A Guarded Life

Author: Majella Moynihan with Aoife Kelleher

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction

Review by: Mairead Monasterevin Library

Synopsis: In 1984, Majella Moynihan was a fresh-faced young garda recruit when she gave birth to a baby boy. Charged with breaching An Garda Síochána’s disciplinary rules – for having premarital sex with another guard, becoming pregnant, and having a child – she was pressured to give up her baby for adoption, or face dismissal. It forced her into a decision that would have devastating impacts on her life.

Majella left the force in 1998 after many difficult years and, in 2019, following an RTÉ documentary on her case, she received an apology from the Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice for the ordeal she endured as a young garda. Here, for the first time, she tells the full story.

From an institutional childhood after the death of her mother when she was a baby, to realising her vocation of becoming a guard only to confront the reality of a police culture steeped in misogyny and prejudice, A Guarded Life is both a courageous personal account of hope and resilience in the darkest times, and a striking reflection on womanhood and autonomy in modern Ireland.


After not been able to concentrate on reading lately I started this book thinking I would read a couple of chapters per evening. I read it in less than two days. When I wasn’t reading the book my thoughts frequently returned to Majella, her disturbing and sad story, and her resilience and bravery.

Majella tells her the story of her life thus far with searing honesty. The pain and hurt of the betrayal she suffered is evident on every page, as is her strength and resilience against great odds.

Majella was sent to an orphanage at the tender age of one along with her three sisters after their Mother died. Their father was alive, and physically capable of providing for them on a practical level, but he obviously wasn’t capable of coping emotionally with his responsibilities and abandoned his own flesh and blood to the tender mercies of the local church run orphanage.

Throughout her childhood Majella naturally felt hurt by her surviving parent’s abandonment and coldness. She was also cruelly and constantly bullied by the head nun in her teenage years, these experiences left her seeking love and approval and with a lack of self-worth. Despite, and because of this Majella dreamt of becoming a Garda so she could defend the defenseless, help the innocent, right the wrongs and save people from the injustices she experienced herself. Little did the she know what lay ahead.

Majella became romantically involved with a fellow trainee guard, Fintan Casey whilst training in Templemore. Just as she was completing her training, she realised she was pregnant with their child. Initially Fintan proposed they would marry, but then under the influence of his mother withdrew his promise of marriage and cut of all lines of communication with Majella.

The treatment that Majella went on to receive at the hands of her colleagues and superiors in the force is truly shocking and symptomatic of the prevailing misogyny of 1980’s Church dominated Ireland.

Her story makes for a disturbing and compelling read.

A Guarded Life: My Story of the dark side of An Garda Siochana will be available on request from your local library via the Housebound Service for those over 70 cocooning for their safety and for library users once Government regulations and safety precautions permit us to operate again. In the mean time feel free to request it online from your local library here.

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