A garda murdered by the Provisional IRA during the Troubles has been posthumously awarded the highest honour from An Garda Síochána for bravery.
Insp Samuel Donegan (61), who was originally from Ballinamuck, Co Longford, died from wounds sustained when a device planted by the Provisional IRA blew up in front of him when he went to inspect it on June 8th, 1972. Irish Army officer Lieut John Gallagher was badly injured in the same attack.
The incident occurred on a country lane which straddles the Border between Fermanagh and Cavan. Insp Donegan went to inspect a crate which had the word BOMB! written on it, but it was a hoax. When he went to inspect a similar device a few hundred metres further up the road, it blew up. He died that evening.
Insp Donegan’s son John picked up the gold Scott medal on his father’s behalf at a ceremony in Walter Scott House in Dublin on Friday. He was accompanied by his three surviving siblings Frances McGrath, Sheila Henry and Michael Donegan. Two siblings have died in the years since their father died. The oldest of Insp Donegan’s 20 granddaughters, Louise Rossney, was also present.
John Donegan was 21 years old when his father was killed. “It’s an emotional day for us,” he said. “I was teaching in Dublin, I came in from school and heard that a Garda officer had been badly injured on the Border. I suspected it was him.
“I remember going to Cavan and the hospital to see him. He was very badly injured, but at that stage we were hopeful he would survive, but we were called to the hospital that evening to be told he had died.”
Nobody ever claimed responsibility for the killing, but gardaí and the RUC at the time were in no doubt it was a device planted by the Provisional IRA.
Eleven gardaí in total were awarded Scott medals, two posthumously. The family of Det Garda Donal (Donie) Kelleher received a bronze medal for his actions during the release of the businessman Don Tidey on December 16th, 1983. Mr Tidey had been kidnapped by the Provisional IRA and held captive in Derrada Wood outside Ballinamore in Co Leitrim. Recruit Garda Gary Sheehan and Private Patrick Kelly were killed by the kidnap gang.
Det Garda Kelleher died in February of this year at the age of 68 from cancer.
Mr Tidey and his wife Barbara attended Friday’s medal ceremony.
Four serving gardaí were awarded the silver Scott medal for arresting a man who had gone on a shooting rampage with a hunting gun. The four were Sgt Edward Griffin, Det Garda Darren Carter, Det Garda Enda Jennings and Garda Louis Browne.
Stephen Dowling discharged at least nine shots in the town of Glenties, Co Donegal, on February 22nd, 2020. Despite the obvious risk to themselves, the gardaí managed to arrest Dowling, who is now serving an eight-year sentence in jail.
Sgt Andrew O’Connor, Det Garda Niall Minnock and Garda Conor Garland were awarded silver Scott medals for going into a house in Poppintree, Ballymun, on March 11th, 2019, in pursuit of well-known criminal Derek ‘Bottler’ Devoy who had a Makarov submachine gun in his hands.
They tackled Devoy in a bathroom and the firearm was safely recovered. He was also discovered to have had an unpinned grenade which was dealt with by the Defence Forces explosive ordnance disposal unit. Devoy was subsequently jailed for 17 years.
Bronze Scott medals were awarded to Sgt PJ Gallagher and Garda Thomas McGuinness, who were overpowered by a number of armed men and ordered at gunpoint to lie face down on the ground in an isolated wood at Aughamore in Co Sligo on the night of October 7th, 1983.
The two gardaí were bundled first into a van and then the boot of a car when they were driven towards Bawnboy, Co Cavan. There they were ordered into a second hijacked car and driven to Kilnaleck, Co Cavan, where the car was abandoned. The gardaí released themselves from the boot of the car and raised the alarm.
The Scott medal is the highest award that can be bestowed by the Garda Commissioner and is awarded for “most exceptional bravery and heroism involving the risk of life in the execution of duty”.
In 1924, Col Walter Scott donated to An Garda Síochána a $1,000 gold bond, in perpetuity, to endow a bravery medal on members of the force.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister for Justice Simon Harris said “bravery is not the absence of fear, but rather action in the face of fear”.
He told the medal recipients: “Your collective actions in responding to and apprehending an armed person and diverting members of the public away from danger display the finest qualities that make us so proud of An Garda Síochána.”