HISTORY MAKER Westport’s PJ Kerrigan was Ireland’s first ever guard but life was anything from plain sailing from then on.
PJ Kerrigan, Garda Reg No 1, was born on The Fairgreen
A PLAQUE dedicated to PJ Kerrigan, the first official member of the Civil Guard in 1922 will be unveiled outside Westport Garda Station, just yards from his homeplace.
The Westport man officially became the first member of the Civil Guard when he joined the new police force on February 21, 1922. The Civil Guard were later renamed An Garda Síochána and were formed to replaced the disbanded RIC following the signing and ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922.
PJ Kerrigan, from the Fairgreen in Westport, was a family friend of the first commissioner of the Civic Guard, Michael Staines. On his behest, Kerrigan made his way to the RDS on February 21, 1922, for the first day of recruitment of the new Civic Guards. He was assigned Garda Reg No 1, and forever will be known as the first member of the new police force in the Irish Free State.
On March 14, members of An Garda Siochána in Westport will mark the 100th anniversary of An Garda Siochána by unveiling a plaque honouring Mr Kerrigan.
“We will unveil a plaque to the first garda on March 14 at Westport Garda Station, and it is apt that it is just yards away from where he grew up,” Garda Tony McCabe, who is organising the event told The Mayo News.
Members of the extended Kerrigan family will travel to Westport for the event, including some of PJ Kerrigan’s grandchildren, who live in the US.
Born on September 12, 1892, on the Fairgreen, PJ Kerrigan was the son of Patrick and Mary Ellen Kerrigan. He had three brothers and two sisters, who all emigrated to the US. Patrick Kerrigan worked as a postman for 44 years, and he and Mary Ellen are buried in Aughagower Cemetery.
PJ Kerrigan joined the RIC in 1913 on the recommendation of District Inspector Thomas Neylon and was allocated to Co Meath. Three months later he was transferred to the Reserve at Phoenix Park.
Following the outbreak of World War I, PJ resigned from the RIC on February 8, 1915, ‘to take up a position in the Army’, and he enlisted in the Irish Guards Regiment.
He was wounded on January 1, 1919, medically discharged on August 26, 1919, and awarded the Silver Wound Badge. His medal entitlement was the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for his WWI service.
He returned to Ireland in 1919 and married Molly Finnegan from South Quay, Drogheda, Co Louth. Her father, Patrick Finnegan, was at one time a ship’s captain owning a schooner and later a coal importer.
PJ Kerrigan was a controversial figure, and his time in An Garda Siochána was short lived. He was only a few months in the post when he was forced to resign for disciplinary issues. He later joined the National Army but emigrated to Canada and onto New York, leaving his wife and young family behind in Ireland, never to return. He started a new family in New York before he died in 1947.
He had children living in New York and Ireland, and thanks to investigation work by Garda historian and former Garda Jim Herhily, he managed to trace their whereabouts, and his grandchildren from both sides plan to attend the unveiling of the plaque.