The secretive town in Meath where you can buy a Garda station for €6,000
No one in Crossakiel will answer my question.
"I wouldn’t know anything about that," said the bar woman in McCabe’s pub and immediately hung up.
"Calling from Dublin, eh? Asking a thing like that over the phone? Come down here and show yourself to me if you want to know," said the woman in The Welcome Wagon, Bar & Lounge.
Rude rebuff or robust invitation, it didn’t matter, The Welcome Wagon would soon be welcoming me. I was ready to 'show' myself and ask again: Who bought the Garda station in Crossakiel for €6,000?
When yearly rent for a bottom bunk bed in Dublin 8 costs the same as an entire Garda station one hour's drive from the capital, it's worth finding out who can cut a deal that sweet.
"Bent as a U-nail," said a taxi driver when I told him where I was heading, "but sure this is Ireland."
I arrive to a town off the M3, where the church doesn't have a roof and Meath for Sam stickers face outwards from closed down cafes and businesses.
There’s blanket fog over Crossakiel and there is no one to be seen.
"It’s so cold," I say to the woman in Noel O' Driscoll's newsagents, trying to break the ice.
It doesn’t break. I hammer on, confident still that I have done my part in showing myself to the people of Crossakiel and soon my question will be answered. But first all my certainties and assumptions would be challenged.
I ask the woman who is standing behind the till: Who bought the Garda station in Crossakiel for €6,000?
She denies there is or was a Garda station in the town. Momentarily thrown, I consider if everything I've ever Googled has been a lie.
If ever I have a secret, I will bequeath it to the people of Crossakiel. A Garda Station, on record as being sold by the Office of Public Works, appears to have been erased from the collective memory.
The national census doesn't do a town by town population breakdown. The Crossakiel website puts the figure at 200, but that was from a headcount done in 1837.
Whatever is going on with real estate in Crossakiel, it's a nice thing that people in this small town protect each other. Why should people speak to me just because I arrive with a burning question?
The woman behind the till asks me about my "source of information in relation to the Garda station." It was in the news I venture, reported in an article in the Irish Examiner. "Over 40 Garda stations have been sold and the government has recouped just €3.2million from the sales," I quote.
The woman sniffs and says "the news" like a curse word.
I buy two scratch cards before leaving, promising to buy the local fire station if I won the €5000 cash prize.*
I leave the newsagents. I'll never go back I think.
The pub on the corner is empty save for one man in a Guinness beanie, a Guinness fleece and a pint of Guinness in his right crook.
"Aye, the barracks," he says, "sure I was locked up in there one time myself."
At last, confirmation that a Garda station in Crossakiel was built, used and exists.
Main Street, Crossakiel. Image via Rosanna Cooney
"People here are very backward now, they wouldn’t be telling you what goes on."
I sit down with the only person in Crossakiel who’ll talk to me. He’s an auld man not yet an old one, a father of 12 and a grandfather of 13.
The station, he says, is across the road. "Crutch Road they call it, 'cus we’re always falling out of here scaldy drunk."
Another man comes into the Pub with a packet of fags in his hands. He's ready to strike a match but sees me and puts the matches on the bar, a single cigarette beside it and waits. I feel my opportunity for information slipping away.
When I ask why the Garda station was sold so cheaply, the man whose pint of Guinness is now empty tells me it was "ah, nice to meet you. Come back another time."
So I am out on the street again, The Welcome Wagon is closed for the evening and no one answers my knocks. It’s time to confront the spectre of the Garda station.
Across ‘Crutch Road’, there is just one property with two buildings inside its walled boundary. Dark and hidden behind sycamore trees, I can see a house and another small building, similar in structure to a house on a Monopoly board. The smaller building has a varnished wood panel mounted outside it, the rounded outline of the Garda crest is visible by the two shades of the wood.
“The crest was taken back to Garda HQ in Phoenix Park,” says the woman who came out of the main house to stand beside me.
The answer to my question - Who bought the Garda station in Crossakiel for €6,000? - is standing beside me in bedroom slippers holding a torch.
Garda barracks, Crossakiel. Image via Rosanna Cooney
She agrees to let me see inside the old station but tells me she doesn't want to be named and she will be watching JOE dot ie to make sure of it.
The building hasn't been used as a Garda base for years she says, but can't remember how many.
The new owner of the station is using the space for storage and paintings of horses and boxes of miscellany are piled up in the old holding cell. It's a small space, three rooms with iron bars inside the windows.
I ask her how she bought the station if it didn’t go up for auction?
"The house beside here - my house - used to be the sergeant’s house and the OPW asked me if I wanted to buy the barracks as well," she says.
She tries to give me a history of the building, but can’t be specific because there is no record of the house or the barracks ever being built. Government buildings don’t need planning permission.
I ask her how much the OPW wanted for the station and she ices up. “Oh people were very interested in that, weren’t they? Going around saying I got it for awful cheap.
"Well it’s a matter of public record, I paid €6,000 euro for it. They wanted €10,000 alright. But I offered them what I had and they took it".
We left it there. She didn't want to say anymore and I was trying to imagine how much the station would go for if it was in Portobello and a Dublin real estate agent attached cosy adjectives to its description.
I left Crossakiel confused, a small town with a tangible resistance to intrusion and yet nothing to hide but a Garda station that sold for 60% of its asking price by private arrangement with the OPW.
*I won €2 on the scratchcard and cashed it in for a bottle of Cidona and a packet of Skips.