to update him on the current status of my investigation. He wanted me to point out the suspect’s house, so I suddenly found myself in the back of a patrol car, traveling down the main street of Mallow. I remember sitting in the back and looking at the broad shoulders of the guys in front of me and listening to the garbled talk on the radio. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it, but it was exciting stuff. We were on the trail of a master criminal and my heart was pounding with excitement.
THE IMPENDING RAID They weren’t using the flashing blue lights or siren, but I figured that was only because they didn’t want to alert the gang of the impending raid. I pointed out the scene and then disappointment set in. We weren’t going to surround the property, kick in doors and shout at people to hit the floor. Instead we turned on our heels and returned to the station. Eamon explained that he would have to get a warrant to search the yard. They recovered some property, but my bike was never found but as a consolation, Eamon brought me to a shed at the back of the station and offered me a battered old thing. It had a nice leather saddle which was its only redeeming feature but at least I was back on the road. Eamon told me then that he knew I would become a Garda one day and he was right of course. A few years later at the age of 19, I was marching through the gates of Templemore. So, I had to wait until I retired and a chance meeting with Eamon, to discover the other influence on my decision to become a member of An Garda Síochána.
GSRMA Cork City