In 1981 Aine Donnelly made history in Clonmel and had the distinction at the time of making the front pages with none other than Charlie Haughey.
Charlie has long departed but Aine is still going strong and has made the front page again this week over four decades later.
Aine was pictured on the front page of The Nationalist in June 1981 with a heading “First Ban Garda” in Clonmel beside the lead story of Charlie Haughey on his “Rise and Follow Charlie” general election tour of Tipperary.
Over 40 years on and Aine, who served a total of twelve superintendents at Clonmel Garda Station, retired last Friday.
She said an emotional farewell to her colleagues at Clonmel Garda Station, a station where there are now 13 female gardaí and four female sergeants.
In June 1981 Aine had no female companion in the Clonmel station when she arrived straight out of her six months training in Templemore.
The young woman from county Longford had never set foot in Clonmel before and she took on the daunting task of being a trailblazer.
“I remember in the early weeks walking the streets of the town. Up to then I had only heard about Clonmel doing geography at school as it was known as a town for manufacturing boots and shoes,” said Aine.
“The seat belt legislation had just come in and I remember doing checkpoints for that. In those early days I would have been writing letters back to my father - who was a farmer - about the rich green land in Clonmel compared to what was in Longford,” said Aine.
Aine set about making her presence felt in ensuring that she was treated as an equal in the then male dominated world of Clonmel Garda Station.
She was horrified that there was not even a lock on the toilet in the station and she had to battle from the outset to get on the shift roster that her male colleagues were on rather than being sidelined into a nine to five post.
“It was a constant battle not to be sidelined and I wanted to do the same work as the male garda and resisted doing office duties. I had to fight to be treated like a man,” said Aine who lives outside Clonmel with her husband, Michael Doyle, and their daughter, Orianna.
She always wanted to be a garda and remembers her career guidance teacher telling her “women never get those jobs” when she ticked a career in An Garda Síochána as her first option.
“I always wanted to be a garda and I have never regretted my decision. I have been very fortunate to have had a fulfilling and rewarding career,” said Aine.
She was joined by a female colleague the following October, Bridin O’Rourke, which was a help and Aine found herself being directed towards work in investigations into sexual abuse.
“There was a lot of work in the sexual abuse area at the time and I travelled all over south Tipperary doing that kind of work,” said Aine.
JUVENILE LIAISON OFFICER
Since 2009, Aine has worked as the Garda Juvenile Liaison Officer from the Clonmel station and has found that type of work to be very rewarding.
She was full of praise for everybody working in the various youth diversion programmes in south Tipperary and firmly believes that they have a very positive impact on young people’s lives. “A huge amount of work is being done in this area in an attempt to divert young people from crime,” said Aine.
She believes that young people deserve to be given a chance.
“Young people make a mistake and they can’t be criminalised for it, they deserve a chance,” said Aine.
It was her experience that when young offenders are given a chance and are steered away from prosecution that they appreciate the chance they are given.
“Most of them do their best to take that chance,” said Aine.
Working with 12 to 18-year-olds, Aine is frightened by the scale of substance abuse that is out there and the dangers associated with that for young people.
Aine said she would like to see the matter being tackled by improvements made in education in the school system so that young people can equip themselves with skills to resist the temptations involved.
She would also like to see more engaging parental support in terms of supervision and access to money for teenagers.
“Parents should be on the lookout for who they are hanging out with and for any changes in behaviour. Parents are convinced that their sons or daughters won’t go down that road and they are so shocked when they do,” said Aine.
Aine said that she will definitely miss the company of her colleagues after working in the station for over 40 years.
“It will be a big change for me. I worked with a lot of people who did so much for the community, a lot of them have sadly passed away, but at the same time I am looking forward to retirement,” said Aine.
She is looking forward to spending more time with her family and pursuing her walking hobby.
“I always liked the area, I settled here very quickly when I came and I have a great admiration and a sense of attachment for the Clonmel community,” added Aine.
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