Female Garda recruits should not be “horse-faced” but care must also be taken to ensure they were not “too good-looking”, the Dáil was told when the force was being opened up to women in the late 1950s.
A gathering celebrating 60 years of women in the Garda at Farmleigh House in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on Wednesday heard that one TD recommended that the “commanding personalities” of women from the west and northwest of the country would be best suited to the force
"Another TD suggested that while [female] recruits 'should not be horse-faced, they should not be too good looking; they should be just plain women and not targets for marriage'," Supt Goretti Sheridan said, to a mix of shock and laughter from the largely female crowd.
On July 9th, 1959 the first group of 12 women joined the force. They were chosen from 178 women who had replied to adverts in the media requesting applications from women.
One of the first group to join, Bríd Wymbs, said that the first day she and a female colleague went on to the beat as ban gardaí, as they were known, on O’Connell Street in Dublin they noticed people stopped walking and cars stopping.
“We didn’t know what was going on so we saw a guard standing at the Carlton cinema and we decided to ask him. He said to us, ‘will ye go away from me for God’s sake, it’s yourselves they are looking at’.
"That kind of thing went on for a while. [The writer] Brendan Behan even came over to one of the girls and said, 'ah, a lovely policewoman guard'. I thought that was nice, you know.
“Some of the wino women on the streets – they used to drink wine and methylated spirits – they had great time for us. They used to call us ‘the bandy guards’.”
Ms Wymbs, who is now in her 80s, spent her full working life until retirement age in the Garda. She said “the bravery of innocence was fantastic” in encouraging her to apply in 1959 when places for female members were advertised for the first time.
Garda Cristín Ní Dheasuna, one of the most recent women to graduate from the Garda College at Templemore, said the first women to join the force had paved the way and inspired future generations. The 23-year-old joined last July after qualifying with a degree in sports science and is a champion boxer. An Irish international, she fights at light middleweight. She has won medals at the World Championships and Europeans and is a bright prospect for the Olympics.
While the opportunities for her generation were much greater than those afforded to the first women in the 1950s, they had taken the brave first steps, she said.