FULL INTERVIEW WITH PHYLLIS NOLAN (11/10/21)
JOHN O’BRIEN (NARRATOR): This is an interview conducted on the 11th October 2021. It’s conducted by Rita Delaney of the GSRMA, the Garda Siochána Retired Members Association, and it is in conjunction with the oral history project being run by the GSRMA. Rita’s interviewee today is Phyllis Nolan and Phyllis is a retired Superintendent. Phyllis’s register number was 00015K. Phyllis had a long and very distinguished career in the Garda Siochána. She is, as Rita has said in the course of this interview, a trailblazer in many respects, both at home and internationally, and she’s going to share at least some of those experiences today with Rita. Phyllis fully understands the implications of being involved in the project, the oral history project of the GSRMA, and she’s happy to proceed on that basis.
RITA DELANEY (INTERVIEWER): My name is Rita Delaney and I have the great pleasure of interviewing retired Superintendent Phyllis Nolan for our centenary project with the Retired Members Association. I’m going to start the interview by asking Phyllis about her early days.
I know she’s a native of Carlow, so we’ll just speak greatly about that time. So I’m going to turn my camera on to Phyllis and say good morning, Phyllis, and thank you very much for doing this interview with me.
Family background and education
PHYLLIS NOLAN: Good morning, and you’re welcome, Rita. Yes, I grew up in County Carlow outside a village called Ballon, and I went to the national school there. I was the eldest of five children, four girls and a boy. Well actually, they were twins, a boy and girl older than me, and they both died at birth in those days. And then having completed my national schooling, I went to the Brigidine Convent in Tullow, and the norm was at that stage that you cycled to school.
MS. DELANEY: Well, I don’t want to cut across you, but I did not know that. I went to the Brigidine Convent in Abbeyleix.
MS. NOLAN: Really? So we probably had some of the same teachers at different stages.
MS. DELANEY: Yeah, but I’m not supposed to butt in like this, I really am not, so we’ll come back to that maybe after we record. So you went to the Brigidine Convent?
MS. NOLAN: The Brigidine Convent in Tullow, yes.
MS. DELANEY: Tell me about them and the education you got. Was it good?
MS. NOLAN: Yes. I have still the height of admiration for the Brigidines, absolutely the height of admiration. I loved my time there and when I eventually came to Dublin and joined the Garda Siochana, a lady who was very involved and who became president of the amalgamated union catering for all the Brigidine schools in Ireland, she contacted me.
Her husband was a Sergeant in Crumlin and she contacted me to join the organisation, and so I did.
And eventually I became president of that too.
MS. DELANEY: Okay.
MS. NOLAN: And I’m still a member of the Tullow group, a small group. We have a luncheon once a year. So I would still be loyal to the Brigidine nuns and appreciate what they did.
MS. DELANEY: And did you work after you finished your secondary schooling or did you go straight into An Garda Síochána?
MS. NOLAN: First of all I went to, one summer season I went to Kilkee, County Clare. I suppose that was daunting in a sense, but my mother had a cousin there, a member of the Garda as it happened, and I had that family to fall back on and I had support from them. And when I came to Dublin then, I had an uncle living on the Navan Road. He was also in Garda Headquarters. I joined in June 1960, one of four girls and 46 men. We were divided into two classes, the four girls being in the same class. And for me that was a very daunting experience because I had never sat in a mixed class before. All of my three colleagues had at different stages, but for me, to have to answer up in class was a huge undertaking. I would never forget that.
MS. DELANEY: What did your parents think about you joining the Garda Siochana?
MS. NOLAN: Erm, well, we didn’t have much discussion about it and I suppose what I would say was that
Motivation for joining An Garda Síochána
MS. DELANEY: What attracted you to the Garda Síochána?
MS. NOLAN: That’s exactly what I was going to say.
On a Sunday evening, just before the news, they would have notices on the radio, public notices, and there was an announcement that they were taking applicants. I had seen all the publicity in relation to the first group. And my cousin was there as well, Lord rest her, and I said ‘I’m going to apply for that’, and my mother and her didn’t believe me. So I went the next day to the Garda station, because that’s what you did, you went to your local station. In normal circumstances I think people It was a different process for males at that time. I went there first initially and then I had to apply to the Civil Service, eventually did the exam.
MS. DELANEY: Oh, I see.
MS. NOLAN: I was there. And so I went into training in headquarters.
MS. DELANEY: Right.
MS. NOLAN: In Garda Headquarters.
MS. DELANEY: Yes.
MS. NOLAN: That was the training centre.
MS. DELANEY: Okay, so then it was prior to Templemore becoming the training centre.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, Templemore didn’t become a training centre until 14th February 1964 I believe.
MS. DELANEY: Okay. That must have been, you’ve mentioned the word yourself, daunting?
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: Yourself and three colleagues, four of you, in Garda Headquarters.
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: All your colleagues were male and your instructors were male and all the rest of it.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, there was one girl Ban Garda from the first group of Ban Gardai, she came back as a supervisor trainer to us. She was Len Hayden,
a beautiful lady, she was from Athy, and she had been teaching locally before she joined the Garda and she was there while we were in training, and that was the only other female that was there. There were very few, there were very few female employees. Many years later when I went to Garda Headquarters there were still very few female employees in Garda Headquarters.
MS. DELANEY: So when you say it was daunting in the classes having to answer up and all the rest of it, is that when you got into policing duties, legal studies?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, we did all of that and our classes were the same, but there was still a clear distinction.
We had to live out, and so I cycled in in the morning. And the other two girls, one of them had a scooter, they came in together on that. That was the methodology. And the fourth lady was living in Garda Terrace, Betty Dixon, now Gerry Clancy’s wife, and she was living there. So we did our training, we went through that, and then when it came.
MS. DELANEY: Sorry, how many weeks training did you do? Was it 18 or 22?
MS. NOLAN: 22 I thought.
MS. DELANEY: 22?
MS. NOLAN: I think.
MS. DELANEY: And in the very beginning that’s your lot?
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: It was 18 and then it became 22 for years and years.
MS. NOLAN: Yeah, yeah, I think it was 22. And then we had the firearms testing, and we were not allowed on the range so we never qualified.
MS. DELANEY: Oh!
MS. NOLAN: And it was like that for a number of years and that situation continued for some years. So we had no qualification. However, years later, when I was on the staff in Templemore, I corrected that situation.
I went to Jim Leahy. He made me undergo the test with a class of recruits.
MS. DELANEY: Oh right.
MS. NOLAN: I’m not too sure whether it was more daunting for them or for me, because I’m standing there at the end of the line with stripes on my arm.
MS. DELANEY: How did the instructors, who were all male, how did they treat the four ladies in the class, if you don’t mind my asking?
MS. NOLAN: I don’t mind you asking at all.
MS. DELANEY: You don’t have to say.
MS. NOLAN: And I do remember them well. And it was Life was very different in those days. We were all addressed as Miss. So I was Miss Nolan, but had I been a male I would have been called Nolan.
MS. DELANEY: No first name at all.
MS. NOLAN: Many of them were called, not always but they were called by their surname a lot of the time a lot of the time. But I had good memories of training.
MS. DELANEY: Okay.
MS. NOLAN: Happy memories of training.
MS. DELANEY: That’s good.
MS. NOLAN: And we had all our meals in the mess hall and there were many
MS. DELANEY: Did you take part in the drill and all that?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, of course. All of that was the same. Many activities in the mess hall. And there was a Sergeant Griffin who lived a long retirement down in West Clare, I met him many times down there afterwards, but he looked after us so well and we were always addressed as Miss. We had a small table for four and they had a linen table cloth on it and we got milk and butter and everything supplied, so we were really well taken care of, there’s no doubt about it.
MS. DELANEY: That’s excellent. I’m going to pause there if you don’t mind.
MS. NOLAN: Lovely memories of it.
MS. DELANEY: Phyllis, I’m going to continue now, if you don’t mind, by asking you where you were sent to first. What was your first station, how did you find it and how did you get on with the community or how did the community view you? Were you a bit of a novelty? Were all you and your colleagues a novelty?
MS. NOLAN: Well, my first station was Pearse Street.
It was called, in those days it was “The College” and
the four of us were sent there. And the first 12 females were already there, so we had somebody, if you like, to break the ice for us. And really, my induction into the Force was very low key, there was absolutely no publicity, but I’ll tell you, my first weekend on duty was very different. It was the weekend of the Congo victims funeral and I never saw so many people on the streets, but of course it was
MS. DELANEY: It was a huge event.
MS. NOLAN: It was a huge event and it was extremely sad. They were from all over the country and huge numbers of people attended it. So that was my induction.
City Policing Duties
MS. DELANEY: What were your duties?
MS. NOLAN: Our duties in those days were mainly to deal with women and children, and of course we did general police work. We worked early and late shifts but no night duty. That did not mean that we didn’t work at night when required, so we were oncall.
That was preConroy. There was no such thing as overtime, so you were called out at night, you could get a call at two o’clock in the morning, any hour, because there was a rape or there was a young girl found in a doorway in O’Connell Street that had ran away from home, she was somewhere down the country and you were called in. And I well remember going in, that’s probably a little bit later, that was Store Street, going in and contacting the nuns in Gloucester Street, wonderful, just wonderful human beings, those nuns. You’d go over with this little girl, tired, hungry, dirty, in need of care, and the nun would take her in and she’d say ‘Yes, Miss Nolan’, and she’d look after her. She’d have been dressed in her full habit. Take her in at three o’clock in the morning. And those nuns got no compensation whatsoever for doing that kind of work. A few days later you might go back again to collect that same little lassie to bring her for an interview, maybe to do a little bit of housework or something, and you wouldn’t know her, she’d be so cleaned up. They’d either have her own clothes back on her ironed and clean or else they’d have got another outfit for her.
MS. DELANEY: Was there any prosecution for any of this?
MS. NOLAN: No, none, because I mean, these ones would have ran away from home, they weren’t involved in anybody else, and because the Gardaí, if you like, intervened at a very early stage, saved her from an assault or anything. She’d be possibly in a doorway in O’Connell Street.
MS. DELANEY: You must have seen quite a lot of poverty then.
MS. NOLAN: A lot of poverty. There was a lot of poverty in the Inner City as well. There were children, young children out selling papers in the evenings, doing different things, not in school. And, you know I recall going into one house and the father was there, hardworking decent man, it was a Thursday so he had got his pay and he obviously had visited the pub and he said ‘No child of mine would be going to court’, but I could see the hatchet by the fireplace and the ash and the bottle of milk on the table and the loaf of bread standing there. I was used to having milk coming from the cows and it was a different kind of thing, but, you know, there were decent people as well and
MS. DELANEY: Tell me a bit more, a little bit more about the nuns that you mentioned there just a minute or two ago.
MS. NOLAN: The Gloucester Street, the Sean McDermott Street nuns.
MS. DELANEY: Yes. What Order were they, do you recall?
MS. NOLAN: They were
MS. DELANEY: Well, it doesn’t matter, but they took
MS. NOLAN: The big bonnets. I’m sorry.
MS. DELANEY: No, that’s okay.
MS. NOLAN: I need to do that correctly.
MS. DELANEY: They took in, they took in the runaways?
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: And they fed them and cleaned them?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, yes, yes. And they also had a laundry there.
MS. DELANEY: Oh, yes.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, and we would not have known anything about that people were there.
MS. DELANEY: Oh well, in recent years we know more about that.
MS. NOLAN: But the reality is, those people, those women were there because their parents would not take them out from the convent at the time.
MS. DELANEY: That’s right, yeah.
MS. NOLAN: And I have nothing but the height of respect for those nuns.
MS. DELANEY: Yeah, that is absolutely right. Families and parents put those girls there and that’s just
MS. NOLAN: And wouldn’t take them out.
MS. DELANEY: No, it was a very different time.
MS. NOLAN: Very different times.
MS. DELANEY: How did you get on? Were you attached to a unit in Pearse Street?
MS. NOLAN: No, we worked earlys and lates. We were not attached to We were Ban Gardaí and we were called out separately then, and never paid for that. But, you know, that was quite the norm at that time. There was no such thing as overtime
MS. DELANEY: I know.
MS. NOLAN: but you were happy doing…(Interjection)
MS. DELANEY: Did you get any opportunity to go to court?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, of course, yes, yes.
MS. DELANEY: And would it be summonses and offences of that nature?
MS. NOLAN: Summonses, yes, shoplifting.
MS. DELANEY: Yes, of course.
MS. NOLAN: Dunnes Stores, it was the first supermarket in South Great George’s Street, had developed at that stage and taken people to court on shoplifting charges. And looking at their circumstances, I always believed that there was more to it than just presenting the facts of the crime, looking at their circumstances.
I recall two women, two sisters, both of them were pregnant as it happened and it was food they were taking to feed their children. And, you know, you always had to look at that kind of thing as well.
MS. DELANEY: You had to have had some compassion about you?
MS. NOLAN: Yeah, yeah, you had to look behind the scene I think.
MS. DELANEY: And how did you get on with your male colleagues in Pearse Street at the time?
MS. NOLAN: Our male colleagues were absolutely very supportive and each unit, there were three units in those days from 6 to 2 and 2 to 10 and a month of night duties, that’s how it was done, and there was a Station Sergeant in charge of each unit and those men treated us as if we were their daughters.
MS. DELANEY: Oh, that’s excellent, it’s great to hear, really great to hear.
MS. NOLAN: Yeah, they really did. And I can still visualise some of them. Absolutely wonderful men.
MS. DELANEY: How long did you spend in Pearse Street?
Promotion to Sergeant
MS. NOLAN: I left Pearse Street on promotion to Sergeant and I went to Store Street. At that stage then there were, there was a number of Sergeants because…(Interjection)
MS. DELANEY: But it must have been quite unusual, unusual at the time, and wonderful for you to attain the rank of Sergeant.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, there was three
MS. DELANEY: In a male organisation.
MS. NOLAN: Well, three of the first group of girls were promoted first and then next was Mary Brown, she was number 1W, she was promoted. And subsequent to that then, Josie Dwyer from the first group and myself were promoted and then Mary Riordan down in Cork. So that was the number of Sergeants.
MS. DELANEY: And you went to Store Street?
MS. NOLAN: I went to Store Street. Sarah McGuinness and myself were the two Sergeants there and Josie Dwyer was in Pearse Street, and the idea was that we would alternate. If Josie was on leave, one of us would go there. And then of course there was also duty to be done in rural areas if there was a serious crime. There was a murder in County Roscommon and I was sent there with three female members, three Ban Gardaí as we were called at that stage. And nobody was to know who we were. But not only did they know who we were, they knew that the lady with the brown coat was a Sergeant. [Laughs]
MS. DELANEY: [Laughs] And why were you sent to that particular crime?
MS. NOLAN: We had to monitor the lady of the house,
a sister of the deceased man.
MS. DELANEY: Okay. What were your duties? Your duties in Store Street would have been supervisory?
MS. NOLAN: Supervisory, yes.
MS. DELANEY: And was that supervision of women or women and men?
MS. NOLAN: Strictly, strictly women initially, yes, initially.
MS. DELANEY: Was that preConroy or postConroy?
MS. NOLAN: That was preConroy.
MS. DELANEY: PreConroy, okay.
MS. NOLAN: And then we did courts. And of course the Coroner’s Court was there as well and we had to go out and get the people to serve on juries. And that was really difficult, that was really difficult. They’d see you coming, oh yeah, she’s looking for somebody for a jury, that kind of thing. But, you know, the people in the Inner City were just wonderful people. And of course the footfall in C District was higher than anywhere else in the country, so it was always busy, there was always something extra to be done, with people coming to town for shopping and being victims of maybe a larceny from the person. Or sometimes people losing their car, looking to know what street did they park on, that kind of thing, you know. The byelaws were very much part of our function as well, coming out taking statements in indecency cases to other areas.
MS. DELANEY: At the time did you get many girls presenting or ladies presenting alleging rape, sexual assault, incest, you know, serious stuff like that?
MS. NOLAN: We would get some that would not be genuine, for a variety of reasons. And I suppose I remember one particular one because it was very sad.
A young girl went with her parents to the Bridewell, and John Robinson, who subsequent to that was my Superintendent, he was the Station Sergeant there, a lovely gentleman, fatherly person, and we went there and I interviewed the girl and it transpired that she had a fear of pregnancy, so she invented this story to convey to her parents what her situation was.
MS. DELANEY: Okay.
MS. NOLAN: We got a few words from her then to say what the actual situation was and her parents brought her home, relieved she hadn’t been raped and very sad to see their little child pregnant. And I suppose that would always stand out in my mind.
MS. DELANEY: John Robinson, I remember him, he was Chief in South Central
when I joined, and he was a fatherly man to me.
MS. NOLAN: Absolutely.
MS. DELANEY: He was a lovely gentleman.
MS. NOLAN: Lovely gentleman.
MS. DELANEY: Did you enjoy your time in Store Street?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, I did. I spent the greater part of my life, longer there than anywhere else. They were extremely happy, I’ve extremely happy memories of it. Great comradeship in Store Street. No facilities whatsoever. A cell was converted into the ladies facilities.
MS. DELANEY: That went on for a long time. I endured that in places.
MS. NOLAN: So that was the situation, but the comradeship was absolutely superb.
Promotion to Inspector
MS. DELANEY: And you were promoted to Inspector.
MS. NOLAN: Before that I went to the Bridewell.
MS. DELANEY: Oh right, okay, so you were transferred to the Bridewell?
MS. NOLAN: I was transferred to the Bridewell to set up a female unit there. That was at a difficult time with young women who were happy in both Store Street and Pearse Street, they didn’t want to transfer, they knew that they would now face stints in the overnight detention centre. There was one lady who had been employed as the matron and it was time to make changes and so they put Ban Gardaí there.
MS. DELANEY: What was the idea of an all female unit, specifically? Was it to look after female prisoners?
MS. NOLAN: Well, there was a fear that they would be used for the prison, but the reality was that there was females needed in the district as well.
MS. DELANEY: In the district as well, yeah.
MS. NOLAN: And it was at a time where integration started shortly after that, going on the units, yeah.
MS. DELANEY: Do you remember the Conroy Commission then?
MS. NOLAN: Of course I remember the Conroy Commission very well.
MS. DELANEY: He made an awful difference.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, and I remember very well the first weekend of working, and that was the weekend that Dick Fallon, Lord rest him, was murdered.
MS. DELANEY: Oh, yes, yes.
MS. NOLAN: People were off that weekend.
MS. DELANEY: His anniversary was there recently.
MS. NOLAN: It’s April, the first days of April, 1st or 2nd of April, one of those days. That weekend was the first, as they described it, long weekend.
MS. DELANEY: Ah yes.
MS. NOLAN: And people didn’t know whether they could go to work or not, because the reality was that young members were living in the stations. When something happened, they were there, they automatically became part of the team on duty in the evening. But people didn’t know what to do that particular weekend.
So that was the commencement of change, big change for the Garda.
MS. DELANEY: Prior to that
MS. NOLAN: And that was in 1970.
MS. DELANEY: Prior to that, pay and conditions was bad for everybody. I suppose women got paid less than men.
Gender disparity in Pay
MS. NOLAN: Of course women were paid less than men!
MS. DELANEY: Yes.
MS. NOLAN: And that continued, but, you know, we never questioned that. And that doesn’t mean that we hadn’t the ability to assess it, but it was the norm everywhere.
MS. DELANEY: It was, yeah.
MS. NOLAN: And teachers had three rates of pay.
MS. DELANEY: Yes.
MS. NOLAN: They had one for a male principal. They had one for a male married principal actually and then they had another for a male principal and a different rate for a female. They had three rates of pay.
MS. DELANEY: That’s right.
MS. NOLAN: Most places had two rates. So we never questioned it, but many years later At this stage there was only 35 females in the organisation and five Sergeants, I think I’m right on those numbers, so the GRA were not going to, and did not, take a case on behalf of their female members. However, Derek Nally was Secretary General of AGSI and he decided he’d pursue it for his five Sergeants.
MS. DELANEY: Okay.
MS. NOLAN: And he needed some assistance and support from us, so Sarah McGuinness and myself were used as that. Because in Store Street for years we had worked in Croke Park on Sundays. Now, this was preConroy again without the conditions of overtime and we supervised male and female members there. So that was exactly one position where that happened.
MS. DELANEY: So did Derek Nally succeed?
MS. NOLAN: Derek Nally decided he’d take that case and the two of us were summoned, we were to present as witnesses and to give testimony of what we did. Very difficult for us to stand up and be counted.
So Derek went along that day with his good negotiating skills and he said one of us was in court and the other was investigating a serious rape. But he gave the facts and so all female members got equal pay, thanks to his
MS. DELANEY: Good man Derek!
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: I’ll pause there for a minute, if you don’t mind. Okay, we’re back again, Phyllis. I’m going to move on, if you don’t mind, to when you were promoted Inspector, again, a seminal moment in Irish life and in An Garda Siochana for women at the time. You must have been an inspiration for your colleagues. Did you see it that way?
MS. NOLAN: I suppose I didn’t really. I studied more or less by accident, because there was no point in studying because there were no females progressing in the organisation. However, I was in Templemore and I was asked to join a class there and I said, yes, I will, and that’s how it all started. Sarah McGuinness had already qualified for the promotion.
MS. DELANEY: So you had to do an interview?
MS. NOLAN: So the two of us went for interview and we were promoted, we were both promoted at the same time in May 1981.
MS. DELANEY: And what station or where were you sent?
MS. NOLAN: At that stage I was on temporary duty in Garda training in the college.
MS. DELANEY: That would have been Templemore?
MS. NOLAN: Templemore. And I was attached to the Bridewell and Sarah was attached to Store Street.
I was transferred to headquarters, to the newlyformed Community Relations Section. I would’ve much preferred to have been transferred to a unit in the city, what I grew up with, what I knew. Anyway, that’s where I was sent.
Community Relations Section
MS. DELANEY: Was Community Relations in Harcourt Square at the time or Garda Headquarters?
MS. NOLAN: No, it was in Garda Headquarters. There was a small unit. They already had a crime prevention,
a small crime prevention unit. The JLO scheme was brought in under it, and I had been very involved in the JLO scheme as a member, always sending, referring
MS. DELANEY: Those were new initiatives in An Garda Siochana at the time.
MS. NOLAN: That’s right, yes.
MS. DELANEY: Tell me a little bit about the JLO and the Community Relations Unit.
MS. NOLAN: Well, I went in there to it. There was very little known about it I suppose in general in the Force and my job was to take on some of these new projects and develop them. However, I went in there and there was two Sergeants and another Inspector. As I say, those were the only things. The dog unit was also part of it. So there were those three things. I had no great work to do as such but my male colleague,
the Senior Inspector, gave me a job to address envelopes when I arrived.
MS. DELANEY: Well, I don’t know how to respond to that, I really don’t, so I suppose we’ll leave it there for now and say nothing about it.
MS. NOLAN: It was to finalise the Tidy Towns Garda Stations that had been awarded in the Tidy Towns and to send out little cheques to them to help them do their gardens, and I was sitting there for two years…(Interjection)
MS. DELANEY: Well, I know from my own time in An Garda Siochana that you progressed from that and that he went wherever he went, and good luck to him, but you became very involved in juvenile liaison work and community relations. I know that from when I joined An Garda Siochana. Did you come to enjoy that work?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, I loved that work and I was very fortunate to have There were three Sergeants in charge of the JLO, it was divided into different areas of the city. Tom Casey, who was there from day one when it was established in ’63, he could not have been more helpful. I mean, he was “Mr. JLO” if you like, and here I am, a young Inspector coming in with overall responsibility for it. I will be always eternally grateful to him and respect how wonderful and supportive he was.
MS. DELANEY: That’s good to hear in light of the previous story of the man who asked you to do envelopes or whatever.
MS. NOLAN: And then of course Joe Dowling was there and Eugene Lynch. Eugene had been many years in the JLO as well. So there were three great Sergeants at the helm and it was a joy to work with them and to develop the JLO.
MS. DELANEY: They were trailblazers, the three of you or the four of you, in community relations and JLO, which was and continues to be a very good alternative I think.
MS. NOLAN: Absolutely, yes.
MS. DELANEY: Would you agree with that?
MS. NOLAN: Absolutely. It’s so important for young people. Because anybody can make a mistake, but if you make a mistake that’s going to cost you for your life and leave you with a conviction at a young stage that you can never move from, it’s
MS. DELANEY: Yeah, that’s the kernel of it.
MS. NOLAN: It’s the kernel of it all.
MS. DELANEY: If you get a chance.
MS. NOLAN: If you get a chance, if you get a chance and you’re properly supervised, it’s a favour for many young people.
MS. DELANEY: I think nowadays it’s much more difficult. It’s still there and it’s still very good but it’s very difficult to supervise.
MS. NOLAN: Well, now it’s put on a different footing, and I was involved in that working party that established the new juvenile diversion programme and I became the first director of that.
MS. DELANEY: I did not know that. What did you do as director of that group?
MS. NOLAN: We had responsibility for the monitoring and decision making of all juvenile cases
MS. DELANEY: Okay.
MS. NOLAN: in the entire country, so it meant there was uniformity.
MS. DELANEY: I understand what you mean, and I think it’s still the same. The Superintendent or the Chief Superintendent in Community Relations or JLO has the decision making?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, yes.
MS. DELANEY: Okay. Let’s pause for another minute. Phyllis, I’m now coming back to you and I’m going to ask you about setting up of community policing units, because I know you were the ground-breaking Inspector or Superintendent. Were you an Inspector?
MS. NOLAN: I was an Inspector.
MS. DELANEY: And Inspector at the time?
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: Tell me a little bit about that.
MS. NOLAN: Well, you know, community policing is nothing new. It’s what I saw the like of Tom Troy, Lord rest him, do in Store Street when I went there first. Working with the community, having the community eating out of his hands, being a friend of theirs that they could go to when they had a problem. So it really wasn’t new but now there was a need to,
if you like, have it on a more formal footing and to develop it within all districts, not just in isolated spots where a member felt he could relate well to people.
MS. DELANEY: And was it in the DMA at the time?
MS. NOLAN: All of the DMA. So I was given the responsibility of looking at that, and then it continued, that development continued after I became Superintendent, because I remember going to each District Officer and I too was of the same grade as them at that time.
MS. DELANEY: And when you went out first to talk to District Officers and so forth, were they positive, were they negative, did they not understand it or how did you, how did you get around that?
MS. NOLAN: Some of them saw it as demanding on their resources.
MS. DELANEY: Yes.
MS. NOLAN: Taking
MS. DELANEY: Taking away?
MS. NOLAN: Men, whatever, taking manpower. And others, you know, that were community-based people saw it differently and saw something positive in it.
But there were many of them saw difficulties with it,
they needed extra people to do it and so on, so it wasn’t always an easy sell. But, you know, if you don’t get support for something, you can’t do it.
Nobody can do anything in isolation.
MS. DELANEY: Well, it’s obvious you have excellent communication skills and you can sit down and give me an interview today as you’re doing and I Well, I know that you made a great success of community policing because I was a part of it when I joined An Garda Síochána in the 80s. What year were you promoted to the rank of Superintendent?
MS. NOLAN: 1989. In ’88 it had been announced and it was about six months later I was actually promoted.
I was promoted on the day, because Derek Nally reminded me how wonderful it was, sorry, the historian Gregory Allen, that needs to be cut, Gregory Allen reminded me the significance of it. It was the day of the anniversary of the foundation of the Force.
MS. DELANEY: Okay, well that was 9th February 1922.
MS. NOLAN: Well, I’m talking about now in ’89.
Promotion to Superintendent
MS. DELANEY: Yes, I know, 9th February. So you were the first female Superintendent in An Garda Síochána?
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: Did that bring much attention to you? I mean, were people looking to talk to you and were the Press interested in you? I remember you appeared on the Late Late Show, isn’t that correct? Do you want to say anything about that?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, it was the Saturday, it was Pat Kenny.
MS. DELANEY: I beg your pardon, was it Pat Kenny?
MS. NOLAN: It was Pat Kenny, yes.
MS. DELANEY: Okay.
MS. NOLAN: Nothing could have prepared me for the publicity that surrounded then. I am an extremely private person.
MS. DELANEY: I can empathise with that.
MS. NOLAN: Perhaps nobody might have realised that, because through life for various reasons there’d be a picture here or something, but you take those things and move on. But this was unbelievable. I was summoned to government buildings to meet the Taoiseach.
MS. DELANEY: Who was the Taoiseach at the time?
MS. NOLAN: The Taoiseach was Charlie Haughey.
MS. DELANEY: [Laughs]
MS. NOLAN: Mr. Haughey. Together with the Garda Commissioner, Commissioner Crowley, and the Secretary of the Department of Justice. There was no briefing or anything for that, but when I arrived there was reporters and cameras and so on. And Mr. Haughey, he was most charming and he actually presented me with a gift and he said ‘Now, get somebody else to carry that out’, he said, ‘the reporters outside will be asking you about that’, he said.
MS. DELANEY: What was the gift?
MS. NOLAN: Beautiful Irish linen.
MS. DELANEY: Oh lovely.
MS. NOLAN: What he would bring abroad I suppose.
MS. DELANEY: Yes.
MS. NOLAN: Beautiful.
MS. DELANEY: But as I say, you were not prepared.
MS. NOLAN: No.
MS. DELANEY: And that included
MS. NOLAN: Yes, and then when it was all over that evening, I was asked to give an interview for the news at six, the radio programme.
MS. DELANEY: The radio news, yes.
MS. NOLAN: Now, I sat down and did that okay because it was…(Interjection)
MS. DELANEY: It was audio and you weren’t on television.
MS. NOLAN: It was audio and that, and that was done. The next morning then I’m going to Templemore. I was tired so I decided I’d go by train and when I went into Heuston Station, the front of every paper I was looking up at myself.
MS. DELANEY: How did you find that? Were you mortified, were you delighted, were you elated,
MS. NOLAN: I quickly got the paper and closed it.
And the following evening I went into my bridge club and everybody stood, the entire club stood and applauded me. Nobody ever knew whether I worked or not before that. So those things were really difficult.
MS. DELANEY: Yes.
MS. NOLAN: Absolutely difficult. But then I was invited to go on the Pat Kenny show. I contacted the Press Office. I wasn’t looking to go, but I had been promoted, if the Commissioner wanted me to attend it, I would. Otherwise not.
MS. DELANEY: Okay.
MS. NOLAN: And the reality is, if you didn’t do it,
you wouldn’t do anything wrong, and I was mindful of that, but I could go and do the interview and it mightn’t be to people’s satisfaction. So that was a difficult experience, but I’m told it went
MS. DELANEY: It was very good. You opened the door for all the ladies that came after you and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you for that, because I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and Inspector and had you not, you and your colleagues not laid the foundations, that would not have been possible for us that came after you. So I hope you’re very proud of that.
MS. NOLAN: I’m very pleased now, but I never realised that it was such a change. And of course it was, because you moved into management. I think Inspector was very important but it was different. And even Gay Byrne that morning as I drove to work, I was in Harcourt Square at the time and I heard him on the radio announce it and he said ‘What will they call her, will they call her Sir as the regulations say or will they call her Ma’am.
MS. DELANEY: What did they call you?
MS. NOLAN: Some of them called me Sir.
MS. DELANEY: You didn’t take offence though?
MS. NOLAN: Why would I?
MS. DELANEY: Why would you.
MS. NOLAN: I was still Phyllis Nolan.
MS. DELANEY: Yes.
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: And where were you posted when you got the rank of Inspector?
MS. NOLAN: I was left in Community Relations, to fill an existing vacancy that had been there for some years.
MS. DELANEY: Were you pleased about that or would you have preferred to go to a different station or
MS. NOLAN: Well, I liked the work I did, so I was happy about that. And at the same time I was appointed Director of the newly established Juvenile Diversion Programme, so it was a double position or whatever.
MS. DELANEY: Now, you did serve as the District Officer in Palmerstown.
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: Tell me a little bit about that.
MS. NOLAN: Again, that was, there was a lot of publicity about that, there were telephone calls.
MS. DELANEY: It was a pilot for something, wasn’t it? Was it a pilot?
MS. NOLAN: Well, yes, there was community alert.
MS. DELANEY: Community alert.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, and there was the introduction of the call system, the greenman as they called it. It was there as well. So I was sent there. And there was a lot of requests for interviews. I didn’t take phonecalls in those days and then I was told
‘You’ll have to interview, you’ll have to speak to this lady, she’s so nice’, and sure enough I spoke to her and I said ‘I’d be delighted to do an interview’,
I said, ‘but I’d like to wait until I get there’.
And then when I got there I could talk about the community alert scheme, rather than talking about myself. Because I was very mindful that many men had gone there before as a Superintendent and why should I get publicity from this.
MS. DELANEY: Without any fuss at all.
MS. NOLAN: Absolutely, and that’s how it was.
MS. DELANEY: Did you enjoy Palmerstown?
MS. NOLAN: Palmerstown was incredible. Very different, very, very different than working in the city, but I have country roots so that helped me greatly.
The station party were the finest group of people, absolutely dedicated to serving the community. There was one female member there and, as it happened, I had interviewed her for the Force. And also, she was there sometime, a very dignified girl that worked on a unit but was very much part of the station.
MS. DELANEY: And how long did you spend in Palmerstown?
MS. NOLAN: I spent two years there.
MS. DELANEY: And did you return to the city after that?
MS. NOLAN: Yes, I did. During that time we had the Carroll’s Irish Open there and while I was there I also went to South Africa before the election of Mandela.
MS. DELANEY: Okay, was that part of a United Nations
MS. NOLAN: It was an EEC
MS. DELANEY: Ah yes, okay.
MS. NOLAN: They were drawn There was officers from various forces all over Europe. It was a great…(Interjection)
International Police Association
MS. DELANEY: Okay, and I’ll pause you there, we’ll catch our breath. I’m now going to move on and ask Phyllis about something that is synonymous with her and was a huge part and still is a huge part of her life, and that is the IPA. So when did you start getting involved in the IPA, Phyllis?
MS. NOLAN: Well, in my very young days the IPA was dormant in Ireland. Ireland had been a member from the early days, 1955, there was very few countries involved in it, and then it was dormant for many years.
Both Morris Short and Michael Ringrose, in two different parts of Ireland, were working tirelessly to try and reestablish it. So they called a meeting in the Garda Club. Mr. Garvey would always facilitate every activity that people wanted to pursue and we got a room. Called a meeting. John Hickson became the president, Morris Short the treasurer, Michael Ringrose the editor, and there was a few other people as well. Catherine Barry, she was a young Ban Garda in Store Street with me and she became the secretary general, Lord rest her. And I became involved at that time and within a year I was co-opted onto the national executive as their social secretary, and so my life in IPA began. We had a group from Northern Ireland to visit us and we went to visit them. So we saw the benefit of having interaction, and of course that was all part of the original idea of Arthur Troop, that IPA would support members in their endeavours and you’d have a greater opportunity to look at policing in another country or to have assistance from somebody because you could ring them up, you knew them, that kind of thing, and that’s how it was. And I continued like that. And then we set up what we call the “travel bureau”. Three of us were members of that, Bill Murphy, Michael Ringrose and myself, and we organised a trip to America in 1971, when very few people except the supporting bodies were able to take a flight to America. They’d charter a flight and then go to America, and that’s how it was. And then it was deemed that there should be a travel secretary and I was appointed the travel secretary.
MS. DELANEY: And for that trip did you just say you chartered a flight?
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: And everybody went, the whole group?
MS. NOLAN: We chartered an aircraft from Aer Lingus.
MS. DELANEY: Now, that was pretty ground breaking.
MS. NOLAN: And it was really courageous I suppose.
MS. DELANEY: [Laughs]
MS. NOLAN: And this was in 1970, because the flight took off in May ’71. The cost of the aircraft was in excess of £9,000.
MS. DELANEY: Very very expensive.
MS. NOLAN: So we sold the seats, we got members to come and our friends and we sold seats, individual seats. And then we planned, in conjunction with the IPA in America we planned a tour. And we were hosted in homes.
MS. DELANEY: Well, you see, that was the huge big thing of the IPA, you were hosted in countries.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, because members in Ireland could not possibly go to America and check into a hotel. In one or two places we were in travel lodges and such places as we travelled around. So three weeks in America and some of the people that went there would be your friends, your aunts, your uncles or whatever, people that bought a seat on the plane, but that made it viable.
MS. DELANEY: At the time where were you working from? Had you bought the premises in Glasnevin?
MS. NOLAN: No, no, not at all, we had no premises.
I spoke to Bill Murphy the other day
MS. DELANEY: That was a huge achievement.
MS. NOLAN: I was living in a flat in Cabra Park, he was married living in Crumlin and Michael Ringrose was in Naas and, as you said, you used to sit at the bottom of the stairs. You know, there was no mobile phones.
There was a telephone, a pay phone in the house that I was living in and that’s how we operated it.
MS. DELANEY: That’s extraordinary nowadays to see what you did. No mobile phones, no computers, no anything.
MS. NOLAN: And I still have those records.
MS. DELANEY: Yes, manual.
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: Well, maybe you’d consider giving those records or loaning those records to the GSRMA next year as part of an exhibition.
MS. NOLAN: Oh, yes, I must look up some more
MS. DELANEY: Okay, we’ll talk about that again.
MS. NOLAN: And doing a cleanup on those.
MS. DELANEY: Now, of course you were President of the IPA and you were President of the international IPA, isn’t that correct?
MS. NOLAN: The international have an annual meeting and they had it here in 1980, and then in ’81 I gave a presentation in Washington and I became, I was elected international Vice President, third Vice President. Then I became second and then I became first. I ran for president, I was not elected. As somebody said, Phyllis, they are not ready for a woman
MS. DELANEY: Oh okay.
MS. NOLAN: but you’re a good worker. So I did another term as Vice President. I’m the only person, and the organisation is over 70 years, 70 years in existence, that did four terms as a Vice President.
MS. DELANEY: I see.
MS. NOLAN: I didn’t make president but that doesn’t matter, that’s not an issue.
MS. DELANEY: Okay, but one huge achievement you were involved with and are still involved with is the premise in Glasnevin.
MS. NOLAN: Yes.
MS. DELANEY: You were involved in buying that premises, yes?
MS. NOLAN: That’s right.
MS. DELANEY: Do you want to tell us a little bit about that. Where did the idea come from? Who had the foresight and the vision to do that with you?
Purchase of IPA House.
MS. NOLAN: The first house that was purchased, no, that was acquired by IPA internationally was a small house, the Yoohoo house in Gimborn in Germany just near the college, the IPA educational centre. That was Germans and the man who became secretary general, Theo Leenders from the Netherlands. And it was possible to go, they developed a number of them and it was possible to go and stay in these houses. But they were not always owned, they were not owned by the organisation, they were leased. However, we then got the idea that we would acquire a house and we bought one down in Kildare. But Kildare was too close to Dublin for Dublin people to go out to the country on holidays and people coming from the country wouldn’t stay in Kildare if they wanted to come to Dublin, so it was only suitable for foreign, for foreign IPA members coming in. It was decided one should be bought in Dublin and there was a committee set up to deal with that. I was not part of that committee, however I did see this house in Glasnevin and I made contact with the committee and the rest is history as they say.
MS. DELANEY: The rest is history.
MS. NOLAN: We went to the auction and it was bought.
MS. DELANEY: You’ve done a huge amount of travel with the IPA and it’s probably one of your I can see all the lovely things in your house. It was a great adventure, would that be correct?
MS. NOLAN: I travelled before IPA, you know, I travelled privately. And then of course when I went on the international board, I went every year because I was part of that body and I spent extra time then.
A friend would come with me and we’d do a tour. And I have continued to travel into retirement. I’ve been to the Arctic, Antarctica. The Galapagos is the most recent one.
MS. DELANEY: Oh lovely.
MS. NOLAN: So.
MS. DELANEY: Yes, I have only seen it on television and it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful.
MS. NOLAN: And of course I’ve friends in many countries. But I would have to say that the IPA was a great help to me when I was in community relations and developing many of those programmes.
MS. DELANEY: Because you had the connection.
MS. NOLAN: Yes, and you could see the programmes that they had, yes, neighbourhood watch, child abuse units, all of that.
MS. DELANEY: All of that, yeah. And you were a trailblazer, as they say, for the women that came after you. So thank you very much for the interview and thank you very much for hosting me in your beautiful home.
END OF INTERVIEW