Rivers of blue reflect loss of father and hero Tony Golden

FROM early in the morning, rivers of blue flowed into Louth. From every corner of the country, gardaí took to the roads in the dark and cold.

Rivers of blue reflect loss of father and hero Tony Golden

In official cars, unmarked vehicles, private cars, in jeeps, coaches and special Dublin Buses, they descended en masse to the disused Fairways Hotel, on the outskirts of Dundalk.

There, the army had set up camp, joined by an advance party of gardaí, directing traffic, offering refreshments and organising the march.

It was a march none of them wanted to be on. But needed to be.

‘A sibling’, as one garda said, had died. Garda Tony Golden, a father of three young children and aged just 36 years.

He died in the most awful and violent of ways — at the hands of Adrian Crevan Mackin and a high-powered handgun.

The gun Crevan Mackin used without mercy on Garda Golden and Siobhan Phillips, his estranged partner, and mother of their two children, at their former home in Omeath.

She had sought Garda Golden’s help last Sunday evening, so that she could leave her abusive boyfriend. Help he gave willingly.

Garda Golden is the 88th member of the force to be killed in the line of duty.

Assembled gardaí pulled their pristine uniforms tight as the chilly conditions continued into mid morning, some grabbing a coffee from the tents to keep warm.

Garda numbers swelled the car park, turning it into a sea of dark blue.

Officers at Fairways estimated that thousands of gardaí had come, at least 2,500 uniform police and up to 2,000 plainclothes officers and retired members.

The retired included the three most recent former garda commissioners: Martin Callinan, Noel Conroy and Fachtna Murphy.

Mr Callinan, who was police boss at the time of the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe in the same Dundalk district in January 2013, said it was an “awful tragedy”.

As 11am struck, the thousands marched down suburban roads, passed neat suburban houses to the home of their murdered colleague.

Trodding in polished shoes, they marched solemnly, four abreast.

They were led by Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan; Superintendent Gerry Curley, district officer of Dundalk; Chief Superintendent Pat McGee, divisional officer for Louth; and Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny, head of the Northern Region.

Behind them stood the acting deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners, lines of chief superintendents from across the organisation, following by ranks and ranks of uniformed members, young and not so young.

The blue line, no longer thin, marched in step, passed mothers and buggies, dad’s and toddlers, grandmothers and uncles, children and teenagers.

They slowed as they came to Sandy Lane and stopped at the entrance to Sandy Grove, where Nicola, wife of Tony Golden, was preparing herself, and her children, for the worst of journeys.

She was surrounded, as she was since Sunday, by her parents and siblings, ever since a colleague and friend of her husband called to the door with the unbearable news.

There too were Garda Golden’s heartbroken parents from Mayo and his siblings.

Local people shared their thoughts as we waited. Of how Lucy, aged six and the elder of the two daughters, attended the local school, just yards down the lane. The other daughter Alex, aged four, was heading there. Andrew, aged two, would too.

“It’s just so sad,” one woman said, clutching her young daughter, “he’ll never see his kids grow up and they’ll never see their daddy again.”

Another woman said Nicola had “great parents” and “great support”. But she added: “Today is great, all this display of support, and it’s genuine. But what about Christmas and the winter and next year, and the years after. That’s when she will need it.”

Three garda motorbike outriders signalled the hearse and family was moving. A drummer led, setting a slow, sombre beat. Eight guards followed. Behind came the hearse, flanked on both sides by gardaí.

Then came the heartbreaking sight of Lucy and Alex, either side of their grandmother, Iris, holding her hands, dressed in matching coats and clutching pink floppy-eared teddies, one of them in a white dress.

Nicola held little Andrew close in her arms.

Locals stood solemnly, clasping their hands, some blessing themselves.

The cortege passed Lucy’s school. There, school mates, boys and girls, lined either side of the road in a touching display of support.

As Sandy Lane dipped where it meets the Main Road, part of the beautiful Dundalk Bay revealed itself.

Organ music from the church, piped through the outdoor speakers, played soflty.

GAA broadcasting legend Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh stood solemly as the cortege turned left towards the church. He too was there for Det Gda Donohoe’s murder, as a mark of both garda’s deep love, and involvement, in the GAA.

Approaching the church in Blackrock village, the sadness of the occasion clashed with the stunning views of the bay; the lush, velvety waters and the Mourne Mountains in the distance.

Nicola Golden, wife of murdered Garda Tony Golden, as the funeral procession arrives.

Nicola Golden, wife of murdered Garda Tony Golden, as the funeral procession arrives.

Government ministers Leo Varadkar and James Reilly were among the gathered crowd, as were Garda Inspectorate chiefs Bob Olson and Mark Toland.

Tim Vaughan, editor of Irish Examiner, was also in attendance.

With the 300-seater church reserved for family, loved ones and dignatories, areas were set aside in the car park for gardaí and the public, with large screens and audio. A second speaker from the village echoed the proceedings.

A flag flew at half mast at the front entrance.

Father Padraig Keenan told mourners that the silence of Dundalk Bay reflected the “silence and sadness” that had unfolded since Sunday.

There were tender smiles from some of the gardaí at the symbols brought to the alter to reflect Garda Golden’s life.

They included everyday treats, like Hunky Dorys and a Drifter bar.

The eyes of some gardaí dropped to think. It could reflect any one of them.

The sun gleamed stronger through the clouds. Birds chirped and chattered loudly nearby.

A family photograph of Garda Golden, Nicola, Lucy, Alex and Andrew was brought to the alter. The normality of the image was not lost on gardaí and non-gardaí alike. There were sniffles from some of the gardaí, male and female, and shaking of heads.

Tony was a “gentle giant”, Fr Keenan said.

Fr Padraig Keegan said that the funerals setting reflects the heartbreak of the nation.

The singing of soloist Sarah McCourt and the Garda Male Choir was pierced with both beauty and sorrow.

Garda Golden’s younger brother Patrick told mourners his brother was “a hero, a gentle giant, a family man, caring, a rock, an idol”.

Some of the gardaí stared blankly at the ground. One or two cried openly, their cheeks red and puffy.

It was in his “nature” to look after people, Patrick said. In his bravery, he lost his life to protect the lives of others.

Patrick said he was his brother’s best man at his wedding eight years ago. Little did he think he would be speaking at his funeral so soon afterwards, he said. But he was “proud” to do so.

Tony, he said, “adored Nicola and the children”. He thanked the “entire garda family” for their support.

The more Patrick spoke, the warmer it got, as the sun’s rays intensified.

THOUGH not in the requiem Mass programme, Commissioner O’Sullivan spoke next.

Tony, she said, laid down his life “in the line of duty”, a deed that was “heroic”.

In a personal and moving reflection, she said his family was “a ring of love”, one that was “forged” by him and Nicola.

They had hopes and dreams for their own futures and that of their children. She said it was “achingly sad” it would not transpire as planned.

His children would not again get up on daddy’s “big shoulders”, feel his “strong hands”, jump to the sound of his car, “rushing to tell him” what they had done that day.

They were words that all those present could relate to.

Garda Golden, she said, was part of the wider garda family and like any family it had reacted to the murder with disbelief, a desire to roll the clock back, with anger and with grief.

But, also like a family, it would not forget. She said members would tell the stories of Tony: in the “dark interiors of their patrol cars”, “waiting for the kettle to boil” or conducting “lonely checkpoints”.

Tony, she said, was “a hero, protecting a frightened woman”, a true gentleman and a gentle giant.

President Michael D Higgins and Taioseach Enda Kenny extended their condolences to the grieving family.

Nicola Golden, wife of murdered Garda Tony Golden, as the funeral procession arrives.

Nicola Golden, wife of murdered Garda Tony Golden, as the funeral procession arrives.

All the while, gardaí outside took up positions to flank the hearse, as You’re Missing, by Bruce Springstein rang out.

Afterwards, in the silence, the gentle lapping of the waters was all that could he heard. More gardaí took ceremonial positions and the hearse, carrying the body, moved off on its final journey.

At the church gates they were met by Commissioner O’Sullivan and PSNI chief constable George Hamilton.

There were more moments of quiet, again broken by the soft crashing of the water.

The Garda drum was struck and the Garda band played The Dead March from Saul all the way down the long Main Street.

Stretched along the entire seafront, on either side, were lines of gardaí — thousands of them — facing the road.

The sun shone even brighter and hotter.

It seemed directly overhead in front of the mourners, as if they were marching towards it.

All the way, businesses were closed and locals stood silently; stunned by the massed ranks of gardaí, saddened at the terrible pain of the family.

As the cortege pushed on, there was the gentlest of breezes off the bay, to send the gentle giant on his way.

It was appropriate that 150 student gardaí from Templemore College waited for them at the cemetery, in what was to be a private cermoney, aware from the glare of the media and public.

The students would perform a guard of honour at the cemetery gates, holding aloft the Tricolour.

It is perhaps fitting they had a role in guiding Garda Tony Golden to his final resting place.

As the gardaí of the future, what better guide could they have.

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