Human Stories

John O’Brien

Interviewed 2020

FAMILY TRAGEDY

John O’Brien from Ballinhassig in Cork joined the Gardaí in 1968. On retiring almost 40 years later in 2006, he had reached the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent. He had also been Head of the National Office for Interpol and Europol. This recording was originally broadcast by John Greene on C103 as part of the radio series, Where the Road Takes Me and was since donated to the RGSMA Archive. In this piece of audio John sadly recalls that when he arrived to Templemore to begin training as a Garda, he received a phone call to say that his mother, who had been unwell, had died.

 

MR. O’BRIEN: By the way, for the history, 1968 summer was absolutely beautiful,. It was absolutely beautiful. Those long days and the sun beating down. On the home front it was a bit difficult because my mother had become ill and was quite seriously ill, so all of that was happening on the way into 26th June 1968. So on that day myself and my father and a few neighbours, the Cronin family, headed off to drop young O’Brien at Garda Síochána Training Centre in Templemore. I had been in Tipperary before at Munster finals, and in Limerick and all of that, but this was an adventure. I hadn’t travelled very far. And we went through the gate in Templemore and the first thing we were told, was “are you the O’Briens?”, and we said “yes”, and they said “listen, we’ve got some bad news for you. Mrs. O’Brien has passed away in Cork”. So for that day, that day is forever emblazoned in my mind, apart from joining the Guards, and that’s really why the book is dedicated, apart from any other good reason, to the memory of my good mother, Margaret Lombard O’Brien and, so you carry those things with you forever. So it was a date to remember for a whole lot of reasons.

Mr. GREENE: I suppose, it’s true to say that at that particular time the careers that stood out during the 1960s were priest, teacher, bank official, and Garda. But not necessarily in that order.  Was there a history of law enforcement in your family before that? 

JOHN O’BRIEN: No, and I would say there wasn’t, although we were ‑‑ you see I lived in, as I said, in Ballinhassig and near Killeady. We were very aware of the local Guards and the local Sergeant.  They came doing the Census.  Some of them played hurling with the local team.  There was a direct connection, and I always got a little bit of a magic when I saw them, usually cycling, through the countryside in uniform, looking really smart, and bright, but there was no history of law enforcement in that sense, other than we were, yes, fairly law abiding, and apart from the odd bicycle light, it was a good relationship, and we would have known the Sergeant’s, sons and so on.  So it was a very comfortable relationship in that regard.  I think, to put it this way, very simply, we trusted the Guards.  They had a good place in our scheme of things and we were, very happy and comfortable.  I wasn’t so sure about, about many aspects of what it was going to be like, but I didn’t realise that I was starting on a journey, and like while your programme “Where The Road Takes You”, this was a journey that took me over the next 40 years, and then some more, to practically every continent on the globe, wearing the Garda hat and badge.  So it was a very interesting kick off.  But, no, there wasn’t an immediate interest in it, but certainly a very good vibe about the Guards.