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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Louise Burne

Calls for recognition for unsung hero Garda who rescued drowning man 40 years ago

A Fianna Fáil Senator will write to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to seek recognition for a hero guard who was never celebrated for saving a drowning man.

Garda Jeremiah Coonan and two passersby successfully pulled an unconscious man out of Dublin’s River Liffey in January 1980.

Mr Coonan had passed out of the Garda Training College in Templemore just four months before the incident.

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He was on duty in Lower O'Connell Street one evening when he saw a crowd of people on O'Connell Bridge. As he approached, some members of the crowd informed him that there was a body in the river.

Mr Coonan said that the man was “laying on his back with his arms outstretched” and appeared to be unconscious.

The newly-trained Garda entered the water and grabbed ahold of the man. He was joined by two passersby, who helped to put him into a waiting ambulance.

Mr Coonan’s cousin, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, raised the story in the Seanad on Thursday, and said that the Tipperary man deserved to be recognised for his heroic actions.

He described Garda Coonan’s act as a “heroic act of courage”.

Senator Wilson said: “This act of heroism should be formally recognised as the important act of bravery that it was.

“He started resuscitation, an ambulance arrived, and Garda Coonan and the rescued man were both taken to hospital. Garda Coonan was back in uniform and ready for duty almost immediately.

“I wish to draw to the attention of the Garda Commissioner [Drew Harris] the heroic action by Garda Coonan during the course of this incident resulting in the saving of human life.

“For some reason, he was never put forward for the Scott Medal for valour, which is in the gift of the Commissioner to award. That oversight should be rectified as soon as possible.”

Mr Wilson told the Irish Mirror that he wants to track down the two passersby that assisted in the rescue. An article written in the Irish Press at the time reported that they were brothers named Terence and Joseph Hughes.

He is also attempting to obtain footage of the rescue that was filmed by RTÉ.

Mr Wilson said: “[Mr Coonan] never received any recognition for it at all. I don’t know why.

“He never made a song or dance about it, but it would be nice to recognise him as he did save a life

“I’m hoping that raising it in the Seanad will start some talk and I might be able to find the other men.

“If he gets recognition, they should get recognition too.”

Seanad Cathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer also recommended that Mr Coonan should be recommended for the Ceann Comhairle National Bravery Award.

Mr Coonan told the Irish Mirror that he retired from the gardaí 14 years ago and is now living in Co Kildare.

Following the River Liffey incident, he stayed in Store Street for 10 years, before being promoted to sergeant and relocating to Cavan. He moved to several different stations across the country before leaving the force.

“It is a long, long time ago. I was only there for about five months. It was just one of those things that happened in the course of your career.

“Various people said that I must have been mad off my head to go in there in the first instance. It was either a great thing to do or a very stupid thing to do, I’ll stick in the middle.

“At that time we didn't go looking for [recognition] and I’m not looking for it now either. I’m happy in the fact that I did what I did at the time.

“I was hero around the place for a while, making it on to the six o’clock news. If it happens, it happens.”


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