It Occurs To Me - with Frank Galligan
I came across some well worn old copies of the Democrat last week, one of which brought me back to two wonderful neighbours whose most important weekly ritual was the trip to the wee shop for the hairy bacon, two batch loaves, a side of dried hake, twenty Woodbine and the Democrat.
My father loved visiting them that evening, and as he approached the house, one of the brothers would lift the paper, and hold it right across the window until dad entered. “Anything in the Democrat” he would ask. Throwing it down on the table with a shake of his head, he would utter the immortal words: “The world’s away to hell!”. The most wonderful part of that daily enactment was that he couldn’t read or write.
In the event that any of his sheep would go missing, he would call on my father and not being in a position to say that 8 or 9 were unaccounted for, he could go one better. “The one I bought from Micky Ban on the 13th April, the one I bought at the fair in May, and so it went all, until the sheep were forensically detailed. As dad reflected, “That’s a different type of genius.” Little did I know that in time, I would be the NI Chairman of the UK Year of Reading, and literacy would become an area of huge interest in my life.
In the early 90’s I was hosting a creative workshop in Magee University in Derry, when a man in his 40’s - during the second week of classes - put up his hand and said: “I don’t think I should be in this class, Frank.”
“Of course you should, says I breezily, sure nobody starts writing on the first day.”
There was a short silence, and with tears in his eyes, he responded: “I thought this was a literacy class....I can’t read or write.”
That memory is as vivid today as the shock to my system was then. There we were, worried about character development and other niceties, and all he wanted - as he told me later - was to be able to read a bedtime story for his daughter!
As it happened, I introduced him to the relevant tutor and he told me years later that it had changed his life. Years later, I was conducting a class with young people suffering from depression and/or schizophrenia, when a woman - who had been non-responsive for two to three weeks - suddenly looked up at me and asked: “Do you know what depression is, Frank?” “You tell me, please” I responded. “It’s not being able to articulate,” she answered, and continued: “I’m going to articulate from now on!”
She then began to write, some eighteen pages or so, and it was mind-blowing. That and other episodes have long convinced me of the the importance, not of the three R’s, but the fundamental two - Reading and wRiting. The third one, aRithmetic, just doesn’t add up if the first ones aren’t prioritised.
THE COROFIN INSPECTION
After my reference to the conditions of the old Garda Station in Muff, a retired member contacted me and reminded me of a story I alluded to some 16 years ago about Corofin Barracks just after An Garda Siochana were formed.
I replied to him, agreeing that it was a great story but with an amazing twist, and advised him to read me today.
After a bit of searching, I came across Gregory Allen’s 1999 book, “The Garda Siochana - Policing Independent Ireland 1922-1982”. Gregory had 40 years experience as a garda, and was the archivist and founder-curator of the Garda Museum.
Here’s the report, referred to by Gregory entitled “Minutes of Inspection by Deputy Commissioner Coogan - Corofin Garda Station, 11th MAY 1923:
"Visited station in conjunction with Divisional Tour, Sergeant W. Lennon, 231, and station party present.
“When I entered the Sergeant sat glowering at me and refused to call the party to attention.
“I called the party to attention and Garda O'Neill tried to rise and fell into the fireplace. I asked the sergeant to account for the state of affairs existing at the station and he replied in a manner as would do justice to the worst corner boy in the slums of London.
I searched the barracks and found that a seizure of poteen (three gallons) made on the previous day had been almost consumed by the station party. The barrack servant sat with a baton in her hand protecting the remainder of it and refused to move. She also had possession of the station books and records and refused to allow me to inspect them.
“In my examination of the barracks I found that the w.c. was filled with station records, apparently used by the station party on their visits there.
“ I heard noises coming from the rear of the cells. When I went to investigate I found three young ladies there.
“I took statements from them and they complained that when passing the barracks they were forcibly taken in by Sgt. Lennon and Guards Bourke and O'Toole - for a purpose better imagined than described.
“In the kitchen of the station Guard Bourke caught me by the uniform and would not let me go until I promised to refund him a fine of £5.00 imposed on him and have the record of same erased.
“When I returned to the front of the barracks I found the Sergeant urinating from the front door into the street and he started to argue with me on the footpath with his person exposed.
“On leaving the station I was approached by a local trader who demanded that I make the party pay some of their Mess Account for the preceding twelve months, now amounting to some £70.
“The whole situation at Corofin was disgraceful. I returned to Tuam and had all the station party suspended immediately.
“I hope that the Divisional Officer will ensure that these men discharge their local debts before they themselves are discharged from the Force."
Can you imagine the hysteria in the media if the date of that inspection minute was 11th May 2002? It would guarantee at least a fortnight of other sensational revelations, and actual 'witnesses' adding layer upon layer of incredible and lurid stories of lack of discipline, drunkenness, promiscuity and dishonesty.
Deputy Commissioner Eamonn Coogan did exist - his son is the eminent journalist and writer, Tim Pat Coogan. Everything else in his supposed report, however, is a complete hoax.
As Gregory Allen reminds us Coogan actually reported that some stations in Clare and Galway were "utterly unsuitable", some "frightfully bad hovels".
"The men were overcrowded in cold and damp makeshift accommodation, with no water supply: in some stations water had to be carted from distant wells. Sanitary facilities were primitive or non existent.
In the County Clare village of Maurice's Mills the guards were suffering from the cold and damp: 'in such a ...hopeless shambles' it was impossible to have either discipline or order." As it happens, to have water in Corofin Barracks meant carrying it for two miles.
*In the "Garda Review" in February 1975, former Commissioner Patrick Carroll admitted it was a hoax and "a joke that misfired".