John McGroary: The retired garda is now a tour guide
Funny how life’s little twists and turns can map out one’s life. While still a member of An Garda Siochana, John McGroary was a co-founder of the Bluestack Ramblers, and eventually earned his Tour Guide Badge.
Fast Forward 20 years and he is the liaison officer between the Greek and Turkish Police in Cyprus, as part of his 12-month stint with the UN Peacekeeping Force.
One day he had to accompany a senior UN diplomat on a helicopter flight over the Buffer Zone between both jurisdictions and as he explained to me: “I suddenly realised I was a Tour Guide and I loved it. Much as I loved the Guards, I thought….maybe this is the way to go when I retire.”
That he did, in 2016, after 30 years as a very popular member, mostly in Glenties and elsewhere in west Donegal.
At the time, Garda Richard Quigley, who worked with John, and was also secretary of Glenties Community Development Group said: “John is a very professional and friendly man to work with. There is no doubting his dedication to the community in Glenties.
“He was always first in line to help as best he could. We never wanted for anything from the Gardaí whatever we were organising, be it the Harvest Fair or a festival. He will be sorely missed.
“The Glenties Community Development Group wishes John and his family every success and good health into the future.”
That family is his wife Pauline, nee Sharp from Portnoo, whom he met in Ardara and they have a son and a daughter, the former keeping the Garda tradition alive. Indeed two of John’s brothers are also members, from a family of nine boys and two girls.
“In the early 80’s I was working in Magee’s when a colleague signed up for the Guards and told me I should do the same. They were very strict at the time and I lost out on the chest measurement.
“However, when they were recruiting the next batch, they had dropped the chest requirement and I passed the entrance exam. I had to wait four years though and went to Templemore in July 1986.
“By that time I had six months experience of being a prison officer in Arbour Hill and recall vividly the creaking of the big door as we awaited entry and the greeting from a senior officer...Welcome to the laughing house of horrors!”
His first station was Cavan and there were many funny incidents. One night at a checkpoint, he asked an old guy why his vehicle wasn’t taxed. “Ah” says your man, “I get it done when I’m going to Dublin...sure I’d never get done in my own town!”
After Cavan he was sent to Lifford, the first of a number of border posts. But one night, he and his colleague PJ McDermott, were badly assaulted on Lifford Bridge. It was the first extradition from the Republic of Ireland to the North and as a result of Robert Russell being handed over, there were widespread protests.
Four bombs exploded in Belfast and there two explosions in Derry. PJ McDermott was kicked within an inch of his life on Lifford Bridge and John had his nose broken.
In 1991 he was transferred to Ballyshannon and to Glenties in 1992...the contrast with border duty was palpable. “I loved it….the friendliness of the people and the community spirit is second to none.”
He retired as a Sergeant in July 2016 and set up walkingireland.ie and johnsireland.com, eventually purchasing an eight-seater minibus, which can be on Slieve Liag one day and anywhere in Ireland the next.
Reviews on Trip Advisor are a testament to his success. “John McGroary was tour guide and driver for myself and five friends. He located my father's childhood home in Roscommon and was our excellent tour guide for the Wild Atlantic Way Tour. John is well versed in geography and Irish history. He is prompt and patient. Travelling to Ireland was #1 on my "Bucket List". John made my trip to Ireland outstanding.”
“John Mc Groary was an incredible tour guide. He’s extremely personable, knowledgeable about the land and history of Ireland, and he seemed to know every person that we encountered.
“Slieve Liag was breathtaking and worth the cold wind (visited Ireland in late November). The tour was very organized and well-planned (as all of the many reviews on Trip Advisor already state). I will be recommending this tour to anyone with a trip planned to Ireland!”
He takes groups to the ‘Game of Thrones’ sites and Americans interested in genealogy and culture are flocking to him.
Off-season doesn’t apply! “I had my first Winter tour on January 7...two US travel agents are coming soon and a Canadian journalist writing for Celtic Life International is doing a big feature on him shortly.
He has scaled Everest, The Swiss Alps and Kilimanjaro but… “Ah Frank, there is no place like our own Donegal.”
He agrees wholeheartedly with what John B Keane said to me in Listowel forty years ago… “Man made Kerry but God made Donegal!”
Amen to that!