MARGARET Nagle’s number within An Garda Siochana in Limerick was 103.
“There weren’t too many before her,” said Fr Tom Wall at her funeral mass this Monday in Milford Church.
And her colleagues within An Garda Siochana would testify that sadly there weren’t, or won’t be, too many like her again.
Born on November 7, 1958, Margaret was one of four children from a farming family, who grew up near Kanturk. She joined the gardai on November 29, 1978, and was one of the youngest appointees to the detective branch in Limerick’s Henry Street station in November 1981.
A veteran of the force, who specialised largely in drugs and fraud cases, and was involved in several high profile murder investigations at the height of the feud, she was still working in the crime office in Henry Street up to the time of her death.
She would be commended over 20 times for her police work, but the real Margaret wasn’t to be found in such accolades, Chief Superintendent John Scanlon said.
The real Margaret was to be found in the way she humanely dealt with the public, her love of her family and the losses and battles she bore bravely - the death of her little girl Marie in 1998, her husband’s battle with an illness seven years ago, and her own fight with cancer, which was to last 22 months.
She had a great sense of style, loved fashion and would go out of her way to help anyone. Her favourite poem, one friend said, was ‘When I am Old [I shall wear purple]’.
“She was a real lady, a very fine woman, dependable to the last.”
In her funeral mass, Fr Wall noted the sentiments of Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and how it is not the extraordinary events that make your life, but the seemingly ordinary moments that can transform them.
One such moment was when John Nagle, now retired from the force, was on duty during Pope John Paul’s visit to Ireland in 1979. John went in search of a light for a cigarette and found Margaret.
“His life was never the same ever again. It was changed totally. They had 34 years of married life together and they had great times, all from the simple task of asking for a light.” It is a flame, Supt Scanlon said, that kept on burning all these years. And even in death it can’t be diminished.
“There’s a time for everything,” said Fr Wall, “but this is not the timing we would have picked. It’s far too early, and she’s far too young.”
Emblems of Margaret’s life were placed on her coffin - her garda cap, a bible, her hill-walking boots, her horse-riding helmet and her camera.
Her children, Anna and Daniel, both in their teenage years, brought the items to the altar. Her mother, Eileen O’Callaghan, turned 86 on the day her daughter was laid to rest, but was unable to attend the funeral.
But Margaret hadn’t planned for death; she had planned to keep living, booking her ticket to see Neil Diamond in an upcoming concert, and even climbed Croagh Patrick last October. “She was flying it,” said Fr Wall. She went off walking in the Burren, taking her camera with her, and also walked the famous pilgrimage, the Camino Way, as well as Carrantuohill.
“She was very much looking forward, even though she was sick. She didn’t get to see her retirement party. This is her retirement.”
“She was very proud of the gardai, of their tradition and the work they did in Henry Street, and of an organisation that was always trying to do lots of good.”
Chief Superintendent David Sheahan praised her “humanity” and said she was held in “extremely high regard” by all of her colleagues. “One thing that stood out about her, it is hard to describe, but she was like a ‘mother hen’ to everyone in Henry Street.
“She was a professional in the way she went about her business and if there was anything that she could do for people, then she would do it. That was always the way she operated - it was nearly the humanity in her that came through the most in any of the dealings I had with her.”
When she started in Templemore, her father bought her a business suit, Supt Scanlon recalled, and she paid him back within her first two pay cheques.
He said the note she wrote to her colleagues, delicately informing them that she had to take time out for treatment for cancer remains on display in the station. In that note she asked not for tears, but on Monday they flowed freely throughout the congregation.
In it, she wrote that there would be “no more 7am starts”, that she never liked the morning shift anyway, and had grown tired of thinking of ways to make porridge interesting in the morning. “She was one of the most courageous people I ever knew,” he said. “She lived and died as a proud member of An Garda Siochana. I don’t think she’ll ever be forgotten. We need not be concerned for her legacy, it is here before us,” he said, pointing to her children. Her son Daniel said “from an early age I was left in doubt what kind of mother I had.” While many, he said, would view “mum’s passing as a terrible blow”, he said they were blessed to have her as a mother.
Tributes were also paid by Judge Aeneas McCarthy at Newcastle West district court, who described her as an excellent member of An Garda Siochana, and by Judge Tom O’Donnell and State solicitor Michael Murray in the city courts.
She is survived by her husband John, daughter Anna, son Daniel, mother Eileen, sister Kathleen, brothers Les and Kieran.