Garda Mark Irwin was given the unprecedented accolade at an event in Farmleigh House, alongside 19 other everyday heroes, the youngest of whom is just 15,
On October 28, 2012, the garda and reservist Stephen Corrigan were forced to stop chasing a car in Westport, Co Mayo, as it was no longer safe. Moments later, the duo saw the same vehicle crash into Knappaghbeg Lake.
Acting quickly, the gardaí raced to the scene and, despite the car being underwater, were able to keep the trapped driver alive by holding his head above the water in a small air pocket for “20 minutes, although it felt much longer”.
A month later, Gda Irwin was faced with a similar situation at Westport Quay, when he and colleague Garda John Boyle saw a vehicle had fallen 4.5m into the sea, with a passenger trapped inside in “freezing” water.
The National Bravery Awards panel said that, were it not for the actions of the pair, “the incident may have resulted in a loss of life”.
Among the other award winners were Corkmen Richard Galvin and Mark O’Mahony.
On August 24, 2012, Mr Galvin was at Crookhaven in Co Cork when he spotted a person in difficulty “some distance from the shore”.
Mr Galvin got a surf board, swam through the choppy waters to reach the swimmer, and brought him back to the beach safely. Less than a year later, on May 29, 2013, local man Mr O’Mahony made a similarly courageous rescue in Ballydehob, West Cork, after a small boat sank 1.5km into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Cork native was swimming near the shore and heard three men crying for help. After raising the alarm, he got into his kayak and raced out to one swimmer to assist him.
Two lifeboats soon arrived and Mr O’Mahony pointed them in the direction of the other two, narrowly averting disaster.
The winners are decided on by politicians, the Garda Commissioner, and the Irish Red Cross.
The full list can be read at www.bravery.ie.