Community 'numbed' at the death of an upstanding man you could count on, Conor Feehan writes
Colm Horkan was everything a community would want in their local garda.
A native of Charlestown on the border of counties Mayo and Sligo, he was one of them and played a central role in their lives regardless of whether he was on or off-duty.
He was heavily involved in the local Charlestown Sarsfields GAA club and friends say his affectionate nick-name on the pitch was ‘The Bear’.
As news of the detective being shot dead filtered through the town today people reacted with sadness, disbelief and shock.
People called to the Horkan family home on the outskirts of the town this morning to sympathise with his father, sister and four brothers.
“We are all shocked. Colm was a straight talking man, an upstanding man and someone you could count on both on and off the field. I played football with him for years,” said family friend John Casey.
“When news started to filter through this morning we couldn’t believe it. Colm’s family run businesses in the town here just like we do, and we would be over and across the road to each other all the time,” he added.
“They are as close as family friends to us you could find. He was a role model for the town, and you always knew you could go to him for help or advice because he would give you a straight answer,” said Mr Casey.
Colm Horkan was unmarried and lived with his father and some siblings just on the outskirts of the town.
He is predeceased by his mother Dolores and his twin sister Collette who died a number of years ago from cancer.
Colm was a member of An Garda Síochána for 24 years and was part of the Detective Unit at Castlerea Garda Station at the time of his death.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he served his community “with distinction and pride”.
“Detective Garda Colm Horkan is the 89th member of An Garda Síochána killed in the line of duty. Today is a terrible reminder of the significant sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, that Gardaí make to keep people safe,” the garda chief said.
He thanked the local community “and the country as a whole for the support they have shown Garda Síochána and individual Gardaí even in the short time since the incident”.
Colm’s involvement in Charlestown Sarsfields GAA was a family one going back generations.
His mother Dolores also had huge involvement with the club until her death in 2001.
So strong was her support that the club set up a Dolores Horkan Memorial Shield competition in her honour.
Colm had the honour of presenting the cup to the winners.
A podcast he had prepared for the club was due to be aired on the club’s website this Saturday.
A spokesman for Charlestown Sarsfields GAA club today paid tribute to Colm, describing him as selfless, decent, trustworthy and convivial.
“We were around the same age, and started playing at the club at the same time. If I remember correctly our first game was the day that gardai Henry Byrne and John Morley were shot dead in 1980 not far from where Colm was killed,” said Stephen Healy.
“We soldiered together on to county junior, under 21 and minor, and Colm was instrumental in successes including winning the County Senior title in 2001,” he added.
“Colm was a terrific player, selfless and intelligent on the field. He played like he lived - with determination and a great sense of decency,” said Mr Healy.
“He was popular in the community and touched a lot of lives over the years. You could ring him at 4am and he’d help you without question,” he added.
“Colm died protecting the community. He was a rock, good humoured, and if he had your back you had a good friend,” he explained.
“We will give Colm the good send-off he deserves. He has left a great and lasting legacy at the club,” he said.
Colm’s brother Dermot is a local funeral director in the town, and his father Marty runs a taxi business.
The family used to own a pub in the town.
Colm Horkan was due to turn 50 this December.
“I only spoke to him a few days ago. I saw him across the road in his car and we had a chat. He was the last person to send a message to a WhatsApp group we’re in at around ten o’clock last night,” said Mr Casey.
“He was as steady as a rock, as a garda and as a person,” he added.
“He was straight-up and honest. This news is a massive blow to his family and the town,” he explained.
Charlestown Parish Priest Fr Tommy Johnston described Colm as a gentle individual who “always had a smile on his face”.
“I was only telling someone earlier that God only takes the best,” he added.
“Colm was a gentle fellow, and he was the same with everyone. It’s so sad. He was such a lovely guy,” he explained.
“His whole family are well respected in the town. He was a fine man,” said Fr Johnston.
Local councillor Gerry Murray said the town is devastated at the news.
“The whole community holds Colm, and indeed all the Horkans, in great affection. We are devastated and numbed by this news,” he said.
“He was extremely well liked and respected. I used to run a pub here and he would be in with all his contemporaries and they were a fine bunch of people,” he added.
“It’s hard to find words to describe the feelings of the town today,” he explained.