By James Ward, PA
Gardaí involved in the dramatic rescue of Don Tidey, an IRA kidnapping victim, have been honoured almost 40 years after the event.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and interim Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys presented the Scott medal, An Garda Síochána’s highest honour, to 15 deceased and serving members of the force on Friday.
Garda Gary Sheehan and Army Private Patrick Kelly were fatally shot by an armed IRA gang during the operation at Drumcroman Woods, Derrada in Co Leitrim on December 16 1983.
Supermarket executive Don Tidey was held captive for 23 days after being kidnapped outside his Dublin home as he took his 13-year-old daughter to school a month earlier.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said: “In all of your actions during this search operation you strove to protect the life of Mr Don Tidey and the lives of your fellow Gardai.
“Each one of you demonstrated outstanding bravery and physical courage.
“And both bravery and courage involve so much more than we can know.
“Yes, it is knowingly facing danger, but it is also knowing when and how to act to deliver a positive policing and societal outcome.
“And the dedication to duty and bravery you demonstrated on December 16th 1983 remains an example to all of us who continue to serve.
“And that kind of skill is required in our work today more than ever.
“And on behalf of An Garda Síochána, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to you all for your service.”
The Scott medal is awarded for the “most exceptional bravery and heroism involving the risk of life in the execution of duty”.
Jennifer McCann, the younger sister of Garda Sheehan, said his killers, who were never brought to justice, still have his death on their conscience.
She said: “Gary did not die in vain and for that we are very grateful.
“We are happy that Mr Tidey has had all this time with his family.
“We have chosen over the past 38 years to remember the happy times we had with Gary.
“To become bitter would have been a betrayal.
“Although the perpetrators of this terrible crime have not been brought to justice, they know who they are.
“Their friends, friends and family know who they are.
“They have the murders of Gary and Private Patrick Kelly on their conscience.”
Today at Dubhlinn Gardens, Commissioner Harris presented 15 Scott Medals to Garda members.
The Scott Medal is the highest award that can be bestowed by the Commissioner & is awarded for 'most exceptional bravery and heroism involving the risk of life in the execution of duty.' pic.twitter.com/OhiEiRsp5x
— Garda Info (@gardainfo) September 24, 2021
John Somers, accepting the award on behalf of his father Detective Inspector William Somers, said it was a miracle his father had survived the fateful night.
He said: “I saw the bullet holes in his jacket, his elbow and his boot, and they were taken away the next day for evidence.
“That was a long day.
“At the time, there was no mobile phones.
“So myself, my family and my mum were quite worried when we heard that there was a soldier and a policeman down.
“It was only until he came home and actually answered the door, we realised he was still alive.”
He added: “He was in shock but he was delighted to be alive.
“He actually shouldn’t have been alive.
“We were just talking to Don Tidey about it.
“Three of them were sprayed from close range with armalite.
“My dad was hit and spun on on the ground, and got up and ran into the ditch.
“Even he says now, they shouldn’t have made it.”
Mr Somers’ father was the first Garda on the scene to find Mr Tidey.
“He actually put a gun to Don Tidey’s head and said ‘identify yourself’, because he had the beard.
“He said ‘do you not recognise my accent?’ and my dad said ‘Yes, I’ve got the big fish’,” he said.
Det Insp Somers was fired upon during the operation, and John believes the trauma of that night stayed with his father for the rest of his life.
He said that despite the delay, it was a “great honour” to be awarded the Scott medal.
He added: For some of us, you’re trying to put the memories to the back of your mind and you try to forget them.
“I suppose for some families, you know, it never really goes.”