After 17 years, hero Garda comes to the rescue again

Sgt Cathal O’Neill with his bravery award with Supt Aileen Magnier and Chief Supt Gerry Roche. Photo: Liam Burke

A COUNTY Limerick Garda was honoured last week for rescuing a woman from a flooded river, 17 years after saving a teenage boy from a burning house in Limerick City.
Sergeant Cathal O’Neill, who is based at Croom Garda Station, was on mobile patrol in the town on August 31 last year, when he was alerted to a woman entering the Maigue River.
He initially saw the semi-conscious woman being swept past him in the fast current, and, using his local knowledge, he moved ahead of her and positioned himself in a location where he was able to rescue her before she was swept away to her death.
His heroism was acknowledged by Water Safety Ireland when he was presented with a Seiko ‘Just in Time’ award on behalf of the national water safety organisation.
Recalling the dramatic incident, Sgt O’Neill said: “I saw the woman go past me in the river, adjacent to the park, so I went into the river and I was able to wade in most of the way, but then I lost my footing and had to paddle a bit, but I was able to grab hold of her and pull her back to riverbank.”
“She was semi-unconscious but once I got her back to the bank, she came to, and an ambulance arrived quickly after that and they looked after her.”
Sergeant O’Neill, who is a native of Montenotte in Cork City, was joined at the award presentation in Croom Garda Station by his District Superintendent Aileen Magner and Limerick Garda Chief Superintendent Gerry Roche.
Paying tribute, Supt Magner said: “I am proud to serve as a member of An Garda Síochána alongside people like Cathal. His bravery and dedication knows no bounds.”
“He has taken our mission statement of ‘Keeping People Safe’ to another level,” she added.
In February 2003, at the height of an outbreak of violence between feuding gangs in Limerick City, Sgt O’Neill, then a young Garda, saved a 16-year old boy who was trapped in an upstairs bedroom of a house that had been fire-bombed.
“I was part of an armed patrol in Moyross and at 3am we came on a house that had been firebombed. There was a 16-year old boy trapped in an upstairs bedroom, and I went into the house, assisted by two members of the ERU (Emergency Response Unit),” said Sgt O’Neill, who was attached previously to the Limerick Garda Headquarters, Henry Street station, as well as at Roxboro Road.
“The boy was trapped upstairs so I ran up and got him and pulled him out through the window and lowered him down to the two ERU members, and then I lowered myself down,” he explained.
“We brought the boy’s mother out through the front of the house. The firebomb had gone in the front door and the stairs was on fire, so the fire was around the stairway and hallway, so we had to make a bit of a jump through the flames.”