Auctioneer reflects on a previous role as armed security

Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt wishing Martin Tyrrell a pleasant trip back to Ireland in December 1967. Martin was stationed as a security officer for two years at the Prime Minister's residence.

He’s known across the county as one of Galway’s highest profile auctioneers – but few know that before all that, Martin Tyrrell had another life Down Under, when he provided armed security for two Prime Ministers.

The Tuam auctioneer spent eight years in Australia as a member of the Federal Police – and that involved working as an armed guard to two successive Premiers.

The Annaghdown native, who is now in his early eighties, worked security for Sir Robert Menzies and Harold Holt MP – during the Vietnam War when security was stepped up for heads of state.

But Martin became particularly close to Harold Holt and it was during his return to Ireland in 1967 that he learned of the Prime Minister’s tragic death in a fishing accident which still is a source of great regret for him.

“I was devastated by the news when I arrived in Shannon,” he told The Connacht Tribune.

Martin emigrated to Australia in the late fifties and on graduating from the Federal Police College, he was posted to the Prime Minister’s Lodge – the Australian equivalent of 10 Downing Street.

This was the home of the Australian Prime Minister and there are not too many people in Tuam and North Galway in general who realise that the genial and very highly regarded auctioneer was once ‘armed to the teeth’ in order to protect those he was responsible for.

“It is around this time of year that bring back special memories for me,” admitted Martin. “But unfortunately they are tragic ones as I got to know Harold Holt’s family extremely well”.

His working life in Australia coincided with a time when conscripts were being sent to Vietnam from Australia – and thus security had to be intensified.

Tuam auctioneer Martin Tyrrell and his wife Ann.
Photo: Johnny Ryan Photography.

“It was a very stressful era and, at the time, I was fully armed as there were occasions when I was confronted by several agitators and objectors,” he recalls.

It was in December 1967 that Martin was preparing for his return home to Galway having spent eight years in Australia when he learned of the devastating news that Prime Minister Hold had lost his life.

Prior to his departure, Martin had been invited to their spacious residence at The Lodge by Prime Minister Holt and his wife Zara.

“The Prime Minister’s final words to me were ‘Give my love to Ireland’,” Martin recalls.

He said that he was in shock when he learned of the death of his good friend in the deep sea fishing accident off the Melbourne coast. “They were very courteous and friendly to me,” he said.

Martin was the only Irish person to be assigned on security duties at the Prime Minister’s Lodge. He said that on arrival at Shannon Airport the Irish Flag was at half-mast in sympathy with the Australian people.

“This was a very touching experience,” said Martin who wrote a personal letter of sympathy to widow Zara Holt and received a nice letter in reply.

Martin Tyrrell is married to Ann – a Longford-born nurse whom he met in Australia. They have a family of four who all grown up and are in various professions in Ireland, England and Scotland.

The Tyrrell family are in constant touch with friends in Australia and they have also revisited the country on a number of occasions. However, Martin’s experience at the Prime Minister’s Lodge holds special memories.

On a return visit to Canberra a number of years later, he was received at The Lodge by Prime Minister Malcolm Frazier, who served from 1975 to 1983. He presented Mrs Frazier with a Galway Crystal vase at the time.

Following his return from Australia, Martin and his brother Pat Tyrrell established an auctioneering business which will celebrate 50 years in existence during the course of this year.

However, he still has fond memories of Australia and for many years, compiled a diary about his experiences Down Under for the local newspapers.

He is one of the most highly regarded local auctioneers and one that is renowned for being one that is great at selling land. The vast majority of farmers in North Galway rarely stray away from Martin when it comes to disposing of farmland.

As for retiring? “Well, there are no plans yet,” he says.