WHILE the saying that there’s a book in everyone may be true, there’s no denying that former Detective Superintendent Tom Connolly could have several books in him, such was his eventful career in An Garda Siochána.
He has written an exceptional and detailed account of his career where he worked on high profile cases with the Investigation Section of the Crime Branch in Dublin.
Detective – A Life Upholding the Law is indeed a riveting read for anyone with an interest in the Irish justice system, crime, Irish law and society. It trails his beginnings as a trainee garda in 1955 right up to his retirement in 1995 and in between it features several high profile cases that Tom investigated as well as stories about black boots and his being awarded the Gold Scott Medal for valour in 1975.
West Cork is featured prominently in the book as Tom spent his teenage years living in Clonakilty when his father who was also a garda, was transferred to the town. Tom played football for Clonakilty and he won senior county football championships with the club as well as playing senior inter-county football for Cork.
During his career Tom investigated cases that brought him back to West Cork despite being based in Dublin. One such case was the bombing of the radar tracking station on Mount Gabriel near Schull in 1982 by the INLA. Tom was central to that case and a Limerick man was convicted – his fingerprints having been found at the scene after the explosion.
Tom was also part of the team that investigated the brutal murder of bachelor Michael Casey in Drimoleague in 1981. The subsequent murder trial saw two men from Skibbereen, Joseph O’Mahoney and Dennis O’Callaghan convicted of his murder and both were given mandatory life sentences.
So what motivated the former detective to sit down and finally write his story?
‘When I retired in 1994 friends and people I knew were always telling me I should write a book as I had a lot of stories to tell. That went on and on for a while but I said a definite no. One of the reasons why I was reluctant was that I would have to write about myself and I didn’t want to do that as such,’ said Tom speaking to The Southern Star recently.
‘However, what changed my mind was that in 2012, Peter Pringle wrote a book and in it he alleged that I fabricated evidence in the witness box in relation to a famous case about the murders of two Gardaí – Detective John Morley and Garda Henry Byrne who were shot following a violent bank raid in Ballaghederreen in 1980. Mr Pringle was arrested for the murders along with two other men but he was eventually released 14 years later following an appeal. I thought more about my character and reputation than actually responding to his claims and I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I had options and then I thought about the idea of writing a book again. And to be honest I would not have written the book only for him.’
It was to give his side of those arrests in that particular case that Tom wanted to write the book and he devotes a chapter to it in the book.
‘I had old files and notebooks from interviews and I did some research and got newspapers cuttings, as well as contacting former colleagues from around the country that I had worked on different cases with. It took me about 18 months to finish it, and I was saying to myself that I would never get it published, but I wanted to get it written down nonetheless.’
Tom bought a dictaphone so that a typist could easily transcribe his research and recollections.
‘I made notes and just spoke into it – I wasn’t worried about what words came out – and it worked out well. I couldn’t type and got someone local to type it and then I started trying to edit myself but I couldn’t do it so I gave it to a friend of mine, Theresa, and she was wonderful.’
While one publisher declined the book, the O’Brien Press got back to Tom at the end of last year and said they would be interested in publishing it.
‘I had always thought I’d never have enough for even one book but they got back to me to say I had enough material for two. So they took out some cases and shortened the accounts of others.’
Former Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell launched the book in Tom’s local bookstore, Barker & Jones in Naas, Co Kildare recently. The reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
• Detective – A Life Upholding The Law
by Tom Connolly is published by O’Brien Press and is available to buy in all good bookshops.