‘It was a matter of getting a job’

SARAH O’Sullivan was 22 years old when she joined the Garda Síochána in July 1959, but making history was not on her mind at the time.

“It was a matter of getting a job,” the Co Longford native said yesterday. “In ’59, there were no jobs.

“I was the fourth eldest in a family of 10 and all those younger than me were still going to National School, so we had to move out of the nest.”

Training lasted for 22 weeks, with almost every aspect of it carried out with their male colleagues.

“It was a different life then, it was so relaxed. We were the centre of attention the whole time.”

No barriers went up, however, and no ill-feeling either, she said.

“When we arrested people we walked them down to the station – we had no squad cars. They would come with us. We had no mobile phones, we had no walkie-talkies – they were much different times than they are now.”

Having completed training in the Phoenix Park, she went to Pearse St with five of her colleagues, while the other six went to Store St.

She was promoted in 1960 along with two others and moved to Store St and served there until 1981, before moving to Harcourt Terrace where she had special responsibility for security at Leinster House and Government Buildings for four years – “a tough job”.

“Being on the beat was my preference,” she said.

“There is no comparison [to now]. We would only have one or two or three murders in the year – how many murders have been committed this year?

“There was no violence towards us, even from prisoners. Now there is. The job is tough and dangerous now, but girls coming into it now have grown up in that era.” She attributes the change to alterations in society, greater affluence and more money, and ultimately, “it all starts in the home”.

She was one of the first officers at the scene of the Stardust disaster – “that was pretty tough” – and in the aftermath of the Dublin bombings, where she had to maintain contact with the injured.

“The worst thing that I had to do was to go to some of the flats and tell them that their daughter had died or their child had died in hospital,” she said, adding that in days past they fulfilled the role of social workers, especially with young girls who fell pregnant and felt they could not tell anyone.

In recent years she has retired back to Co Longford and is in steady contact with her classmates from 1959, the bond that formed back then still holding strong.

“It is really as milestone,” she said of the half-century anniversary. “Absolutely fantastic.”

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