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Shot Garda Tony Golden was a 'gentle giant', funeral Mass told

Published 15/10/2015

The coffin of Garda Tony Golden is carried into St Oliver Plunkett Church, in Blackrock, Co. Louth for his state funeral
The coffin of Garda Tony Golden is carried into St Oliver Plunkett Church, in Blackrock, Co. Louth for his state funeral

A police officer shot dead while helping a woman during a domestic row was a "gentle giant" adored by his family and held up as a role model in the quiet seaside village he served, his funeral Mass has heard.

Thousands of mourners from throughout the country, including President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, thronged Blackrock, Co Louth, to pay their respects to father-of-three Garda Tony Golden.

The 36-year-old was gunned down in nearby Omeath on Sunday as he accompanied Siobhan Phillips, 21, to collect her belongings from a house she shared with dissident republican suspect Adrian Crevan Mackin.

Crevan Mackin, 24, also turned his illegally-held Glock pistol on Ms Phillips, who is fighting for her life in hospital, before killing himself.

Father Padraig Keenan, chief celebrant and parish priest, told the ceremony at St Oliver Plunkett Church that Mr Golden had a charisma that was "calm, gentle and polite".

"As a husband, father, son, brother, family member and friend, each and every one of his family circle was proud of your loved one Tony," he said.

"Tony was one of life's gentlemen.

"As Patrick his brother said to me, 'a big gentle giant', a lovely man."

Such was the turnout for the State funeral that screens were erected in the church grounds and the coastal village of Blackrock to cope with the massive overspill from the 300-capacity church.

Mourners were led by Mr Golden's heartbroken widow Nicola, a public health nurse, and their three young children Lucy, Alex and Andrew, as well as his grieving parents Breege and David.

Police chiefs from both sides of the border, Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, Dublin's Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and her Stormont counterpart David Ford also travelled for the service.

Several other government ministers, Opposition party leaders, church leaders from a number of denominations and representatives of the Defence Forces and the emergency services attended.

Under a tricolour fluttering at half mast, scores of Garda colleagues formed a dark blue guard of honour as Mr Golden's coffin arrived at the church after being carried the short distance from the home he shared with his wife and children.

Businesses shut down along the route as a mark of respect. Roads around the village were sealed off for several hours.

Fr Keenan said Mr Higgins was there representing an entire nation at home and abroad, which was in mourning after the killing of Mr Golden, the 88th member of the force to die in the line of duty.

The stillness of the water across from the churchyard in Dundalk Bay mirrored the silence and sadness that has unfolded on everyone since the weekend, he told the congregation.

"Tony was so proud to serve the community of Omeath," he said.

"As one person from Omeath put it to me in recent days, he was 'our garda', and to a person amongst his family and colleagues, all are immensely proud of Garda Tony and his selfless nature.

"Proud of everything he lived for, worked for and stood for. Tony Golden was a much-loved role model in our community."

Simple symbols including a family photograph were taken to the altar in memory of the officer.

A club jersey from the Stephanites Gaelic games club in his native Ballina, Co Mayo, represented his roots and love of sport.

A television remote control, a soft drink, a bar of chocolate and packet of crisps were offered to recall his cherished "time out".

Mr Golden's brothers Kenneth and David were among the readers, as his other siblings Patrick, Sean and Mary joined his parents-in-law Tony and Iris, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces and other relatives among the mourners.

Fr Keenan said the joy of a nation as it was gripped by the Ireland V France Rugby World Cup qualifier on Sunday was shattered by the "cold blooded murder of Garda Tony Golden in the line of duty".

"Murder is evil, murder has no place in our society. Murder must stop," he said.

The killing depicted the impact of the Troubles down through the years in the border country of Louth, including the murder of Mr Golden's colleague Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe less than three years ago, the priest said.

"Too many hearts have been broken, and lives shattered," he added.

In an emotional tribute, Mr Golden's brother Patrick choked back tears as he recalled the pair as children growing up together.

"I always looked up to Tony in every way, he made me feel so secure and protected, always looked out for me and made sure I was never led astray," he said.

"This was Tony's nature and how he treated all his family and friends, in the same way.

"He made Nicola and his children feel the same way over the last eight or nine years and the same applies to the communities where he was stationed as a garda."

This was shown by his bravery on Sunday as he "lost his life in an attempt to protect two others", he said.

Patrick said he was almost speechless when thinking about what he would say about his brother.

"Some words immediately come to mind: such as hero, gentle giant, family man, caring, rock and idol.

"But these words cannot explain how good the man was and how much we all loved him."

He added: "Still today I'm so proud to stand here and call him my big brother, it was such a short life but he achieved so much in that time."

After bidding his last goodbye to a "brother, husband, father, son, and hero", the congregation packed inside the church and thousands outside on the street erupted into a sustained applause.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan said people all over Ireland had gathered in Blackrock or watched the State funeral on television at home to "register a heroic death".

"The pain and sympathy evoked by Tony's death in the wider community has touched every one of us who works with and wears the blue uniform of An Garda Siochana," she said.

"But the hero he became in death should not wipe from our memories the man he was in life.

"Above all Tony was a family man, a man living within a ring of love forged by himself and Nicola. The two of them had made several happy plans, and had hopes and dreams for their future together.

"It is achingly sad to know that those hopes and dreams can never happen as planned.

"Just as it is achingly sad to realise that Tony's three beautiful children will need help to remember the best of what has been taken away from them.

"To remember being hefted on to the big shoulders of their daddy, to get the very best view.

"To remember the strong, sure hands of him, to remember the sound of his car arriving outside and the excitement of rushing to tell him all the things that were so important that happened that day."

Ms O'Sullivan said Mr Golden also belonged to the wider Garda family, and the force had long, proud memories "when it comes to our own".

"We bring them with us on our journey, in the stories we tell in the dark interiors of patrol cars, when waiting for a kettle to boil in the station, when we are out on lonely checkpoints," she said.

"We will tell stories about Tony Golden in the months and years to come and in those stories we will remember the totality of him."

The Garda chief said: "He was a proud, loving family man. He was a garda who loved being a garda. He was a hero protecting a frightened woman and her father.

"He laid down his life doing what he had sworn to do. He had sworn to be a guardian of the peace."

The Parliament did not sit and committee business was postponed for the day.

A minute's silence was held at the European Parliament as a mark of respect to Mr Golden, as well as the 10 people who died in a blaze in Dublin over the weekend.

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