First female gardaí look back on 50 years

AS advertisements for a life in the police force go, they don’t come much better.

Yesterday, 11 of the 12 women (the other could not make it due to prior a engagement) who were the first female recruits into the Garda Síochána sat in the front row at Garda HQ, glorying in the 50th anniversary of the day they first passed through the same gates and made a piece of history.

They were joined by 22 of their male colleagues from that year, and nostalgia was in the air.

How things have changed. Before the 12 began their training in the Phoenix Park in July 1959, there were no female members of the force. Now there are 3,279 women gardaí, accounting for about 22% of the force.

Brid Wymbes from Co Leitrim recalled entering Garda HQ 50 years ago to the day and being greeted by a sergeant from Liverpool City Police who was recruited to help them on their way into the history books.

“We did the usual training that the men were doing,” Brid said. However, once they completed their six months of training, things were a little out of the ordinary. After the passing-out parade on December 4 that year, Brid was stationed in Pearse St and then Store St, on the beat in the inner city.

“It was most unusual,” she said of the reaction of people to seeing women in uniform.

“We were walking along upper O’Connell St and the traffic slowed down, everything came to a standstill.

“As innocent as we were we went up to another guard and asked him what is going on, and he said ‘would you get away from me, it’s you they’re looking at’.

“The general public were fantastic. Women used to come up to us and say it was great what we were doing.”

As did, it seems, their male colleagues. Sarah McGuinness, originally from Co Longford, said she never encountered any difficulties from men in the force, or even from those in society, even when they were having their collar felt.

“They were different times,” she said wistfully, recalling that those were times when the job did not involve violent resistance to arrest.

Not that it was always plain sailing. Brid recalled taking two children, a seven-year-old girl and her four-year-old brother, down to a children’s home in Kilkenny, where they were split up from each other.

“Every time I think of that I get a lump in my throat,” she admitted.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy led the chorus of approval for the 11 ladies in the front row.

“We are here to celebrate,” he said, adding that today women hold rank up to Assistant Commissioner, although he was a little more reticent when asked when a woman might be expected to take over his job.

“Well, that is a matter for Government,” he demurred. More than a few of the retired ladies present yesterday looked like they might be interested, if they ever fancy leaving their well-earned retirement behind.

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