“What’s the story, Vincent Hourican?” shouts a woman from a playground near Rialto’s F2 community centre.
“Ah Vincent, you look great,” says someone else nearby.
From Dolphin’s Barn to Kilmainham and Rialto, Reserve Garda Vincent Hourican is well known. As he circles the block on foot from the Arch Cafe and back again on a recent Friday afternoon, at least 10 people stop him to shake his hand, or in one case, bang on a window, open it and pull him in for a hug.
Hourican was a community garda here for 22 years. Since his retirement in 2016, he’s come back as a reserve garda, one of the volunteer part-time troops of An Garda Síochana.
“Since he’s retired, whenever I go out on the beat with him, we can hardly walk 10 meters before someone comes up and says, ‘Ah Vincent!'” says Garda Debbie O’Sullivan, who joined the same beat about 10 years ago.
A Father Figure
“He was the first policeman I’d seen that would play with the kids,” says Jonie White, in the lunch room of the F2 centre, sitting with a group of friends over coffee. White grew up in the area, and says that “before that, there would have been a huge fear of the guards here.”
Hourican would talk to people, instead of coming in heavy-handed, says Deirdre Reid, sat beside her, who’s also from the area. “He’s well-liked around here. He’d take the time to know your family.”
Both Reid and White remember Hourican when they were young mothers, with young children. They talk over each other, as others come in and out of the room, and pause to listen.
White says that Hourican was always conscious that it was a neighbourhood with loads of children. “So he made sure he was around when they were coming out of school, so people physically seeing him in the area would stop any kind of anti-social behaviour,” she says.
Some mothers in the area knew they could go to him if they had problems with teenage kids, says Reid: if they didn’t want to officially go to the police, they could go to Hourican, and he’d have a word.
“You wouldn’t be afraid talking to him, whereas with another policeman you’d be kind of nervous. You wouldn’t talk to them, because of the kind of reputation that the police had then,” says White.
“No one ever called you a rat if you were talking to Vincent,” says Reid. “And you didn’t mind him coming into your house, even though there were young fellas on the corner, watching.”
Growing up with Hourican around meant the young people developed a different kind of relationship with the police, White says. “He built a very positive relationship here with some of the young men.”
With Hourican around, over time, it began to seem okay to people in the neighbourhood if their child wanted to become a garda, said Reid. “They can live in areas like this, and they can come out of areas like this.”
Downstairs in the Arch Cafe, Anne Buckley sips coffee, and shares her memories of the policeman who stood out to her when she was younger. She remembers him from her own childhood, growing up in Fatima: “I think what I remember of Vincent would be, he was just that little bit different than other guards.”
“He’d get to know the small children, the teenagers, the adults, the elderly, active criminals, people that are suffering with addiction. He’d get to know them all on a human level as much as what you’re up to,” she says.
“When I was in active addiction, with Vincent it was like if my father’d seen me,” she says. “It’d be more of a, ‘What are you doing with yourself? You can do better.’ He’d see you behind what you were doing.”
Buckley remembers a time when Hourican was attacked by a drug dealer he’d chased down, and was badly beaten: “It was the first guard that residents, even active drug addicts, were running out to help.”
Born in New York to Irish parents, Hourican was in both the Irish army and the US army, before joining An Garda Síochana.
“I was about a year in Kilmainham [Garda station], and I thought, ‘This is it.’ I fell into policing totally by accident. I just find myself lucky, that I ended up doing something that I love,” he says.
In his early sixties, Hourican is matter-of-fact, and friendly, with a gentle manner. He moves swiftly, doubling back on his walk to talk to one person or another, and reappearing. He looks at home in his uniform.
He arrived in the area as a garda in 1984, three years into the city’s heroin epidemic, and took his cue from ex-Garda Patrick Holland, his predecessor on the beat.
Holland was a trailblazer, says Hourican. Community policing was a new concept in Ireland, but Holland knew everybody’s name.
“My attitude was, be kind of parochial about it, and guard it, like your own kind of patch,” Hourican says. “In my mind you progress into community policing, not be directed into it […] it works best when the people doing it are volunteers into it.”
Sometimes you hear the media talk of “no-go areas”. But “certainly there was no no-go areas around here,” says Hourican, but “Pat would go wherever [he wanted]. It could be day or night. When I saw him doing that, that’s the kind of policing I want to emulate.”
Getting to know so many people, a lot of the time, Hourican would find himself in the role of a social worker, he says. The hardest part of the job was dealing with children at risk.
“It was always challenging, but there was never a day that I went home and I said, ‘I can’t do that again,'” he says.
Of recent scandals involving the Gardaí, Hourican says, “I didn’t sign up for any of that kind of stuff, and I didn’t witness any behaviour like that over the years. Some people wouldn’t be up to the mark, not everybody goes, in any profession at a 100 per cent.”
There were days he went out and probably gave 70 or 80 percent, he says. “But if people don’t measure up, in any profession, they should probably do the decent thing and leave it and find something else.”
When you hear about these things, it’s not quite a personal blow, but it’s bad for morale, says Hourican.
“Your heart would sink. But the job still goes on. People still pick up the phone, and the calls never stop, no matter what’s going on in the news. People still pick up the phone to call the Gardaí. We’re the only place that’s open 24/7,” he says.
And if he were to give one piece of advice to young, incoming gardaí? “Treat the public the way you’d want your own family to be treated,” he says.