Five gardai caught up in IRA booby-trap bomb to get bravery medal

Garda Michael Clerkin was killed by the IRA booby trap bomb in 1976
Garda Michael Clerkin was killed by the IRA booby trap bomb in 1976

Five gardai who were caught up in an IRA booby-trap bomb in the Republic of Ireland over 40 years ago are to be awarded the Scott Medal for bravery.

The Republic’s Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, will present the honour to Jim Cannon, Tom Peters, Ben Thornton, Gerry Bohan and, posthumously, to the late Michael Clerkin, who lost his life in the incident at Garryhinch, Co Laois, in 1976.

Garda Clerkin was killed when he and his colleagues were lured into an ambush, following a tip-off that the IRA were active at a farm on the Laois-Offaly border.

Investigating a warning that an IRA gang was about to attack Fine Gael TD, Oliver J Flanagan – father of current Justice Minister Mr Flanagan – the five men entered a booby-trapped building.

Garda Clerkin was killed instantly when the building blew up. The other gardaí suffered various injuries, which they still carry to this day. The worst of these was Tom Peters, who was left deaf and blind.

A memorial mass to mark the anniversary of the attack was celebrated last October.

Kenny Donaldson, director of services at victims’ group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), said: “Jim Cannon, Tom Peters and Ben Thornton are all connected to SEFF and are worthy recipients of receiving bravery medals.

“Each was seriously physically and/or psychologically impacted as a result of the terrorist attack which saw Garda Michael Clerkin murdered over 40 years ago.

“These men have spoken out consistently over the years against terrorism and are excellent advocates for the cause of innocent victims and survivors of terrorism within the Republic of Ireland and beyond.”

Speaking recently to the Leinster Express, Mr Flanagan said: “I am glad this is happening so early in my tenure at justice, and I hope to be in attendance at the presentation which will take place on a date to be confirmed.

“The pain and suffering still endures for these men as a result of this atrocity. It happened to them whilst they were doing the essence of Garda work – protecting the citizens of this State.

“On the night in question, I was one of those citiziens, being the son of the targeted person, my father.

“I very much regret the delay in having this matter addressed.”

The Walter Scott Medal for Valor is a medal awarded annually for bravery in the Garda Síochána. It is not a state award, being in the gift of the commissioner, but the medals are awarded by the minister for justice.

It was founded in 1923 by Colonel Walter Scott, an honorary commissioner of the New York City Police and a well-known philanthropist, who presented An Garda Síochána, then the world’s youngest police force, with a $1,000 gold bond.

There was only one condition attached to the award of the Scott Medal: “No action, however heroic, will merit the award of the Scott Medal unless it takes the shape of an act of personal bravery, performed intelligently in the execution of duty at imminent risk to the life of the doer, and armed with full previous knowledge of the risk involved.”