Ernan Gilleran, Sergeant Cein O’Brien, Sergeant Cora Early, Inspector Declan McGarvey, John Smyth.

Memorial will mark 50 years since garda’s killing

Coinciding with the centenary of events marking the formation of An Garda Síochána, and almost 50 years almost to the date of his killing, a memorial will be erected in honour of Inspector Samuel Donegan.

Insp Donegan, a native of Ballintampen near Longford, died on June 8, 1972. He was killed by a booby-trap bomb left by the Provisional Irish Republican Army on a country lane in the Drumboghanagh area north of Redhills.

He was aged 61 years, having given 37 years of service to An Garda Síochána at the time of his death. Sam was survived by his wife and six adult children at the time.

The blast from an abandoned tea-crate, painted with the lettering ‘Bomb!’ also badly wounded the leader of the Irish Army patrol, Lt. John Gallagher.

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On Bank Holiday Monday, June 6, at 3pm, a memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of the killing of Insp Donegan in the line of duty will take place at Cavan Garda Station.

The event is being organised by the Garda Síochána Retired Members Association (GSRMA) Cavan branch, and will be attended by surviving members of Insp Donegan’s family.

The memorial has also been organised with support from An Garda Síochána nationally, St Paul’s and St Raphael’s Garda Credit Unions and Cavan County Council. It will begin with a full colour parade led by the Garda Band along Farnham Street to the steps of Cavan Courthouse where a short Ecumenical service will take place.

This will be followed by the unveiling of the Memorial to Insp Donegan at the front of Cavan Garda Station.

Retired Sergeant Ernan Gilleran is among those responsible for the initiative. He retired from the force after 31 years having served in Emyvale, Ballyconnell, Kingscourt and Ballyjamesduff. The Longford native has assisted in helping organise the memorial to Inspt Donegan through the GSRMA.

“He was 61 years at the time he died, had six children, two boys and four girls. He died on the Cavan-Fermanagh border, they were out on a search of the area, both army and guards, a regular enough thing at the time, when the bomb went off, killing Sam,” recalls Ernan.

This year, 2022, also marks the centenary since a secret meeting took place on February 9, 1922, in the Gresham Hotel, chaired by Michael Collins, the chairman of the Provisional Government of Ireland to establish a new police force for the new republic.

The move commenced the phasing out of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), which ended its policing role in August of that year.

“It is an important year in the history of An Garda Síochána, and the history of the state. Our local retired members felt it would be important, as part of those commemorations, to memorialise Sam given that it is 50 years since his killing,” explains Ernan. “There is a small plaque in his honour erected inside the station already, but we felt it important to have something out front, which members of the public could recognise and pay tribute too as well.”

John Smyth served in uniform for 40 years. He rose to the rank of sergeant also, and was based in Cavan Town as well as Belturbet and Finea.

He arrived in Cavan the year after Insp Donegan’s death, at a time when the incident was still fresh in the memory of many. The inherent dangers of policing the border were clear. A little over a decade later, Garda Gary Sheehan, a native of Carrickmacross, was shot dead (December 16, 1983) in an exchange of gun fire with the IRA during the Don Tidey hostage rescue at Derrada Wood, near Ballinamore, then part of the Cavan-Monaghan division.

Two years on, June 27, 1985, Sergeant Patrick Morrissey from Belturbet was killed while on duty near Ardee, Co Louth. “We remember all our colleagues who have given of their lives in defence of the State, says John. “We remember Gary, and Patrick, we remember Adrian (Donohoe) as well and the many others who have died.”

Insp Donegan meanwhile has been nominated by the Cavan branch of GSRMA to posthumously receive Walter Scott Medal for Valor, a medal awarded for acts of bravery by the Garda Síochána.

Ernan explains: “There was never a Scott Medal awarded, so we have looked to have that rectified, and that is being considered as we speak.”