A picture paints a thousand words but in this case just one – love. Gary and Annette Ahern on their wedding day
THE LATE Annette Courtney was an inch too small when she took the height test for the gardai.
It was the only time she ever came up short. She had a larger than life personality. And even then it didn’t stop her fulfilling her dream of joining An Garda Siochana.
The Bruff-based garda passed away unexpectedly at her Murroe home just two weeks ago. Originally from Mitchelstown, Annette set up home in east Limerick after marrying Gary Ahern last October. She was looking forward to the wedding of her brother Maurice next month. Annette was preparing to be a bridesmaid for his wife-to-be, Orla.
Her family, large circle of friends and garda colleagues have been left shocked by Annette’s passing. Over 4,500 people from small villages and big towns paid their respects at her removal in Mitchelstown. Annette had made many friends and acquaintances over her 37 years.
Her heartbroken husband Gary penned on his Facebook page; “My beautiful loving wife, miss you everyday” over a photo of the two of them on their wedding day.
It was love at first sight, he explained. “We met on a night out in Limerick city and love blossomed.”
In the three years since meeting, they got engaged, married and set up home.
Shortly after getting together, Annette went to America with her great friend Claire Haugh for a few weeks.
“I was heartbroken without Annette. I had never felt like that before. I said to myself, ‘She is definitely the one’,” said Gary.
He proposed at the Indiependence festival in Mitchelstown in August 2015. And Annette said yes. They picked out the ring in Galway. One day Gary told her he was going for a spin on the bike.
“I snuck up to Galway in the lashing rain and bought the ring. I was down again before she even knew I was gone. I took her to a Kodaline gig that September in Belfast and proposed to her properly with the ring,” said Gary.
They got engaged twice and married twice! Former Bruff parish priest Fr Joe Foley married them in front of their family in June 2016 and then they had a blessing in Lanzarote the following October.
They had planned for 50 family and friends to attend but due to Annette’s popularity they celebrated with over 120 in the Canaries.
“We had an amazing wedding,” Gary recalled.
Once Annette left Templemore she worked as a garda in Cork and Arklow before arriving at Bruff station on July 24, 2008. Her colleagues became her second family.
They feel like they have lost a sister. Resplendent in their navy uniforms, Bruff gardai performed a guard of honour at her funeral.
“She really enjoyed the job. When she put her uniform on it was her job and when she took it off she was Annette. She wanted to go back even when she was sick and very sore - she loved that job,” said Gary.
Annette was badly hurt in a car crash, while on duty, in 2014. Her back was worst affected.
“She couldn’t do anything with her back after the crash but it was getting better. She was doing everything to try and get back to work."
Asked to describe the love of his life, Gary pauses.
“How can I describe Annette? I could be in a pub with the lads, she would walk in and she would fit right in. She would liven up the whole thing. She had the most wonderful smile. Annette made a big difference in her short life,” said Gary.
He only knew her as a vibrant woman in her thirties but the daughter of John and Brenda wasn’t very different as a little girl.
“She was outgoing and was into everything," recalls a heartbroken father.
“Annette was huge into sport. I couldn’t get out the door to play a match as she’d want to come. I was only 20 when Annette was born. She never left my side. I would have to sneak out.”
One time John recalls Brenda couldn’t bring her to a game as she had to take care of their son, Maurice.
“Annette was only six or seven and she nearly pulled the house down to go to the match I was playing in. She stood on the sideline as quiet as could be. She took a love of sport. Her first Munster final was 1993 between Cork and Tipperary when she was 13. She never missed one.
“Hurling was her big draw but she loved going to Killarney for the football finals. Their wedding invitations were even designed like GAA match tickets. She was stone mad about the GAA,” said John.
Annette was involved in organising numerous fundraisers while she was a garda in Bruff. Many were held in Clarke’s bar.
“A bus full of us would leave Mitchelstown and head for Bruff for the night. Davy Clarke [former Limerick star half-back] passed through the funeral home and he said, ‘You mightn’t know me, I’m Davy Clarke’. I said, ‘I do well Davy, you tried to break her heart in Páirc Ui Chaoimh when she was a little girl and she told you all about it years later!’ That was Annette,” said John.
Annette always wanted to be a garda.
“I remember she went up to the Phoenix Park and she was shot down on the height. I said that day she was five foot five inches in Mitchelstown and only five foot four in Dublin. She said it was ‘their loss’. The height restriction went and she got in on an interview,” said John.
It would have been the gardai’s and the public’s loss if the height restriction wasn’t scrapped.
“If you deserved a chance you’d get it but you’d only get one. The guards told us they have lost a sister. One told us you spend more time with your garda partner than you would with your own family,” said John.
He and Brenda have not only lost a daughter they have lost a best friend.
“She was born our daughter and grew up to be our best friend. We used to go to all the matches - every single Cork match - together. Then she would sit down with her mother to watch TV, have a Chinese takeaway and a glass of wine. She was her brother Maurice’s friend too. She was to be a bridesmaid at his wedding in October as she was friends with his bride to be Orla.
“Annette used to socialise with all her first cousins - on both sides -which is very rare,” said John, who added that his daughter loved her dogs.
This love of animals didn’t stretch to cattle and Annette cursed this reporter when he eventually cajoled her to pose with a Charolais at a Cappamore Show [pictured].
Friendly and fun, Annette’s fond smile will never be forgotten.