Wymes, Michael John (1907–89), policeman, was born 22 December 1907 at Lisdoo, Dundalk, Co. Louth, son of RIC constable (later head constable) Michael Wymes, and Margaret Wymes (née Collins). He had one brother, Patrick (P. J.), later an inspector of the Northern Bank, and two sisters. Educated locally by the Christian Brothers, he always aspired to being a policeman. He joined An Garda Síochána in August 1928 and achieved a joint first place in his final examinations at the Phoenix Park training depot, March 1929. He rose through the ranks with some notable milestones in his career. First stationed at Clontibret, Co. Monaghan, and subsequently in Monaghan town, he served in several divisions throughout the state before his eventual, permanent transfer to the Dublin metropolitan district.
As a detective garda in Cork in the early 1930s, Wymes came into conflict with the militant Blueshirt movement, led by his former commissioner, Gen. Eoin O'Duffy (qv), who had left office in 1933. In 1934 he served in Galway, the favourite posting of his career, where he was promoted sergeant. In 1935 he was stationed at Union Quay, Cork, his given address when on 24 September he married his first wife. By 1936, having also served in Wexford and in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, he had a thorough knowledge of garda personnel and policing conditions in the country at large as he transferred to the detective branch at Dublin Castle.
Known as ‘the big detective’, he was an obvious figure around Dublin. Yet, in the Emergency period (1939–45) his role, initially in the rank of sergeant, as head of an intelligence unit (detective branch, special section) in the garda aliens office, involved the secretive task of monitoring foreign residents in Ireland. His diligence, particularly in the surveillance and arrest of German Abwehr agent Werner Unland, was praised by Col. Dan Bryan (qv), head of G2, the military intelligence branch, in spite of a perceived unwillingness of police intelligence to share knowledge with its military counterpart. Wymes also investigated social crime including illegal abortion, notably the Dr Ashe case (1943–4). Promoted detective-inspector (1944), Wymes steadily rose to executive power in the postwar decades.
In 1954 he was appointed superintendent and head of B district at Pearse St. A year later he became head of detective branch, Dublin Castle, where he remained until 1961. His most notorious cases again included abortion, with the sensational arrest and trial of Nurse Mamie Cadden (qv) in 1956 for the death of a client, Helen O'Reilly. Wymes's pursuance of this case became a landmark in forensic science although, owing to inconclusive results and public appeal, Cadden's death sentence was commuted to penal servitude by government reprieve in January 1957. Wymes also investigated the infamous Shanahan stamp auctions fraud of 1959, in which many Irish investors lost heavily. He was promoted chief superintendent in 1961, with responsibility for criminal investigation in the Dublin metropolitan area. In 1962 he was appointed assistant commissioner, commanding A branch. He was in charge of security during the state visit to Ireland by the US president John F. Kennedy in June 1963, and in 1967 he became deputy commissioner.
He succeeded Commissioner Patrick Carroll (qv) in September 1968, at a time when the Conroy commission on garda pay and conditions was seeking to update antiquated terms of police service for a modernising society. Already beset by discontent, voiced by the rank-based garda representative bodies (established 1962), and by near-rebellion at Dublin's Crumlin station in 1969, he faced a deepening border security problem, rising urban crime, and political agitation in line with international civil rights, peace, and propaganda movements. The Conroy report of January 1970 presented him with a root-and-branch model for new policing in Ireland, accurately described by Gregory Allen in The Garda Síochána (1999) as both a ‘Pandora's box’ and a revolution in garda history. Wymes presided over long-delayed reforms that previous commissioners, back to Eoin O'Duffy, had tried in vain to elicit from government. He was obliged to tackle every aspect of police life from training and the physical working environment to industrial relations, promotion, and especially pay, complicated by the introduction of garda overtime and government resistance to it. He played a limited role in implementing the reforms, but allowed the velvet-fisted representative bodies to ensure the government would deliver them, however reluctantly.
Wymes travelled throughout the state to witness personally progress or problems in policing as they emerged on the ground. He had to cope with a cross-border political emergency, starkly introduced to the Republic by the arms crisis of 1970, and to his force by the shooting dead of garda Richard Fallon (Dublin, 3 April 1970) and the booby-trap killing of Inspector Sam Donegan (Cavan, 8 June 1972), first of several such murders of garda members in the years to follow. He conducted the official ceremonies in 1972 marking the silver jubilee of the Garda Síochána, before retiring 1 January 1973, succeeded by a fellow Louthman, Patrick Malone (d. 2001). Wymes spent his retirement shooting, fishing and walking his dogs. Having lived successively at 58 Iona Road, Glasnevin, and at ‘Sullaune’, College Road, Castleknock, Co. Dublin, he died 19 December 1989, aged 81, at his daughter's home, Knockboyne House, Navan, Co. Meath, and was buried at St Enda's cemetery, Killanny, on the Monaghan–Louth border between Carrickmacross and Dundalk,
He married first (24 September 1935) Anne (Anna; d. 1961), daughter of James Devlin, deceased, of Rock Gate, Killanny, Dundalk, near the Monaghan border. He married secondly (1 August 1962) Jane (d. 1988), daughter of Thomas and Jane Coughlan of 58 Jones Road, Dublin. He was survived by his sons, Barry and Michael, and his daughter, Mary. His son Enda had died in 1982.