Impact of Tragic Death of Detective Garda Felt Throughout Force and Beyond
The Archdeacon of Dublin, the Ven David Pierpoint, is Church of Ireland Chaplain to An Garda Síochána. One month after the death of Detective Garda Colm Horkan in Castlerea on June 18, he writes of the devastating effect such an event has on the Garda family.
In July 1994, 100 young men and women from all across Ireland gathered in the front square of Templemore Garda Training College to fulfil their lifelong ambition to become members of An Garda Siochana. The group was divided into four classes of twenty-five. In one class sat Adrian Donoghue and Colm Horkan. The chances of having one of that class shot and killed in the line of duty was 14,500/1. Yet this happened, not once but twice.
In the early hours of Thursday 18th June, I was advised that a member of the Gardai had been shot and fatally wounded in the rural town of Castlerea in Co Roscommon. This was devasting news as I vividly remember the last time a member of the force was shot and killed. Garda Tony Golden, answering the call to a domestic dispute, was wantonly gunned down outside Dundalk. Travelling to the station where Colm Horkan worked, I remembered that in that particular station some 40 years ago, two other Gardaí were also murdered by gunfire while trying to capture bank robbers on the outskirts of the town. Colm’s death brings to eighty-nine the number of Gardaí who have been killed in the line of duty since the formation of the State in 1923.
The Garda family (for that is what it is) laugh and cry together and just as in our own families, what affects one member affects all and Colm’s murder has had a lasting effect on each and every one of the Garda family, from the Commissioner, right down to the newest recruit in Templemore. In his address at Colm’s funeral the Garda commissioner said, "Colm also belonged to the wider family of An Garda Siochana and his death has been a heavy blow to us all. But I also know that the greatest burden of loss and grief will be borne by Colm's family. I want to assure you that you will have my and An Garda Síochána’s full support, in any way that we can help, in the months and years ahead. And also, I wish to assure you that Colm's name will live on and he will be remembered within An Garda Síochána in the years ahead. Today we grieve beside his coffin, but this is only the beginning of our remembrance of Detective Garda Colm Horkan. I trust that those of us who continue to serve can honour Colm's legacy in the manner we conduct our duties, in the manner we protect and serve this society and as Colm did; step forward and be counted at the crucial moment. May he rest in Peace".
Members of An Garda Síochána see some terrible things in their work. They cannot avoid dealing with fatal accidents, suicides or murder. They see things they cannot unsee yet they carry out their duties to protect the citizens of this state with honour, dignity and loyalty to the force and the uniform they wear.
The mood in Castlerea on that fateful morning was tangible. Men and women, members of An Garda Síochána, local residents and the community in general all crying and grieving for the loss of a colleague and friend. It is a most moving experience to see grown men and women who have witnessed many horrible sights weep bitterly at such a needless act of violence that took the life of Detective Garda Colm Horkan.
The impact of Colm’s tragic death has been felt throughout the force and beyond. Widows and family members of those eighty-eight members who were killed and whose names are inscribed on the Memorial wall in the gardens of Dublin Castle are suddenly and sadly reminded of their own loved ones and brought back to their own sense of personal loss.
When any member of An Garda Síochána goes to work, puts on their uniform or in plainclothes, they never know what lies ahead yet all of them do so, willingly, so that you and I can sleep safely in our beds each night.
However, it is their families who worry most of all. On so many occasions, I have heard family members say, they worry and pray every time their husband, wife, son, daughter, mother or father goes to work. They don’t rest easy until they know they are safely home at the end of their shift. A new pocket sized card is currently being designed for every member of An Garda Síochána with the added prayer:
As I begin another shift, may God give me wisdom and strength to face whatever lies ahead this day or night so that I may carry out my duty with fairness and honesty in serving the people of this community. May God protect me and my colleagues and keep us safe from all harm. Amen
For Colm Horkan’s family the news they dreaded to hear came around the time Colm should have been home from his late shift. His father, Marty; sister, Deirdre; brothers, Brendan, Aidan, Dermot and Padraig all came together to make the necessary preparations for Colm’s funeral.
During this current pandemic and with restrictions on large gatherings to prevent the spread of Covid 19, their task and that of the senior Garda management was not made easy. Colm, as is always the case when a member of the force is killed in the line of duty was to be given a full state funeral with Garda Honours, however, while he did have the honours customary to An Garda Síochána, a full state funeral was impossible to arrange. Such a gathering will be held at a later date to honour the courage and dedication of Detective Garda Colm Horkan.
I was privileged to have been involved with my Garda colleagues in offering some support to them both in Castlerea on the morning he was murdered and at his funeral in Charlestown. May Colm now Rest in Peace to Rise in Glory.
The following prayer was said at a hastily arranged prayer service on 18th June in the local GAA club which was attended by Colm Horkan’s colleagues, some representatives from the town of Castlerea, senior Garda officers and the widows of two former Gardaí whose murder 40 years ago is to be commemorated in July.
God, we pray for all who at this time mourn Colm,
who has been tragically killed whilst serving the public;
and we ask for your comfort and strength to be especially
with his loved ones and colleagues.
As we pray also for those who continue to be in danger from this violence,
we give thanks for the constant courage and devotion to duty of the Gardai,
and all who take risks to protect our communities.
May they be strengthened for the tasks they face
and supported in the commitment they give, that they may further the well-being of all people
and enable our society to be loving, just and at peace.
We ask this in the name of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
To cry and to grieve
(in memory of Det Garda Colm Horkan)
Not one of us dares or wants to believe
So we gather together to cry and to grieve;
A tragedy like this should never occur
And as colleagues and friends what pain we endure.
The world we live in becomes a black hole
For a Garda gunned down, we let our tears roll;
No words to speak for the news is too raw
He’s respected by all for upholding the law.
In times of need, he was there by your side
Or if someone was lost, he was there as their guide;
Colm was loved and a friend to us all
If he thought you might stumble he would not let you fall.
His death was so tragic it should not have occurred
And we all feel the loss and life seems so blurred;
Without him by our side, life will not be the same
And the least we can do is remember his name.
May Christ bring us comfort and his Holy Mother
As we mourn for a colleague, a son and a brother;
In our Garda community he is always a part
And Colm will always be kept in our heart.
Colm Horkan, a hero, protecting us all
As he served the community, fulfilling his call;
His murder, not one of wants to believe
So we gather together to cry and to grieve.
[Original written in October 2015 at the of the murder of Garda Tony Golden
Amended in June 2020]