Garda who went viral during lockdown retires from Cork coastal town

Footage of garda Mick O’Brien directing traffic on his Ballycotton beat went viral in the first lockdown, Now he is stepping down, and the town are paying him a fitting tribute, says CHRIS DUNNE
Garda who went viral during lockdown retires from Cork coastal town

Garda Mick O’Brien who is standing down after a decade serving the people of Ballycotton.

AFTER serving the beautiful coastal town of Ballycotton so well for many years, garda Mick O’Brien is stepping down, with the gratitude of those he served ringing in his ears.

Locals arranged a special farewell gift to him on his retirement — and asked a well-known local artist to depict him directing traffic.

Ballycotton Development Committee commissioned the piece of work and member Aine Flynn said: “We look on Mick as our very own hero.

“He was always there to lend a hand to the RNLI, helping with crowd control at local events, helping with pointing visitors in the right direction, and generally being a great presence in our community.

“He is a great garda and a great person and he will definitely be missed in Ballycotton.”

Mick will have his proper day in the sun after the pandemic.

“A card won’t do,” says Aine. “We want to give him a proper send off and we’ll have a party for garda Mick next year to show our appreciation.”

Mick’s devotion to duty was on display to the world at the start of the pandemic last March, when footage of him directing traffic when crowds descended in the bustling town went viral on the internet.

“I was a bit surprised when it went viral back in March, 2020, during the first lockdown,” says Mick.

“It wouldn’t be really my sort of thing. I’m a quiet sort of fellow!”

It was March 22, the Sunday after St Patrick’s Day, when the sun shone down on Ballycotton Bay and the balmy weather sent hundreds flocking to the picturesque village on the east Cork coast. As Mick tried to cope with the huge influx, he was filmed.

Garda Mick O’Brien with the artwork commissioned of him.
Garda Mick O’Brien with the artwork commissioned of him.

“Even my UK cousins saw it online,” laughs Mick. “Imagine that!”

The seaside village, long popular with day-trippers from Cork city and county, found itself inundated with visitors that day; many heading to enjoy the spectacular cliff-top walk and the view of Ballycotton Bay and its lighthouse.

“Ballycotton is idyllic. I’ll be sad to leave it,” says Mick, who has been on a regular beat there as the local garda for 10 years and who, in the fishing village, is far from regarded as a ‘blow in’ but is regarded more like a native; one of their own.

“I’ve made so many friends here over the years,” says Mick, from Midleton. 

“The community here is lovely and everyone looks out for each other.”

Mick says Ballycotton “is a victim of its own success”, adding: “It is so scenic, the cafes, the pubs, the restaurants, are all top class and always have a welcome for everybody. Walking around enjoying an ice-cream is just a lovely way to enjoy the fabulous scenery.

“What kills it is there is only one way in and one way out of the village.

“On a busy bank holiday you have people arriving down and you have fellows trying to drive up to the village and they can’t see how much traffic is already in ahead,” says Mick.

People feel at home in the coastal town.

“You have drivers wanting to park inside the door where they’re going!” says Mick.

Things get backed up.

“You have residents parking as usual too and it becomes a complete bottle-neck. I reckon about 500 cars tried to come into the village that day last March.”

Ballycotton on a normal day in normal times is a sleepy, friendly hamlet to meander in and take in the stunning views.

“It is lovely down there,” says Mick, who was in the force for 30 years.

“I was stationed in Ballycotton for 10 years after working in Midleton and in Dublin. The seaside village was a lovely place to work. During Covid, when I was working in Midleton a bit more doing traffic check points, I really missed Ballycotton and I missed the locals.”

He was in good company while there and enjoying his 15 minutes of fame; he was in famous company. Actress Angela Lansbury lives across the bay in Churchtown South. TV presenter Vanessa Feltz and her fiancée Ben Ofoedu live along the cliff, and Rory Gallagher’s brother, Donal, is a nearby neighbour of the couple. Gina of the popular Champions band lives with her husband, Pat, beside Sea Church on the way into Ballycotton.

“I often meet Ben out running,” says Mick. “We wave to each other.”

Did Mick always want to be a garda?

“Thirty years ago, career options were less than they are today. My father was a garda so it seemed a natural progression for me to join up. It was something always there that I never dismissed."

The artwork showing Garda Mick O’Brien on duty in Ballycotton, which was commissioned for him as a retirement present.
The artwork showing Garda Mick O’Brien on duty in Ballycotton, which was commissioned for him as a retirement present.

He earned his stripes.

“My father was very proud of me when I passed out.”

Instead of pounding the beat on the narrow, charming streets of the seaside village, Mick will now be pounding down the fairways, indulging in his favourite hobby of golf.

“I’m a member of East Cork Golf Club,” says Mick. 

“I love the game and when my wife and I travel abroad, I always bring the golf clubs. Hopefully we can do some travelling in the future.”

What else is he looking forward to in his retirement at 53?

“I’m a walker and our dog Charlie is a great walking companion. 

"I hope to take things a bit easier and chill out for a while.”

Will he visit Ballycotton and his favourite coffee stop off point, The Trawl Door, when his life is more leisurely?

“Definitely!” says Mick.

“I’ll have to wait until the 5km restrictions are lifted. But Ballycotton is one of my favourite places and I really want to avail of it again.”

Mick was a firm favourite with the people of Ballycotton.

“He was always a nice gentleman,” says retired school principal, Derry Keogh, who now conducts historical walks in the area. 

“He was very popular in the community and the school children were very fond of him. He is an upbeat character, always in good humour and highly respected in the community.”

Mick became a local.

“He is an ideal community garda,” says Derry. “You could approach him for advice and talk to him. He always had time to listen. People had great trust in him because he was fair and even-tempered.”

Mick followed in garda Pat Walsh’s footsteps, occupying Ballycotton garda station.

“Pat was a great friend to us all,” says Derry. 

“We’ll miss Mick but I’m sure his replacement will fit right in like he did.”

Joan and Sean Paul of the Trawl Door will also miss their friend calling in for a coffee and a chat.

“Mick looked on the Trawl Door as a meeting place to have a morning chat, a morningg coffee and a catch-up,” says Joan.

“He liked his morning coffee and local customers and visitors to Ballycotton loved chatting to him in the shop.

“We look forward to meeting garda Kieran Lynch, who is arriving next week to replace Mick.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content