Interviewed 25 October 2021
Catherine Clancy was the first woman to be appointed an assistant commissioner in An Garda Síochána on 10 September 2003. A native of Donegal, she joined AGS in 1975 and enjoyed steady promotion through the ranks. In 2008, she surprised many of her colleagues when she took early retirement.
For more about the experience of women in AGS, visit HERE
In this selection, Catherine recalls her first station and also reflects on the experience of women in AGS.
MR. FARRELLY: You spent six very very good months, I think, in Templemore and you finally got your station then, that was a big day as well?
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: The big days were, getting the station was the first big day, the second big day was really getting our uniforms. Now that happened pretty soon after we went into Templemore and oh my God the pride we all had in putting on this uniform. It was just, you know, when you think about it, it was brilliant. So, then yeah, that was the next big thing was where we were going to be stationed but you know again for the women, that was quite limited. We could go to Limerick, we could be sent to Limerick, we could be sent to Cork or we could be sent to Dublin. There was no such thing as women in any other stations in the country. An odd time if something happened that really required a female Ban Garda as we were called at the time, that really required a Ban Garda, you were just brought in a car from whatever station you were in. So if something happened maybe out in Kerry, one of us, the Ban Garda from Cork was brought out to give some assistance there. So, there was no such thing as spreading the wings of the women in the early stages. That was until I went to Pearse Street, you know, the duty was, it was pretty exciting. Well some of it was exciting now there was other parts of it that weren’t a bit exciting like when we have to do beat duty and that was just walking a beat in Grafton Street or Suffolk Street or Wicklow Street, Westmoreland Street, Dawson Street, places like that and then sometimes a Sergeant would wonder, well why we hadn’t some offences and, you know, it’s very hard to get offences in Grafton Street when the traffic was coming down Grafton Street. If you stopped a car on Grafton Street for no tax or no insurance, well you were going to hold up the whole city. So, that was kind of difficult but other than that the good thing about Pearse Street at the time was the likes of the Central Detective Unit and the Special Detective Unit and the Fraud Squad. They used to need us to go on searches and we’d be taken off whatever duty we were given that particular day in order to assist with searches or to assist if there was a female prisoner, you’d be taken away to deal with that and yeah, that was mainly what we did. The only difference and talking about the difference between the men and the women at the time, we never had to stand outside the Dail, there was posts all over Pearse Street in particular, you know, there was all the Taoiseach’s offices, there was the Dail, there was, you know, other places where guards had to stand where there was a post for 24 hours and the women never had to stand in a post. The lads used to be a little bit miffed about that but I think when we went to Pearse Street, you know, we had kind of got into the whole thing in Templemore and we really wanted to do what the men were doing. I mean we were never allowed to act as assistant station orderly and the men were allowed to do that. So we started making rumblings with the Inspector, I think, Barney Curran might have been one of the Inspectors at the time and we wanted to do all of this and we wanted to drive the car. I mean it was absolutely unheard of for a woman to drive a patrol car. We weren’t even allowed to be the observer in the patrol car. In other words, we just weren’t allowed near the car. So we started looking for that and these things changed very slowly. I think, you know, I wasn’t the first to do a driving course but I did a driving course in 1981 but I was actually in Naas when I got to do that. So we were beginning to look for a little bit more than what was normal for the women to do and I call this kind of the revolution that the women tried to instil themselves and we did have support for the most part in doing that and as I say, things were beginning to change ever so, ever so slightly. 1979 then, it was decided at a higher level be it government or Commissioner level that there needed to be women in the Divisional Headquarters. I forget how many Divisional Headquarters there were at the time. There might have been nine or 10 Divisional Headquarters and a Divisional Headquarters, as you know, was where you would have a Chief Superintendent. So a lot of the women who were in the city stations started to look to get out to these places and I looked for Naas because it was near my own home and I actually got Naas and again that was so different. We could do so much more. There we got into the car. We got in as observers with the driver of the car. So you were responding to everything because once you were in the car you were responding to everything that was happening and this was absolutely fantastic. You could go out the road, you know, 200 meters, 300 meters from the middle of the town, you could set up your own checkpoint and like that was amazing to be able to do that as well. So, as I say, things were really beginning to change for us. So I loved Naas, absolutely loved it.