Garda McCarthy on patrol during the fair day captured on camera by a Bord Fáilte photographer in 1966.Photo: Fáilte Ireland Collection, courtesy of Dublin City Library and Archive

Photo from fair day sparks memories for retired garda

Retired Garda sergeant Pat McCarthy got a pleasant surprise recently when a photo of him on duty at a fair day in Mullingar in 1966 appeared in the Westmeath Examiner.

The father of 10 and grandfather of 24, who turns 90 in February, was 33 years old when the photo was taken and had been a garda for 12 years.

His first posting was to Granard, where he met his wife May. After four years in Longford, he was transferred to Castletown Geoghegan, where he spent six years, before being reassigned to Mullingar Garda Station in 1964.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, Limerick native Pat says that farmers and traders travelled from across the region to attend fair days in Mullingar.

“All the cattle, pigs and sheep were sold on Dominick Street, while young pigs were sold on Market Square.

“Around the harvest time in August, there could be 200 or 300 lambs in Dominick Street.”

Pat retired from the force 38 years ago and ran a popular B&B with May for decades.

He says that Mullingar has undergone massive changes since the photo was taken in 1966.

“There were no traffic lights [in Mullingar in 1966] and the population was only around five or six thousand. There were very few housing estates.

“Mullingar has prospered a lot since then. McHugh’s was the main supermarket and Buckley’s had a small shop. Where SuperValu was built, there were gardens.”

In Pat’s first years in the police force many of the older officers that he served with joined after War of Independence and were coming near the end of their careers.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, one of the most difficult aspects of the job of a garda was dealing with the high level of road fatalities each year.

“Modern laws, for things like drink driving were introduced as the years went by. It was impossible to get a conviction for drink driving before the arrival of breathalysers.

“People don’t remember that in the 1960s and ‘70s, more than 600 people were killed on Irish roads each year. In Mullingar, there were fatal accidents on every road.

“Roads and cars were bad. Drink driving was massive. We have come a long way.”

While he has no recollection of the day in 1966 that the photo was taken by a photographer working for Bord Fáilte, seeing it in the Examiner brought Pat back to a time in his life that he has fond memories of.

“A friend of mine rang me and said: ‘You know you are in the paper?’ I went straight out and bought it.”