‘Dark cloud’ hangs over Castlerea following death of garda

Loss of a much-loved garda will leave a lasting scar on his community, say locals

A book of condolences for Detective Garda Colm Horkan was opened in garda stations across the country, including  in Castlerea. Photograph: Ellen O’Riordan

A book of condolences for Detective Garda Colm Horkan was opened in garda stations across the country, including in Castlerea. Photograph: Ellen O’Riordan

 

Main Street in Castlerea, Co Roscommon has reopened following the death of local Detective Garda Colm Horkan but a “dark cloud” hangs over the town, locals say.

Madeline Carberry (78) was relieved to see Castlerea’s Main Street, where she has lived for 50 years, return to a form of normal activity on Friday afternoon.

“I really was so sickened all day yesterday. I just couldn’t believe it, I can see the Garda station from my own place,” she said.

Ms Carberry was sound asleep by midnight on Wednesday when up to 15 shots were fired and the local Detective Garda Colm Horkan was killed. It was only when she received a call from a friend the next day that she learned of the “terrible” events that unfolded.

“I kept thinking is this real? Did this really happen?”

The heavy rain that fell throughout the morning had subsided by late afternoon but butcher Michael Webb said an “awful dark cloud” will hang over the town for many years to come. Opening up his shop with the help of his daughters, he had no enthusiasm for a return to normal.

“I feel kind of . . . I’m not sure I want to do anything. What can you do following something like this?” he asked.

A close-knit, market town, with a population of around 2,000, Mr Webb said a broken shop window is “big news” in Castlerea.

“You don’t ever expect this. It’s a massive shock when this sort of thing lands on your doorstep,” he added.

Despite the huge impact of coronavirus on lives and businesses, he believes the death of a much-loved garda will leave a more lasting scar on his community.

“The way I look at coronavirus, that is going to end at some stage. This is not. This will always be remembered in this town,” he said.

‘Wound will never heal’

Castlerea, after all, has been here before. Mr Webb said the community has been shaped by the murder of Detective Garda John Morley and Garda Henry Byrne, both stationed in Castlerea, who were killed responding to a bank robbery in July 1980. Such an occurrence might be forgotten in a large city, but the wounds will never heal in Castlerea, he said.

“It happened 40 years ago but that is very fresh in the memory here. We never thought we would see this day again. It is not just sad for his family; there are many families affected by this locally,” he said.

A book of condolences was opened in garda stations across the country, while in Castlerea a trickle of mourners came throughout Friday to sign the book for the newly-promoted detective who kept them safe.

A retired Castlerea garda, who did not want to give his name, arrived down to pay his sympathies for the third former colleague killed during service.

“The shock of it 40 years ago was so so hard. When my wife rang me yesterday I thought it couldn’t be possible. This couldn’t happen in Castlerea again,” he said.

“I have two sons, and I’m glad now I didn’t push them to go into the gardaí. I would say it is harder to be a garda nowadays,” he added.

Community spirit

When the shock and hype surrounding the moment dies down, it will be left to the local community to “pull together” and heal, according to Liam Scahill, owner of Scahill’s Expert & Household Store.

“There is a great community spirit in Castlerea. There an awful lot of people working for the good of the community here,” he said. There is a “great connection” between the community and their local gardaí, in large part due to the GAA and voluntary groups, he said.

“I think during the last couple of days the community has come out in complete support and solidarity with the gardaí and offered their condolences.

Castlerea has always been a “very caring community”, whose people will open their arms and help anybody out who needs help, he said. It is not by chance that the town was chosen as the place for a new €2.6 million e-mental health hub, which was unveiled by the Taoiseach and Chief Executive of the HSE only a fortnight ago.

“You can see it whenever there is an event for the church or sport or health or whatever there is always plenty of concerned people out to volunteer,” he said.

That another garda belonging to this caring, quiet town has been killed in the line of duty is “horrific and unfortunate”, Mr Scahill said.

He added: “This is not what we would be used to. This would not be normal for Castlerea, but once again there is a dark cloud hanging over us.”