Bravery award for garda who talked down armed man while sitting on church bench

Thirteen gardaí receive the Scott Medal at ceremony in Dublin Castle

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris presents 13 Scott Medals at a ceremony at Dublin Castle. The Scott Medal is awarded for ‘most exceptional bravery and heroism involving the risk of life in the execution of duty’. Video: Bryan O'Brien

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Of all the acts of courage detailed at a Garda medal ceremony on Wednesday, perhaps the most remarkable was an incident which involved no violence or high-speed pursuits.

It involved a sergeant in a rural village sitting on a bench and chatting with a disturbed man before bringing a highly volatile situation to a peaceful conclusion.

That is not to understate the danger faced that day in 2018 by Sergeant Patrick Carroll. The suspect was armed with a knife and a handgun which at one stage was pointed directly at the garda.

Sgt Carroll was one of the 13 recipients of the Scott Medal at a ceremony in Dublin Castle led by Commissioner Drew Harris and Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys.

Other gardaí, living and dead, received medals for tackling armed robbers and kidnappers, engaging in a gun battle with the INLA and raiding an IRA training centre during the 1940s.

Since it was introduced in 1923, more than 400 members have received the Scott Medal. It originates from a £1,000 gold bond presented to the fledging police force by Colonel Walter Scott, the honorary commissioner of the New York Police Department.

Marie Hyland, daughter of Detective Garda Richard Hyland who received a posthumous gold medal award. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Marie Hyland, daughter of Detective Garda Richard Hyland who received a posthumous gold medal award. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The bond was to be used to pay for medals to reward acts “of personal bravery, performed intelligently in the execution of duty at imminent risk to the life of the doer”.

Sgt Carroll described the award as a huge honour. “It was just something that happened and we had to deal with it,” he said after the ceremony. “That’s what all of us do, we go out in the morning and do the job and whatever happens, happens.”

The incident began on November 15th, 2018, when a man entered St Patrick’s Church in Avoca, Co Wicklow, armed with a knife and handgun.

He told the priest the gun was loaded and that he “could do damage to myself or you”.

The man then exited the church and demanded to speak to Sgt Carroll who had just arrived on the scene.

“With the knowledge that the male was agitated and armed with a firearm and knife, Sergeant Carroll struck up a conversation with the male in close proximity across the open railings,” the medal citation states.

The sergeant then entered the church yard and sat on the bench to continue the conversation. The man initially talked about killing himself but became less agitated over time.

At one point Sgt Carroll asked him if he had anything in his possession and the man produced a gun. The garda asked him to drop it three times but the man spun the weapon so that the barrel pointed at Sgt Carroll.

He then dropped the gun before being arrested and taken into safe custody.

“There was definitely fear there. Fear for myself, for my colleagues and for other people most of all,” Sgt Carroll told The Irish Times. “But we couldn’t let this man loose around the village, we had to try keep him contained. We had to keep everyone safe.”

He added that he sought help after the incident to process the trauma and encouraged other gardaí to do the same. “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

The awarding of Scott Medals “is a real reassurance to the public of the service we provide and exceptional lengths members of an Garda Síochána will go to to protect the public,” Mr Harris said after the ceremony.

Other Scott Medal recipients

Detective Sergeant Joe Young and Sergeant John McDonagh (Bronze Medal)

In May 2005, two armed men broke into the home of a prominent businessman in Rochestown, Co Cork, where they held his wife and four children hostage as part of a “tiger” kidnapping.

On his return home, the businessman was bound, gagged and violently assaulted.

He managed to escape during the night and alert gardaí. On their arrival Sgt McDonagh arrested one of the suspects at gunpoint while Det Sgt Young chased down and arrested the second raider.

“It was like playing a game of football. You just had to go for the ball, get the ball. That was it. No bravery, you just went and got the ball,” said Sgt McDonagh on Tuesday.

Sergeant Brian Coade and Detective Inspector Richard Fahey (Bronze Medal)

The two detectives were responding to a call in Cabra, Dublin, in November 1987 when they came upon two members of the INLA gang which had kidnapped Dr John O’Grady 23 days earlier.

The terrorists opened fire on the Garda car with an AK47 and shotgun, riddling the patrol car. Sgt Coade and Det Insp Fahey managed to return fire at the men who retreated up the road in military fashion.

Although Det Insp Fahey managed to hit one of the men, they managed to escape in a street-cleaning van.

The gardaí had to stop firing to avoid hurting innocent civilians. Dr O’Grady was found in a nearby house a short time later. The two terrorists were later apprehended and convicted.

Detective Sergeant Patrick McKeown, Detective Garda Richard Hyland and Detective Garda Michael Brady (Gold Medal, awarded posthumously)

In August 1940, when the IRA was seeking to take advantage of the Emergency, five gardaí went to search a suspected training headquarters on Rathgar Road in Dublin.

When the officers made their way in a hidden gunman opened fire with a sub-machine gun, hitting all three detectives.

The wounded Det Sgt McKeown managed to get outside and warn another garda not to approach. He died the next day.

Det Gda Hyland managed to return one shot at the attacker before dying at the scene. Det Gda Brady collapsed as a result of being shot. He was later found unconscious with his finger on the trigger of his gun.