The house where Garda Tony Golden lived is an ordinary house, modest, red-bricked, semi-detached with starlings chattering on the roof and a small patch of lawn to the front.
His two little girls played on the grass, buoyed by the sense of occasion on an occasion that made no sense, their matching dark dress coats the only hint of solemnity as they giggled in the autumn sun.
They were oblivious to the motionless gardaí forming a guard of honour on their driveway. An ordinary modest driveway, the kind designed for a single car, it took just nine officers standing side by side to line it.
But at 11.30am yesterday, a coffin emerged through the bright red front door, draped in the Tricolour, a Garda cap carefully positioned on top, to be conveyed slowly, formally down the short driveway, past the small lawn now stilled from abandoned play.
It was as if a cruel conjuror had pulled an unwelcome surprise from behind an unsuspecting ear. It offended logic. It didn’t belong in this so very everyday scene. Such an ordinary home is not meant to hold such extraordinary grief.
And yet it was the natural place for his final journey to begin, for it was here that the two worlds of Tony Golden, family man and Garda officer, merged and, with or without uniform, he was guardian and protector.
It was here, in this house in the small Co Louth village of Blackrock, that he lived, as Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan described in her tribute, “in a ring of love” forged by himself and his wife Nicola. It was here, where love was sheltered, that memories were created for his children of being “hefted on to the big shoulders of their daddy”, where they were comforted by the “strong sure hands of him”.
Even as a boy in his native Mayo, Tony Golden had displayed that same instinct to shield those around him. His brother Patrick recalled how much he always looked up to his big brother, Anthony, Tony, Tonester, as they variously called him.
“He made me feel so secure and protected. He always looked out for me and ensured I was never led astray. He would go out of his way to ensure that I was always safe. This was Tony’s nature,” said Patrick, the pain in his heart bringing a tremble to his voice.
It was no different last Sunday night when Tony Golden left Omeath Garda Station to accompany and protect a frightened young woman as she attempted to collect some belongings for herself and her small children from another ordinary house — but one where love had been betrayed and brutalised, a house which provided no shelter or shield.
His parish priest, Fr Padraig Keenan, addressing the congregation in the Church of St Oliver Plunkett, said Nicola, in the midst of her grief, had declared her great pride in her husband’s actions , not just that night but throughout his 11 years on the force and his nine years by her side.
Maybe it was that pride, or some other great personal strength, that kept her going as she followed her husband’s coffin out their front door yesterday, with her little daughters, Lucy and Alex, close by her now, both clutching pink bunnies; their toddler brother Andrew safe in her arms.
Her strength fought its way through the exhaustion in her step and the anguish in her eyes as she guided her children on the long, slow walk from their home to the church.
To the mournful beat of a heavy drum, the funeral procession made its way past the small landmarks of village life — the community centre, school, the Legion of Mary hall.
It stopped for a time outside the local Garda station, almost a carbon copy of the station where Tony Golden served half an hour’s drive away in Omeath, and where he was a colleague and friend.
For almost 45 minutes it proceeded like this, stopping, and starting, and stopping again, as if reluctant to reach the route’s end.
Local people lined every inch of the way, their numbers swelled by the communities of Omeath and the rest of the Cooley peninsula, by friends from Mayo where Tony grew up and Dublin where he first served after graduating from Templemore, by members of the Defence Forces and by several thousand gardaí.
They collectively shut the roads, closed the shops, brought down their shutters, and stood out on the footpaths for longer than their legs forgave them. It was as if they wanted to close in around Nicola and the children, to shield and guard them in the same way Tony had protected them.
Commissioner O’Sullivan told mourners it was now incumbent on them to protect Tony’s memory. He had done his duty to the last and it was now the turn of all in the force to fulfill their “duty of remembrance”.
In a State funeral, there is a danger of the person who is grieved getting lost in the formalities but Tony Golden was everywhere. He was in the hugs of President Michael D Higgins as he comforted Nicola, in the TV remote control and bag of Hunky Dory crisps included in the symbols of his life, and in the song chosen above all the classics to accompany his coffin as it left the church.
‘You’re Missing’ is special to those who wear uniforms in protection of the rest of society, written as it was by Bruce Springsteen in the wake of 9/11 when so many emergency services members lost their lives. It includes the lines: “Your house is waiting, for you to walk in, but you’re missing.”
The starlings will still chatter on the roof of the house where Tony lived, and his children will play on the lawn again, but it was clear in Blackrock yesterday the missing of the family man and Garda officer who fufilled both roles so powerfully, will go on for ever.
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