An Garda Siochana : John M Gibbons , Reg No 18248F
Born on the 7th January 1951 to Michael Gibbons and Barbara Conroy in the townland of Glengowla, Oughterard, my birth place was a small mill on the banks of the Owenriff river. I am the second oldest of eight boys. My father was labourer as well as small farmer and my mother was a home maker.
My primary school years were in Leam and Derryglinne National Schools. In those years, pupils sat the Primary Certificate. I believe I was the last to receive the Primary Certificate in Derryglinne NS as the following year this exam was abolished.
My interest in An Garda Siochana was prompted during a visit to Derryglinne by a member of the force who also served as the School Attendance Officer. I also recall my teacher, Ms. T Maloney, asking the class what we wished to be when we grew up. Some replied farmers but I replied “Garda” confidently. Many years later Ms. Maloney reminded me of my answer.
My secondary school years were spent in St. Pauls Oughterard where I sat my Leaving Certificate. Following this exam, I received a scholarship to St Patrick’s Agricultural College in Monaghan. While studying there, I was informed that my application for An Garda Siochana was successful. I entered the Garda Training College on the 24th of February 1972 where upon my Registration Number was designated 18248F. I look back on those days in Templemore with great fondness and I was very fortunate to make lifelong friends during these formative months.
From Templemore I was then transferred to Birr Garda Station. The station was newly built and there were seven Gardai and two Sergeants based there. My first duties entailed Station Orderly, Town Patrol, and of course familiarising myself with the people and the surrounds, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I also undertook border duties in Donegal and Louth on a temporary basis. During my early years in the force changes took place due to the Conroy
Commission (Charles Conroy was a native of Rosmuc and a High Court Judge).
Some of the changes included a 40-hour week, no split duties and seven Rest Days in a roster. (A roster contains 28 days and there are 13 rosters in a year) Overtime and various other allowances were also introduced at this time.
One of my favourite aspects of been a serving member was reading Law.
During the early eighties I passed the Sergeants examination and consequently I was promoted a few months later. I was excited about this new role and challenge. Kinlough, Co Leitrim was my first station as a Sergeant and on the Fermanagh border, this was the location where Lord Mountbatten and Co were murdered. This was 125 miles away from my family and home in Birr. Months later I returned to Portlaoise where the top security prison was and continues to this day to be under our jurisdiction.
(On the 18th of August 1974 I was on temporary duty in the radio room in the prison when 19 prisoners blew an exit through the wall and escaped. This is one of those moments that will forever be etched in my memory.)
In 1988 I was appointed Sergeant In-Charge and Area Administrator of Birr District. This position involved many responsibilities. As a Scene of Crime Officer, I unfortunately encountered many sad incidents. These included fatalities both on road and land, suicides, shootings and fires.
During the 1970’s I met my future wife Majella O’ Neill. We married on the 24th February 1979, seven years to the day that I entered Templemore Training College. We were blessed with four children, Ronan who sadly passed away as a baby, Aonghus, Fergus and Caoimhe. To date we are the proud grandparents of seven grandchildren.
During my time in An Garda Siochana I became very much involved in the community. I played football and was Chairman of Birr GAA club which won four All Ireland club titles. I also trained a national school team to win an Offaly County title, which was a great achievement for the school. I brought a Community Games team to an All-Ireland Final and they were then beaten by Salthill. I sat on the BOM of both Primary and Secondary Schools for several years.
I was heavily involved in the Garda Association and was Chairman of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors Laois/ Offaly Branch.
During my time in the force, I tragically lost two colleagues who were in the Training College with me. Garda Michael Clerkin, who was killed in an explosion in Laois and Garda John Byrne who shot in Roscommon.
I served under ten Garda Commissioners. The station in Birr where I was first posted grew to 37 Gardai and 7 Sergeants as this was a community policing area. During my time serving I travelled to the United States as well as Europe. I also took part in a school building project beside Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya.
The decision I made in 1972 was the right decision and no two days on duty were the same. While I loved my duties as a serving member, it involved some sacrifices. I missed many a Christmas dinner, in order to fulfil my responsibility to the public.
I served almost 35 years in An Gardai Siochana and regret not a moment of it.