Capturing the Border Fox

“War brings circumstances with it that changes our normal concepts of morality. It’s a tough, dirty business, caused in the first instance by the filth of corruption.” – Dessie O’Hare

Dessie ‘The Border Fox’ O’Hare was, for a time, the most wanted man in Ireland. Bestowed on O’Hare by the media, his ‘Border Fox’ moniker was earned for successfully crossing the border undetected for years, evading arrest by the Gardaí and the RUC. He was so pleased with his title that in later years, during interviews, he would refer to himself in the third person by that nickname. A protagonist during the Troubles and known for violence, O’Hare was a Republican and staunchly on the armed struggle side of the fence, which would lead to a fall out with the IRA in later life as the movement and Sinn Féin progressed towards political means to unify the country. Born in Keady, Co. Armagh, a republican stronghold, O’Hare joined the IRA at the age of 16. He was from a dedicated and active Republican family; his grandmother served time in a British jail for housing Republicans and his father and six uncles were interned in the 1940s, one of his uncles dying while in an Isle of Man jail. Due to disciplinary issues, in the 1970s Dessie left the IRA and joined the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), soon finding himself in a senior position. Years later O’Hare found himself in constant turmoil with other leaders within the INLA. He decided to leave and create his own group, the Irish Revolutionary Brigade, with some of his most loyal followers joining him. 

Known for both violence and fundraising efforts throughout his life there was one event that made Dessie O’Hare a household name during the Troubles. On October 13, 1987, O’Hare led the INLA kidnapping of dentist Dr. John O’Grady. It was an act that would make him infamous and result in the longest fixed-term prison sentence ever handed down in the Republic for a non-capital murder offence. 

The gang kidnapped Dr O’Grady from his home in Cabinteely, Dublin, having gone there looking for the victim’s millionaire father-in-law, medical doctor Austin Darragh. However, Dr. Darragh had moved out and John O’Grady and his family had taken up residence in the house a number of years earlier. At the time Austin Darragh was a well-known doctor, appearing on radio shows such as the Gay Byrne Show; he was also a major shareholder in a leading pharmaceutical company. The intention was to hold him hostage until a £1.5 million ransom was paid.

In the end John O’Grady was held for 23 days, during which time the whole country watched in horror as the kidnap gang managed to evade Gardaí and remained at large with their hostage. Dr O’Grady was initially imprisoned in a Dublin basement before being moved to Cork, where he was held in a cargo container. Gardaí happened on the site but O’Hare and his gang escaped after opening fire and hijacking a car. The burnt-out car was later found in Dundalk. 

O’Hare moved Dr O’Grady to a house in Cabra, North Dublin. When ransom demands were not met, O’Hare cut off the little finger from each of O’Grady’s hands and sent them to Carlow Cathedral.

Garda detectives eventually traced the gang to the Cabra house where a shootout ensued. A Garda detective was seriously wounded and O’Grady was rescued but once again O’Hare and his gang escaped. O’Hare became the most wanted man in Ireland with the Gardaí offering a IR£100,000 reward for information on his whereabouts.

Two of the gang were arrested near Cahir, County Tipperary. Three weeks later on November 27, O’Hare was arrested when his car drove through an Irish Defence Forces checkpoint in Urlingford, County Kilkenny. O’Hare was shot eight times during the arrest, which was effected after a firefight, and the driver of the car, Martin Bryan, was killed. An Irish Army soldier was wounded in the affray. 

At his trial at the Special Criminal Court, O’Hare was convicted of false imprisonment, wounding with intent and possession of firearms, and received a 40-year sentence. After sentencing, he made a speech in which he called for support for the Irish Revolutionary Brigade, calling for Republicans to turn their guns on the Irish judiciary, prison service, Defence Forces and Gardaí. He concluded by declaring, “May all my deeds reverberate until bloody war is waged against the British and their southern allies”. He was sent to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison, where he was isolated by former IRA and INLA associates who accused him of bringing Republicanism into disrepute. In December 1987, the INLA’s political wing issued a statement disassociating themselves from the kidnapping and stating that O’Hare was no longer a member of the INLA having been removed from his position.

In 2008, Dessie O’Hare was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. However, upon his release he continued with his old ways and took up work collecting debts for individuals. In 2019 he was sentenced to seven years in prison for the 2015 assault of John Roche in Saggart, Co Dublin. He also pleaded guilty to falsely imprisoning Martin Byrne at Rathcoole and Saggart on the same date. It is believed that he was employed by Dublin businessman Jim Mansfield Jr to evict Mr. Byrne from his home. Dessie O’Hare turned up at the home with convicted murderer and former INLA member Declan Duffy. The judge remarked that O’Hare and Duffy would have been known to Martin Byrne and that their reputation would have preceded them and that is the reason they were employed to do the job. Both men are still in prison.

Shane Daly

Shane Daly is a History Graduate from University College Cork, with a BAM in History and an MA in Irish History.

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