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 speaks about returning to her native Donegal and taking charge of the Garda station at Ballyshannon.
MR. FARRELLY: Where did you go to then?
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: Sent to Ballyshannon, which really surprised me because generally speaking you wouldn’t be sent back to an area where you were from but I wasn’t actually from Ballyshannon, it was Glenties, is where I spent most of time. So I went back to Ballyshannon and it was a great sense of pride because daddy had been a Sergeant in Ballyshannon, you know, 30 years before that and it was just the wheel had turned the full circle that I was now going back to Ballyshannon but that was my first time then being in charge of a unit and again, God it caused an awful stir in the town. Well for two reasons because there had never been a female Sergeant in charge of a unit in Donegal before that and secondly I was like the returned prodigal coming back to an area where some people may still have known me but I was only a kid when I left it.
It was, you know, I was now doing my shifts like everybody else, you know, the three shifts, six to two, two to ten, ten to six, had my unit. I think I had six or seven men on the unit and they were a great unit and they were so supportive and they worked so well and it was a great, it was a really good experience.
The public were beginning to accept it but not all of them. I can recall being on night duty and one of the lads brought in a guy for drunk driving. He wasn’t that bad but it was drunk driving regardless of how much he had on him and when he came in he was a bit belligerent and he wanted to talk to the Sergeant. So my colleague came in and he said, “Sergeant, this man wants to talk to you” and out I went and I said, “yes Sir, what can I do for you?” “I don’t want to talk to you, I want to talk to a real Sergeant.” Of course the lads thought this was hilarious. So, we still had another bit to go I reckon, the women had another bit to go in order for us to be totally accepted. But anyway, that man really wasn’t that happy that I was the Sergeant. That was a great experience.
MR. FARRELLY: You set you sights then on the Detective Sergeant position then?
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: Well I did and that was kind of by accident really because there was never a Detective Sergeant in Donegal Town. Aidan Murray was the Detective Sergeant who actually covered almost the whole district but it was quite a wide district. The area was very big and the Chief decided that he wanted a Detective Sergeant who would cover the area from Donegal kind of down to Killybegs and around there. So needless to say, I went for the interview and I suppose I think maybe one or two others went for that interview but I had the background of the Technical Bureau behind me so I was lucky enough to get that. Again that was a whole new experience for me because again I was in charge of a smaller unit but you were working kind of hand in hand with the uniform Sergeant and with the uniform section. Must closer really than you would have or than I did in my time in the Bureau.
MR. FARRELLY: Were you aware that you were kind of breaking the mould as you went along here, you know, first Sergeant and then –
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: I was and I wasn’t. I know that I was the first operational Detective Sergeant. There would have been other female Detective Sergeants, they would have been in Headquarters in the more administrative area like crime and security and places like that but operationally no. No, I suppose I wasn’t really conscious of it at the time. It’s just, I suppose, there was an ambition and you know, funnily enough I always said and I remember saying to dad once, “now if I get Detective Sergeant, I’ll be quite happy and I won’t bother going any further. I’ll be just happy out. I want to be a Detective Sergeant.” And I was Detective Sergeant from, what was it, 1990 to –
MR. FARRELLY: ’93, I think was it?
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: It was ’93 and of course I had gone up for promotion, you know, there was a promotion for uniform Inspector and I said I’d throw my name in the hat for that and it was funny actually because my Mother and father had come to Donegal, well they used to come a lot anyway because my Mother’s home was still there and my father was with me, we were having a cup of coffee in the local hotel in Donegal Town when I got a phone call from Headquarters to the hotel to tell me that I was on the list for promotion to Inspector and my father was beside himself.
MR. FARRELLY: I’m sure he was.