Forty years is a very long time, but sometimes it feels like a day.
ast Tuesday the wives, children and grandchildren of two devoted, courageous and deeply-loved young men gathered to remember them.
But they remember them every day. Every day for the past forty years.
Garda Henry Byrne (29) and Detective John Morley (37) were murdered on July 7, 1980.
They were ruthlessly, recklessly and brutally shot dead while in pursuit of a criminal gang aligned with the INLA terrorist group, who robbed the Bank of Ireland in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.
Both gardaí were based in Castlerea but were from Knock, Co Mayo. Their obscene deaths devastated their families, the broader community in Mayo and Roscommon and the entire garda fraternity.
Their killers were captured and prosecuted for the crime of capital murder and jailed for life.
Even four decades later, the appalling pointlessness of it all, much like the recent killing of Garda Colm Horkan, still burns.
The abyss of grief would cause most to break, but the women who loved the two men most – their wives and mothers – built the rest of their lives without bitterness, without hate.
In an act of almost incredible Christian charity Julia Byrne, the mother of Henry, in the days after his murder, prayed for his killers.
“She went up to the church and lit a candle and said a prayer for them. I think she got comfort from it.
“I wasn’t in that frame of mind, but she was incredible really,” said John Byrne, a brother of Henry.
“At the time, I wanted to get into the cells where they (the killers) were and see how brave they were without their guns.
“But my mother didn’t want any of that. And she was right,” he said.
Paul Byrne (44), the eldest of Henry’s three children, was just five when he lost his dad.
He and his siblings Henry and Aisling were raised “totally without animosity or bitterness”.
“We weren’t allowed, and that was it. Mam wouldn’t let us feel that way.
“As long as I can remember, she instilled in us to rise above it, and that to feel bitterness would do nobody any good.
“She always taught us that what happened, happened that day and we have to get on with our lives and mind each other and mind her.
“There is not a day goes by we don’t think of dad. We are immensely proud of him.
“When we heard the awful news about Colm Horkan, it brought it all back again. You can’t bear to think of another family going through that,” said Paul.
Garda Morley’s widow, Frances Morley, has never spoken of her loss but broke her silence through an advocacy group for victims of terrorism, on the 40th anniversary of her husband’s death.
“I never wanted to hold ugly thoughts of bitterness or revenge, that will not bring John back and in fact, would only further hurt my family and I.
“We have tried to live our lives well, my children and their children have brought many moments of joy – but yes, of course, those are moments which John should have experienced.”
She added: “Today may be viewed a milestone anniversary by people outside of our families, it’s a time when their focus comes on our situation but every day for me is an anniversary, and I expect this is the same for others also.”
The horror of July 7,1980, cast a long shadow over the life of Retired Garda Derek O’Kelly.
He was driving the garda car carrying John Morley, Henry Byrne and Sgt Mick O’Malley, that intercepted the raiders at Shannon’s Cross in Loughglynn, Co Roscommon.
Standing at the spot where it happened, he crumples in tears remembering the events that cost them all so dearly.
“You wonder what might have been. If I had gone a bit faster or a bit slower? If I hadn’t picked up Henry. All this time later, I still wonder.
“The two finest of men gone.”
Retired Garda Martin Duggan worked with Henry, John and Colm Horkan.
He speaks with pride about the bravery of John and Henry, but his words are choked with regret.
“Four (gardaí) left Castlerea to go and help their colleagues in Ballaghadereen.
“Their mission was to capture the raiders and recover the money. And they succeeded on both counts, but the price was way too high.
“The enormity of that incident was unreal—two men, 29 and 37, from the one station (Castlerea), both from Knock.
“That was so hard to take. Impossible really to make peace with. The whole area was numb for months. When this happened with Colm, it opened up old wounds.
“If you were to pick three of the most reliable, sound community people you would call on John, Henry and Colm.
“They were everything you wish for in colleagues. You would love to have on any job you had to do. They were loved.”