A crime boss who changed with the times
Eamon Kelly had witnessed the transformation of the underworld – and became a paid consultant to other criminals – before his murder this week
Eamon Kelly, the 65-year-old crime boss and father of nine who was shot dead on Tuesday, lived through changes in the criminal landscape that he couldn’t have imagined as a teenager.
He had come up in the era when hold-up-style bank robberies were common and gun murders infrequent. He survived into the cocaine-fuelled modern era, in which the criminal fraternity has morphed into a macho subculture where guns are commonplace and people are killed if they are even suspected of having wronged their fellow gang members.
Kelly, who had once worked as a labourer, began his crime career in the 1960s. His earliest convictions were for housebreaking and shopbreaking.
After initial brushes with the law he began to project an image of an upwardly mobile young businessman, eager to make his way in legitimate business. He became involved, with his brother Matt Kelly, in the Kelly’s Carpetdrome business, though it collapsed with huge debts in 1981.
At this time, republican bank robberies across the State were regular occurrences, and a heroin “epidemic” was sweeping Dublin, making certain crime families rich. But by the mid 1980s, with his carpet business wound up, as well as a property business he had been involved in, Eamon Kelly had joined his peers in carrying out major cash robberies.
At that time, still in his mid to late 30s, Kelly became known as a man who schooled and advised others engaged in major robberies. One of them was Gerry Hutch, who, like Kelly, was originally from Dublin’s north inner city. Hutch would go on to settle a multimillion-euro case with the Criminal Assets Bureau, which presented evidence in court claiming that he was linked to some of the biggest armed robberies in the State in the 1990s; two of those crimes netted almost £4 million.
Like Kelly, Hutch left the poor inner city to settle in a middle-class neighbourhood. He currently lives in Clontarf, less than a kilometre from the home outside which Kelly was shot this week in Killester.
Kelly was associating with figures in the Official IRA in the early 1980s and was jailed after stabbing a man in a row outside the Workers’ Party’s social club on Gardiner Street in Dublin’s north inner city.
When he came out of prison in the mid 1980s, Kelly, now a serious criminal with a bodyguard, once again stepped back into a crime scene dominated by IRA-fundraising bank robberies. By then, though, nonparamilitary gangs were finding their feet, despite the stifling influence of the Provisional IRA.
John Gilligan was specialising in robbing factories. Martin Cahill – “the General” – and his gang were proving successful at robbery-based enterprises, and the families that were among the first to corner the Dublin drugs market were continuing with their trade.
As the recession of the 1980s eased and yuppie culture reached Irish shores, Kelly decided to move into the fledgling cocaine market. His plans to develop an almost direct cocaine route from Colombia to Ireland via Miami, using a Cuban female drugs mule, were new to Ireland.
They were met by some equally pioneering Garda tactics. The force modified a van into a surveillance vehicle and used it to uncover Kelly’s plan. When he went to Jurys Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin, in September 1992 to collect £500,000 in smuggled cocaine, he was arrested and later jailed for 14 years.