Retired Superintendent Matt Cosgrave
Interviewed 27 September 2021
POLICING IN CYPRUS
Retired Superintendent Matt Cosgrave speaks to the Capturing Our History Oral History Project about his memories of his time and his career in An Garda Siochána, which began in 1959. Matt is also a past president of our organisation, that is, he was President of the GSRMA, The Garda Siochána Retired Members Association. In this segment, Matt recalls spending twelve months on a United Nations Policing Mission in Cyprus in 1995. He recalls powerfully the incidents of violence and tension between the warring Turkish and Cypriot factions.
MATT COSGRAVE: While I was in Cabra which I was coming into my last two years in An Garda Síochana, an opportunity came to join the United Nations and go to Cyprus. So I spent a year in Cyprus.
MR. FITZPATRICK: Now Matt, during the course of your service in Cyprus as a superintendent I understand that there were two major significant incidents that occurred on the buffer zone. Perhaps you might like to reflect on those for me.
MATT COSGRAVE: Well from the time I arrived in Cyprus in 1995, November 1995, it was nice and peaceful, and we were just like community guards basically. But on 11th August of 1996 things changed. There was a march to the buffer zone in a place called Darina (phonetics) and the buffer zone at that place would probably be about a half a mile in width. The buffer zone divided the island between the Greeks and the Turks. There were parts of it that would only be about maybe 100 yards of a space to keep the two factions apart and then there were other parts up to maybe a couple of miles. But in this area was about maybe a half a mile or thereabouts. So as they came in, the marchers came in and they came in on motorbikes and the roar and the noise of those motorbikes were absolutely frightening and it’s one of things that I always associate with the same kind of marches in Dublin, you know it’s the noise and it creates that frightening atmosphere. But they came into the buffer zone and the moment that they came in the opposing side on the Turkish side also came into the buffer zone and a clash occurred there and as a result, which went on for about maybe three-quarters of an hour, very frightening. They were all running around shouting, screaming. And eventually, when the police eventually came in on the Turkish side, and between that and the United Nations soldiers and ourselves, the Gardaí, we managed to get them all out of there. But the end result of that was that a man was dead. And a number of days later on they came back again to mourn I suppose, celebrate whatever, the loss of the man that was killed a few days beforehand.
And at this stage, they came into the buffer zone again. There didn’t seem to be any effort made by the Greek side to keep them out and they ran into the buffer zone again. And a first cousin of the guy that was killed the first time went straight up on the pole, to climb up on a pole to cut down the Turkish flag off the pole. And as he did a hail of bullets hit him and he fell to the ground. Now, just as that happened then you know there was mayhem really and the Turkish side; we were there as the United Nations and some of our we were scattered around the place, we had basically, we had no power whatsoever, indeed except to keep the peace, and we had nothing only ourselves standing there, no batons, no nothing.
So the next thing when some of our people, because this guy was a Greek, and we wanted to make sure that we could get him back to the Greek side. So two of our people went to drag him back towards the Greek side and at that stage, somebody from the Turkish side fired some shots and John Meehan and myself were standing kind of together and we jumped. We dived immediately to the ground with our head down and we stayed there. We were about 10 or 15 yards away from the shelter that was there. And I was saying to John if we could get across to the shelter we would be fairly safe, we wouldn’t be in the line of fire. So we crawled on our stomachs really back that distance. And in the meantime the demonstrators, the demonstrators when this guy fell to the ground and the two lads from UN, two Irish fellas, Frank (inaudible) and Frank Flood decided to pull him back. And there were lots of tussles and pushing and shoving of them as well and indeed they were very courageous. But anyway they pulled him back and then the Turkish security people came in and between the Turkish and the United Nations we managed to get the crowd out of the buffer zone and peace was restored.
MR. O’BRIEN: And the demonstration was organised by I think a motorcycle federation in Cyprus?
MR. COSGRAVE: Yeah, that’s right. This demonstration was organised by the anti-occupation, it was an anti-occupation demonstration organised by the cyclists, Motorcycle Federation. And they kind of, the roar of the motorcycles, it was frightening in its noise.