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'A garda's garda, and a proper gentleman': Investigations continue into shooting of Detective Garda Colm Horkan

Investigations continue into the killing of Garda Horkan, who was shot dead in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Image: Garda Press Office

DETECTIVE GARDA COLM Horkan was “a garda’s garda”, a man who policed as he lived, with compassion, common sense and calm, according to those who knew him.

Investigations continue today into the killing of Garda Horkan, who was shot dead in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

The 49-year-old from Charlestown in Co Mayo went about his work on Wednesday like he had done thousands of times before. He lived with his elderly father in the town, around 30 minutes from his station. Detective Horkan was predeceased by his mother and his twin sister. 

His job that day was to conduct anti-crime patrols along Castlerea in Roscommon, checking for anything suspicious and making sure the people of the town remained safe.

Horkan had recently been made a detective garda, meaning he carried an officially issued handgun with him for protection. 

Shortly before midnight, he turned down main street and saw someone walking down the road. What is known at present is that Horkan stopped and began a conversation with the man.

However, during the conversation Horkan got out of his vehicle and an “altercation” began. It’s understood that Horkan’s weapon was then unholstered, and his attacker picked it up and emptied all 15 rounds, killing tfhe garda. 

The shots rang out around an almost empty Castlerea town centre. One bystander, Patrick Gillooly, told TheJournal.ie that he was in the town when the incident occurred and heard the commotion.

“I was down at the Pass machine [ATM] when it happened. I heard the five shots but didn’t realise anyone had been shot. I thought it was fireworks. 

“I seen two people fighting, then someone shouted ‘what are you at’, then five shots went off.”

Medical help

As Gillooly heard these shots ring out, two of Horkan’s colleagues arrived on scene.

There, they found their colleague and friend lying on the ground.

The assailant was bundled to the ground and arrested and medical help was called for Horkan. However, he died at the scene.

As he lay dead in the town he had policed for years, his colleagues began to leave the station, which is less than 500 metres away from where he was shot. There they gathered and started to pray for their friend and colleague.

Local priest Fr John McManus described a “poignant moment” at the scene.

He told TheJournal.ie: “I was called around midnight and it was my job to anoint Colm who had sadly died. There was a poignant moment towards the end. There was this eerie and stunned silence. His colleagues then joined in his final prayers and we remained with him then.”

He added: “Castlerea is a small community: it wouldn’t be used to incidents like these. Yet it is 40 years this year that two gardaí from the station died in the line of duty – Henry Byrne and John Morley.”

The news of Horkan’s passing reached his home town of Charlestown in the early hours of the morning. 

The town was numbed by the news. 

One member of the Garda Representative Association told TheJournal.ie that Detective Garda Horkan was a man of principle and someone who younger members felt comfortable going to for advice. 

“He was my friend. I don’t know what to say to you. He was my mate. We used to give him awful stick because he’s from Mayo. Being a Mayo man working in Roscommon is tough going, especially when the football was on.

“He lived for the football and he was a garda’s garda. He was a man you could trust with your life. He just wanted to help people. Any charity, you name it, he was part of it.”

Other garda members described Horkan as someone who worked with common sense. Instead of throwing the book at someone, he’d bring someone aside and “tell them to stop acting the eejit down the town”, according to another local garda. 

“He always saw the good in people, even when it looked like there was nothing there to see,” one member explained. 

As the hours rolled by yesterday, Castlerea became a hive of activity. The town had been shut down, with many heavy goods vehicles being redirected away from the area as garda forensic teams began combing the main street for evidence. 

30km away, another town had also been plunged into grief.

Gracie Gallagher has lived in Charlestown the last 15 years. Her mother had worked in Castlerea for years and her friends were involved in the local GAA club. 

“They called him Bear in the club. He was always a lovely guy. A gentleman. I never heard anyone say a bad word about him and that’s good going when you’re the local garda.”

To say Detective Garda Horkan was well-liked would be an understatement. 

The absolute swell of emotion and heartbreak around his home town was palpable yesterday.

Women in the local Spar cried as they recounted stories about him. Others near Casey’s Hardware store shook their heads in disbelief as they chatted among each other. 

His beloved GAA club, Sarsfields, lay empty due to Covid-19, but it released a statement. 

“Charlestown Sarsfields GAA Club have been left devastated by the untimely and tragic death of our friend and brother, Colm Horkan.

“A very dark cloud hangs over Fr O’Hara Park and our entire community today.

“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”

Horkan was a former Mayo U21 and Charlestown Sarsfields footballer. He was known affectionately as ‘The Bear’ to teammates on the GAA field. Following his playing career, Horkan remained heavily involved in the Sarsfields club. 

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The GAA, as well as members of the Mayo football team, have also been paying their respects. 

One elderly man recounted how Horkan had helped his sister with a broken gate outside her home a number of years ago. He said that Horkan thought nothing of it but that his sister, who is now deceased, could sleep a little easier at night knowing that her gate was secure and that the garda who had helped her said he’d pass by the house on his way home from work to make sure she was alright. 

Hundreds of locals gathered yesterday evening for a vigil paying tribute to Detective Garda Horkan.

A man in his 40s remains in custody this morning. 

In the next days and weeks, attention will turn to the precise events which led to his death. 

But those are inconsequential for those who knew and loved ‘the Bear’. 

Detective Garda Horkan died as he lived – trying to keep people safe. His passing will leave a tremendous gap in the community he protected.

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