Truly great servant whose actions we will never forget
It was on the last weekend of autumn, the first days of winter, as an evil and ferocious monsoon lashed the bleak mud of the Wicklow hills, that a young off-duty garda, Ciaran Jones, freely went out and gave his life, so that others might live.
Of course, he did not deliberately seek death, but no one going out on the N81 on Monday night could have been in any doubt, with the dark cataracts rampaging down the steep slopes on either side, that real peril was abroad.
Nonetheless, Garda Jones battled the elements, for no remotely possible selfish consideration of his own; no overtime, no begrudging acceptance of the roster, no eager clock-watching marked his last moments on this earth. The safety of others alone drove him to his doom.
This was Ciaran's choice and in making it, he embodied the best and finest traditions of An Garda Siochana since the force was formed in 1922.
The 20-strong committee charged by Michael Collins with creating a new police force had at least 13 former RIC men on it. Of nine senior officers initially selected to lead the first Civic Guard, seven were former RIC men.
They saw their duty quite simply. It was, even at the height of a civil war, to create a force that would heal. So the instincts of policing and of service run deep in the Irish blood.
They have surfaced wherever the Irish have emigrated: hence all those American and Canadian and Australian police forces decked with Murphys, Connollys, Quinns O'Sullivans and O'Neills.
Is there corruption in An Garda Siochana? Yes, there is. And more than is comfortable and — as the Morris Tribunal revealed in Donegal — far more than most of us thought remotely possible.
But the reason why we were astonished by Donegal was that most Irish people’s experience of the force is overwhelmingly of decent men and women driven by a fierce sense of integrity and duty.
I am not blind to the force's failings: for there has also been far too much politicking, introduced historically by successive ministers for justice, who acted both to protect their constituents from the rule of law and to promote their own friend in the forces.
No organisation can survive such dishonest intrusions without contamination.
But the remarkable thing is how cheerful and how faithful unto their duty most gardai have always remained — even as they languished unpromoted amid the backwaters to which their lack of political influence had marooned them.
The noble genes and honourable culture that had initially attracted them then kept them loyal to the force, to their communities and their country.
Let us be clear: Ciaran Jones gave his young life for Ireland last Monday night amid an almost thermo-nuclear rainstorm.
No doubt that sounds extravagant, but consider: for most of us, going about our day by day lives, the Republic is a large abstraction, which we only view and experience from within our own small communities.
I know almost nothing about, say, Louth or Leitrim; but I do know Ballymore Eustace and Blessington. Here lies my daily version of the Republic: here live my adopted people, my little platoon.
These are the folk whom Ciaran Jones went out to guard and protect last Monday, heedless of any consequence to himself and for whom he duly sacrificed all.
He did so beyond both the purview of any superior officer, or the reach of any possible reward. Indeed, it was his death alone that has brought his deeds to our attention.
Had the floodtide struck with less murderous accuracy, his gallantry would simply have passed into the unwritten annals of Garda bravery, the secret scripture that night and day drives each police officer to do his or her duty, usually unseen and invariably unknown.
Only those lucky people whom he had steered away from calamity would have known of his fearless generosity — and, even then, because he was toiling out of uniform in a vile and tempestuous darkness, they probably would not have realised that he was a garda.
There is no higher cause in which to serve than in the service of others; no greater reason for the awed and unquenchable respect of a grateful nation.
As winter’s first floodwaters subside and the cellars and malls are pumped dry, let us remember a truly great Irishman: Garda Ciaran Jones, patriot and hero. RIP.