Tales from an ex-Garda

It was 1970, the air was filled with the famous scent of coddle, those who had spent the night getting merry within one of the many surrounding pubs had returned home.  Pots of broth, sausages, vegetables and potatoes were being heated as a late supper.

Sergeant John Brennan walked solely along St. Patricks Street in the early hours of the morning while doing his check of the area.  Suddenly, to join the smell of coddle came the familiar whiff of smoke. He spotted smoke slithering through from the basement of St Patricks Cathedral.

Alone, he reached the nearest phone and called for the fire brigade.  They arrived in minutes and prevented what would have been the death of one of Ireland’s beautiful cathedrals.

“I think it was maliciously started but we never got anybody for it, there is no reason why the fire should have started there,” says retired Sergeant John Brennan.  Since that night, John has been known as the “Saviour of St Patricks Cathedral”.

Mr. Brennan is now in his seventies, he retired from working as a guard by the young age of fifty-years-old.   John’s career changed when he bought a pub with his wife Maire.  Although now beyond the usual retiring age, John spends his days running his pub “Brennan’s Inn” situated in Kilteel in Co. Kildare.

Along with working his pub, John takes a special interest in beekeeping, gardening and his 1929 boat-tail MG.  As John speaks about his past, his large blue eyes are that of a young person, filled with ambition.

Before becoming the Sergeant of Kevin’s street Police station, John worked as a guard in Rathmines for ten years.

After growing up in Blessington in Co. Wicklow, John found a certain witty charm within the community that he hadn’t found before.  His vocabulary grew immensely as he questioned many new words that he hadn’t come across before.

“One night I heard a woman shout ‘Go away or I will give you a thumber’.  I asked around and found out that this was the name for a toilet bowl with no handles, therefore you would have to stick your thumb into the pot to move it,” says John.

John worked with twelve other police officers, one of which was the famous, Jim C. Branagan.

“Branagan was a lovely kind man; one of the things he did every night was to visit the hospitals.  JCB would bring a load of newspapers with him.  He would check if there were any drunks or messers causing problems, by Jesus did he deal with it. There were no problems in hospital waiting rooms in those days,” laughs John.

As a Dublin man from the Liberties, JCB kept law and order in Dublin. “You could walk around O’ Connell Street in the middle of the night looking into shop windows and be safe because he was driving around those areas.  Every criminal in Dublin would quake at the mention of his name.  If he saw a criminal, he wanted to know what they were doing there,” says John.

“I think he’s like Folklore now, all the older people in the Liberties would remember him.  He was a huge man, also known as ‘Luggs’ for his huge ears.  He was a boxer, but he also bred budgies, he had a very soft side too,” says John.

While working in the Liberties, John found that his role was to help in as many ways as possible. “There was a famous criminal who came to me.  He said ‘My son’s gone missing and I want you to get him back, he’s gone to Birmingham with some other lad that I don’t want him to be knocking around with’.

“I had a great friend, an inspector in Birmingham who I got to check it out.  I met the criminal and told him where his son was, he said ‘Where is he? I will get on the next boat and pull him back by the back of his neck’.  I told him that he could bring him back if he wanted but the son would be gone again in the morning,” says John.

“I told him that my friend would keep an eye on the son and if he stepped out of line he would be on the next boat back, I could guarantee that.  I asked him if he had ever heard of the prodigal son. ‘Who the bleeding hell is the prodigal son?’ he asked,” laughs John.

The son had left the father to find work; he came back many years later. “It’s a great parable, it’s what fathers and sons do, the son has to come back under his own conditions,” says John.

Time passed without John hearing anything from the father.  “I was in a pub eating lunch and reading the paper.  A pint was put down in front of me, I asked the bar man who it was from.  I looked over and there was the father and son, he pointed to the son with a big smile and said ‘The prodigal son’,” says John.

For Sergeant Brennan, the Liberties was a close community, everyone helped each other.  “In those days crime was different, people stole by necessity.  There was one man who we used to call ‘Pudding’.  He was notorious for stealing ham, he loved the stuff!  Sometimes you would see a window of a shop smashed open and all that would be missing was some ham.  We always knew who the criminal was when that happened,” says John.

“I was very happy working in the liberties, probable the happiest time of my life.  While I was there, I forged friendships that have been forged forever,” says John.

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