On Tuesday, 10 May at 7pm on RTÉ ONE, the first in a two part special for the first time in its 18 years on air, Scannal tells the story of O' Grady Kidnapping and the Border Fox.
In October/November 1987 the kidnapping of unknown dentist, John O'Grady, by the Border Fox was played out in the media for over 40 days. It’s a brutal story of a brutal time in the shadow of the troubles, that involves cockups from both the criminals and the gardaí, shoot outs and high-speed chases across the country, graphic violence and death.
"What do you mean there was nothing under the statues? I just sent word to my men to chop off two of his fingers." – Dessie O'Hare
In October 1987 the whole country was gripped by an event that was played out in the media for over 40 days. The two main protagonists were a former terrorist known as the Border Fox and an unknown dentist. Over the course of those weeks the whole country came to know the name of that unknown dentist, John O’Grady, and the violent gang-leader, Dessie O’Hare, who kept him captive. For the first time in 18 seasons, Scannal, in a two-part special, tells the story of the kidnapping of John O’Grady. It’s a brutal story from a brutal time in the shadow of the Troubles, that involves a high-profile kidnapping, mistakes on the part of both the criminal gang and the Gardaí, shoot outs and high-speed chases across the country, graphic violence and death.
On the 15th October 1987, it was reported in the media that the kidnapping had taken place of a Dublin dentist from his home in Cabinteely, Dublin. Two days earlier a gang had forced their way into the house and subjected John O’Grady and his family to a terrible ordeal. The next morning John O’Grady is taken, and his wife Marise is told not to contact the Gardaí, so she rings her father and tells him that for the safe return of her husband, the gang want a ransom of £300,000 paid.
Dr. Austin Darragh was a prominent and well-known businessman of the time and a regular contributor to the Gay Byrne Show on RTÉ radio. The gang had intended to kidnap Austin and not his son-in-law but Dr Darragh had not lived at that address for many years since his daughter and her husband had moved in. The doctor rang his son Dave Darragh and they went to the Gardaí to inform them. On the evening of the 14th the Gardaí went to the O’Grady house, and after being shown a series of photos Marise O’Grady without hesitation recognized Dessie O’Hare as one of the men. O’Hare was a well-known paramilitary who had joined the IRA at 16 and had recently been released from Portlaoise prison. The Gardaí could understand why the family wanted to pay the ransom but to pay a ransom was illegal in Ireland.
The following day the media started to report on the kidnapping, and the whole country became witnesses to the dramatic events. The family, the Gardaí and the country waited for news as the kidnappers were slow to make contact. Roadblocks were set up around the country at locations that the Gardaí felt the Border Fox and his gang would take O’Grady. Over the next 6 weeks children were told to go to bed or the Border Fox would get them, as the Gardaí went door to door across the country looking for information.
On Monday 26th October Gardaí were informed that armed men were seen at a container in a field in Ballymacsliney, near Middleton in Cork. Some unarmed Gardaí from Middleton barracks drove out to investigate. When they arrived at the container, they became suspicious and left to get back up, without leaving anyone to keep watch, or organizing a roadblock around the area.
It transpired that the gang had seen the Gardaí when they first arrived and immediately went into action to get themselves and O’Grady out of the area. When armed Gardaí arrived back, the gang were already making good their escape, shooting their way out and hijacking vehicles.
On Thursday 29th October Dessie O’Hare contacts Hilary Prentice, a solicitor friend of O’Grady, his first communication since the kidnapping over 15 days earlier. He gave instructions to go to Limerick Cathedral to pick up a ransom note. He said the note would be left under a statue of Our Lady at the thirteenth Station of the Cross. The family sent a family friend the next day but could not find the note. O’Hare’s gang had made a mistake: they’d left the note under a statue of St Theresa instead.
On the 3rd November O’Hare rang Prentice for an update and became outraged when she said they had not found any ransom note. In the call he told Prentice that he was going to chop off O’Grady’s fingers – and if the ransom wasn’t paid he would then chop him up into little pieces. The audio of this phone call features in the programme and gives a horrific insight into the type of character the family were dealing with.
"….now I’m going to chop him into bits and pieces and send fresh lumps of him every fxxxxing day if I don’t get my money fast."
After the call O’Hare bought a hammer and chisel in a hardware store and returned to where O’Grady was being kept. He forced O’Grady to write a new ransom note, now demanding £1.5 million in ransom money, and then chopped off O’Grady’s little fingers with the hammer and chisel. He then rang Hilary Prentice again and told her that there was a new ransom note in Carlow Cathedral.
When the Gardaí got to Carlow Cathedral they found three envelopes: one with the ransom note; one with pictures of O’Grady holding up his severed hand; and one with the tops of his two little fingers. Dr Austin Darragh and his son Dave told the Gardaí that, although they know it was against the law, the family were going to pay the ransom.
Family friend Fr Brian D’Arcy was the person asked by the family to act as the intermediary and travel to an agreed location with the cash. But events would take another dramatic turn: on Thursday 5th November on the same day that Fr Brian D’Arcy was bringing the £1.5 million to the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork, two Garda detectives travelled to Dublin to follow up on a lead from the Garda search of the container in near Middleton, one of the locations where O’Grady had been kept.
A pass for the Guinness Leisure Centre that was found there had led them to an address in Dublin. But they had no idea what they were about to find.
Scannal’s retelling of this incredible story over two episodes features, among others, first-hand testimony from Dave Darragh, son of intended kidnap victim Dr Austin Darragh and brother-in-law to John O’Grady, who has spoken only rarely about the ordeal, and Darragh family friend, Fr Brian D’Arcy, who was told by the Gardaí that on delivering the ransom, there was a high chance he might not come out alive.
Part One airs Tuesday, 10 May at 7pm on RTÉ ONE
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