An Irish Garda who has just retired and is a noted registered goldsmith and silversmith has been commissioned by a leading English Police Officer to create a very special heraldic crown in sterling silver to be attached to the finial of a ceremonial standard of a Union Flag.
The silver craftwork will be featured at the National Police Memorial Day in Glasgow, Scotland, on September 25th. Incidentally, the Union Flag is often incorrectly called a Union Jack which is a naval emblem. The talented craftsman is Garda Joseph(Joe) Fanning a native of Gaile, Thurles, who has just retired after 33 years service in An Garda Siochana during which time he has travelled the world to meet policemen of numerous countries as well as the powerful and famous.
At his home in 5, The Mall, Templemore, we met Joe, who was putting the final touches to his beautiful work of art.
He said, ”This heraldic crown represents the St. Edward’s Crown, the crown with which Queen Elizabeth of England, recently on a trip to Tipperary, was crowned in 1953.
Joe’s creation is made from sterling silver and hallmarked in Dublin
Joe’s name is registered in the book in the Assay Office in Dublin Castle. “The first entry in that historic book was in 1637 and the book is still in use today.”, said Joe.
Joe has collected stones(mini-monuments if you like), from Britain, Scotland, England ,Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic for inclusion in the work and each stone represents one of those Regions and is a tribute to Policemen from those regions who have fallen in the line of duty. and made the ultimate sacrifice. “The stones I have collected for the crown are something similar to the tombs of the unknown soldiers.
Former Assistant Commissioner, Eamonn Keating, from Clonmel, who is married to a sister of Theo English, and is now retired and living in Tramore, provided Joe with some stones from the south coast. Former RUC Sergeant, Willie Browne, from Belfast selected stones from Belfast area in Northern Ireland. Willie went to school with Bishop Edward Daly and two of their class were ordained and five joined the RUC. Up in Aberdeen James Beaton, former bodyguard to the Princess Royal(Anne), collected some stones from his own area of Aberdeen. Joe Holness, founder of the National Police Memorial Day, collected some stones from Kent. “I am now awaiting stones from David ((Dai)Davies, who was the Operational Commander and the Head of the Division responsible for Her Majesty, the Queen and family, home and world wide. “He hopes to come over to Ireland to do MC at my retirement party out in Holycross”, said Joe.
“The silver is valued at about 500 Euro” said, Joe “Silver is gone up by double the price in the last year. Crazy”
Joe said” I am bringing the heraldic crown to Glasgow for the National Police Memorial Day. And on Sunday, September 25th, I will present it to that body. This is a church Service in honour of fallen Police Officers. This Service was held in Belfast last year.
Joe Fanning’s beautiful craftwork was commissioned by English Police Sergeant Joe Holness of Kent, who is founder of the National Police Memorial Day.
“The reason Joe Holness asked me to do this was because I had already completed one for the RUC George Cross Foundation in Belfast I did the RUC finial badge in the same format for Jim McDonald, Chairman of the RUC George Cross Foundation. Joe Holness saw the work I did for them and commissioned me then to do the work for the Police National Memorial Day because of that.” So, an Irish Garda wanted by the British Police” But, of course, for all the right reasons, Joe!
Joe is looking forward to the trip to Glasgow and he said many other Police folks, including senior figures from Ireland and Britain have been invited to the prestigious occasion. Joe is one of the first residents from Ireland to have an account with the Royal Australian Mint which he has visited, and he said “The Controller of the Royal Australian Mint, Glynnis Roper, gave me a private tour of the Mint back in 1995.
”The Exhibitor with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, Keith Hanson, was very impressed with my work. Joe said “In heraldry you must simplify things and avoid putting every detail on it like some people do. It’s not supposed to be this way. Heraldry and the Coat of Arms are a simplification of things”. Joe Fanning is the only policeman, serving or retired, who has been granted his own Coat of Arms (on December 14th, 2000).
In 2006 he blew the whistle to start the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, the oldest, longest and biggest in the world
Joe, who is entirely self taught, said “I always had an interest in heraldry from an early stage and I won an art competition at a Muintir na Tire Agricultural Show in Thurles in 1964.
Joe’s wife, Theresa (Nee Kelly from Thurles) works with the Department of Justice at the Garda College in Templemore and she is a third cousin of Lord Henry Mount Charles.
Theresa’s great grandmother and Lord Henry’s great grandfather were brother and sister.
Joe said: “Theresa’s late mother always told me that she was related to policeman, Bill O’ Dwyer, former Mayor of New York, a native of Bohola, County Mayo.” It was only when we visited the Police Academy in New York in 1996 that we saw not only the resemblance between Theresa’s mother and Bill O’ Dwyer, former Mayor of New York, but also that the former Mayor of New York was spitting image of Bill O’ Dwyer, a son of Theresa’s first cousin, and Bill is a Garda, stationed in Dublin”.
Joe shows us some movies he filmed on his camcorder of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York.
He has appeared on television in the United States with his work as a Silversmith. And he made a silver presentation to John Dunleavy, Chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York in 2006.
He has also appeared on television in Islamabad, Pakistan in January, 2007.” At this year’s parade he met folks like Michael Flatley and Therese Crowe from Croke Street, Thurles, who has been volunteer nurse at Gaelic Park, New York for some 40 years.(Hi Therese!) Joe Fanning has travelled the world meeting famous people in the line of duty.
But he says his most chilling moment was when he caught up with Al Capone while on holiday in New York.
The Tipperary retired Garda only got to investigate a bust of the legendary gangster in a museum in New York.
But Joe did handle a Real Tommy gun used by Brooklyn- born Capone, reputed to have master- minded the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.
“The gun was very, very heavy,” Joe recalled. “It had this cylinder.
“Of course, there were no bullets in it, but I felt weird afterwards when I thought about who’d been using it.”
In the same museum, Joe also discovered memorabilia of his mum-in-law’s cousin, Willie Dwyer, a cop who became Mayor of New York in the 1940s. Joe is Ireland’s most- travelled Garda, flying thousands of miles to meet police colleagues in 24 countries around the world. Joe is a man of many talents, including glass engraver, registered goldsmith, artist, hand-writing expert and embroiderer of flags and badges.
The list of people he has met reads like a who’s who of the famous- Nelson Mandela, country and western star, Johnny Cash, Hong Kong’s former Governor, Chris Patten, former U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton, Prince Edward, James Last, John Denver, Paul Simon, the U.S former ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith… and he talks affectionately about all of them.
Johnny Cash: “Johnny was such a nice man. It was unbelievable for me to meet a legend.
‘I mean he made such a huge impression on the world of my youth. The second record I ever bought was a Johnny Cash Album.”
Prince Edward: “He was a delight. I found him just an ordinary man and I made him a presentation of an engraved glass Irish harp.
“His private secretary Lt Col Sean O’ Dwyer, from Tipperary, sent me thanks from Buckingham Palace.
John Denver: “One of the really great people I met on my travels. I told him I was originally from Holycross in Co. Tipperary which has a famous abbey. Denver said, ‘I know. I used to jog there every morning’.”
Hillary Clinton, whom he met when he was on duty during her visit to Limerick: “She saw my Accreditation personnel badge and said, “Thank you very much’ and shook hands with me!
“Hillary is a very nice person. Just like Jean Kennedy Smith. You would be totally at ease in the company of both ladies. They are so down to earth and very natural.”
As well as Prince Edward, Joe has presented glass engravings to Cash and Mandela and the former Pro Nuncio to the court of St James, Bruno Heim.
Joe- a member of the international Police Association and the U.S. based Fraternal Order of Police- has marched with New York cops and cruised with Sydney’s Water Rats, the world’s first water Police. He said: “I have met policemen from Hong Kong to Canada, and from Dubai to Thailand. But without a doubt the best turned- out police in the world were in Hong Kong.
‘I also found the Chinese among the most courteous in the world. I think the most moving moment in my life was when the royal yacht Britannia sailed out of Hong Kong harbour and all the Klaxons of the ships sounded.”
Joe has Governor Chris Patten’s signature on a document marking the last Police passing- out parade in British Hong Kong.
Which was the most crime- free place he’d visited?
“Definitely Hong Kong,” said Joe.” I loved it there. There are no beggars and a lady is perfectly safe walking out at 3 am with a handbag.” Joe also likes to paint, to sculpt and embroider. He once spent 80 hours embroidering a special U.S. flag for the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago in 1993.
Joe loves railways and has some good stories about the West Clare Railway immortalized in song by Percy French, and Joe has visited the railway which has other Thurles links, about which more anon.
Joe Fanning has travelled on 54 different airlines.