A good, gentle life stolen away
- Written by John Donegan on behalf of the Donegan Family -
Sam Donegan was a native of Ballintampen, Ballymacormack, Co Longford. Born on November 20, 1911, he was one of seven children of a small-holder and his wife.
He joined An Garda Síochána on September 4, 1934, shortly before he turned 23, and was assigned Registration No. 8586. His Garda service was spent in Counties Mayo and Sligo until, in 1967, he was transferred to Cavan on his promotion to the rank of Inspector.
Less than five years later, on June 8, 1972, he died while in the course of his duty on the Cavan-Fermanagh border when a booby-trap type bomb exploded, killing him and seriously injuring a young member of the Irish Army, Second Lieutenant John Gallagher.
These are the bare facts of Sam’s career history. He was due to retire in November 1974.
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A countryman at heart, he loved nature and was never happier than when walking in his father’s fields, or when tilling the earth in his vegetable garden or cutting and saving turf on the bog. He was a physically strong man, well accustomed to hard work in his youth, and he carried this work ethic into his later life.
He liked to keep busy and enjoyed a number of hobbies. He was a beekeeper, often building the hives himself. Unperturbed by bees swirling about his ears, Sam seemed impervious to bee-stings. This calmness was part of his personality. He planned to devote more of his time to his bees when he retired.
Good with his hands, Sam attended classes and learned woodwork and how to French polish furniture. He was patient and thorough and often whistled as he worked.
He liked to travel within Ireland on his holidays and, again with an eye on retirement, had purchased a caravan so that he and his wife, Mai, could get around the country more easily.
An avid reader, Sam loved books about the sea and seafaring and the great explorers, such as, Scott of the Antarctic and Roald Amundsen. The comic novels of Lynn C. Doyle and P. G. Wodehouse and the poetry of Robert Service were among his favourites. He loved Dublin and its second-hand bookshops and particularly enjoyed strolling in the Botanic Gardens and Stephen’s Green and in the various museums and galleries nearby.
He met Mai Marren, a native of Curry, Co Sligo, when as a young Garda in North Mayo he was taken by ambulance to hospital in Ballina. She was the ambulance nurse. After he was discharged, he returned on his motor-bike to ask her out on a date. They married in August 1940 and went on to have six children - four girls and two boys. His priority, always, was their well-being and happiness.
And so, he was within a few short years of retirement, when his life was snatched away on a country lane, one sunny day, 50 years ago. The perpetrators of his murder and of the brutal injuries to Second Lieutenant Gallagher declined to accept responsibility for an action without obvious rationale. No cause was served. Both victims were serving the State and suffered grievously in the discharge of that honourable service.
Mai died in 2006 at the age of 95 years. She outlived Sam by 34 years and was always bewildered by what had happened in 1972. Despite her heartbreak, she remained brave and resilient. Heartbroken also were their loving children and extended family. Sam and Mai had 20 grandchildren. He enjoyed a grandfather’s joyful privileges with just one of these. For the 19 who were born after his death, there was no playful interaction, no silly games, no smiles, no hugs, no loving kisses. This is an enduring loss. Grief is a heavy and persistent burden and each generation bears its portion.
Casualty statistics tell a story but a factual, impersonal one. Sam’s story, as briefly recounted here in its private detail, is an attempt to put flesh on the bones of history, to convey a sense of what is truly felt and truly lost when a good, gentle life is stolen away.