Bantry’s First ‘Ban Garda’ Retires
Kathleen Harnedy, better known by her professional and her married name, Garda Kathleen Sheehan and who had the distinction of being the first Ban Garda in Bantry, Co Cork, has recently announced her retirement. Kathleen started work in Bantry in August 1989, just over six years after she attended Templemore and having served for an initial period at Cork’s Bridewell Garda Station. However, a return to her native West Cork was always on the cards even if the sight of a guard in a skirt did cause something of a sensation. ‘People were quite taken aback when they saw a guard in a skirt,’ said Kathleen, who explained that during her 32 years with the police force many of her female colleagues chose to work in the station but she was always more comfortable outdoors and ‘on the beat.’
As well as the day job, Kathleen was also kept busy at home. She and her husband, Tony Sheehan, have three children: Megan 21, Jerry, 18 and Kate, 16, and they have always played an active role in their local community. Kathleen is from a farming background and was born in Dromig, a rural townland four miles from Skibbereen. She studied locally at Mercy Heights before doing her garda training at Templemore, but it was just four years ago that Kathleen became Kealkil’s first ever Ban Garda – a term that is no longer used.
Although she had big shoes to fill – those of Garda Bill Nyhan who had been the community guard for 25 years – Kathleen took to Kealkil and Kealkil took to Kathleen. ‘It was very similar to the rural area in which I grew up so I felt at home here right from the start,’ said Kathleen, who as part of getting to know the community visited the local primary school and got to know the children. She was also very much involved with the local youth and enthusiastically supported her son’s involvement in the local football and hurling team, Naomh Colm.
Kathleen does, however, have a special affinity with elderly people because of her awareness of the problem of loneliness and isolation, which is prevalent in rural areas. The local postmen, John O’Sullivan and John O’Mahony, were a great help to her in this regard and Kathleen took it on herself to visit those who were old and alone throughout the 49 townlands in the Kealkil area.
The Kealkil garda district covers an area of 250 square kilometres and, during the last four years, Kathleen has driven the length and breath of this vast area to visit the elderly and assure them that she was always at the end of the telephone line. ‘A lot of elderly people never get any visitors except for the local postman or the local guard, who, I believe, has an important role to play in the community,’ said Kathleen.
This long-serving garda is of the opinion that the low crime rate in rural areas is due in no small part to the fact that there is a Garda presence in most rural communities and the fact that they work in close co-operation with the local Community Alert organisations. Kathleen welcomed the setting up of the new text alert service because she said it enhances the effectiveness of community policing.
But she said routine jobs like directing traffic during local parades and being present during local celebrations are also important roles for a community-based guard. When asked about the future of community policing, Kathleen said the knowledge that goes with the retiring Garda is invaluable and recommended that older retired Gardai be used in an advisory and mentoring capacity to help new Gardai acquire greater knowledge and understanding of an area.
Kathleen is also adamant that the role of the community Garda is essential in crime detection and believes each rural community in West Cork should have its own dedicated Garda to prevent much bigger problems from occurring down the line. We wish Kathleen all the very best in her retirement.
Picture: Garda Kathleen Sheehan (right) was a popular and friendly local garda. © www.southernstar.ie