Belfast Telegraph

Gardai in IRA ambush that left one dead are honoured for bravery, 41 years later

By Tom Brady

The bravery of a murdered garda and his four colleagues, who were seriously injured in a Provisional IRA ambush 41 years ago, is finally being officially recognised.

A Scott medal for bravery in the line of duty will be awarded posthumously to Garda Michael Clerkin and his colleagues in a ceremony at the Garda College in Templemore next month.

The move has been welcomed by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who has lobbied for the medal awards since the 1980s.

The five gardai were ambushed when they investigated an anonymous telephone call saying that a group of IRA men had gathered in a derelict cottage at Garryhinch, Co Laois, on the evening of October 16, 1976.

The caller said the IRA were planning to assassinate the late Oliver J Flanagan, who was a government minister of state and TD at the time. He was the father of the current justice minister.

The call was made to Portarlington Garda Station.

A group of five gardai, from Portarlington and Portlaoise stations, were sent to Garryhinch, unaware it was a hoax designed to lure them into an ambush.

When they arrived, they found the front door was locked and Mr Clerkin, who at 24 years old was the youngest member of the party, was told to go in through an open rear window. After he got into the house, he walked towards the front door to allow the others in.

But the door had been booby trapped by the IRA and Mr Clerkin, a native of Monaghan, was killed instantly in the blast.

Det Garda Tom Peters was left blind and had severe damage to his hearing while the other three, Sgt Jim Cannon, Det Garda Ben Thornton and Garda Gerry Bohan, all suffered serious injuries. The explosion demolished the house.

Charlie Flanagan has a clear memory of that evening. He said last night: "We were all at home in Mountmellick earlier that night. A call came through from the gardai for my father.

"He emerged ashen-faced after the call and told us that nobody was to go out that night and we were all to stay at home. He did not elaborate.

"At about 11.50pm we were about to go to bed when there was a rap on the door and a number of gardai were there.

"I could see uniformed and plain-clothes gardai surrounding the house. Some of the gardai came in and told my father what had happened."

Mr Flanagan said he had spoken to every minister for justice since Gerry Collins held the post to press for Scott medals to be awarded for the five gardai.

"This decision is belated but hugely important. I am glad that after 41 years their courage is being recognised.

"These men died in the course of duty and in the protection of my father and our family, and it is poignant for me that the Scott medals will be awarded in my presence as minister for justice," Mr Flanagan added.

Belfast Telegraph

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