Burglar who held screwdriver to neck of school principal jailed

Longford school board members speak of ‘utter fear and trepidation’ during robbery

A serial burglar who held a screwdriver to the neck of a primary school principal during an armed raid in Co Longford last year has been sentenced to three years in prison.

James Cranny (38), of Meadow Crest, Boyle, Co Roscommon, was sentenced at a sitting of Longford Circuit Criminal Court on Thursday morning following an incident at St Joseph's National School, Dublin Road, Longford, on August 27th, 2020.

Mr Cranny pleaded guilty to two charges of robbery, three charges of attempted robbery and one charge relating to the possession of a weapon contrary to the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990.

The court heard the accused had been in Dublin on the day of the offence where he consumed a “cocktail of drink and drugs” including almost 80 sleeping and Valium tablets before getting off a train in Longford shortly after 6pm.


Less than an hour later, Mr Cranny, who has 70 previous convictions for burglary, interrupted a board of management meeting at the school in a bid to steal money to try to procure more drugs.

The court heard the accused stormed into the building, shouting: "This is not a joke, I want €800." Armed with a screwdriver and pair of scissors, Mr Cranny approached principal Orla Egan and put a screwdriver to the right-hand side of her neck. After being told by Ms Egan she had no money, Mr Cranny turned his attention to solicitor and board of management chairperson Frank Gearty. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Mr Gearty handed Mr Cranny €100 and guided him towards the exit door.

In total, the accused stole €135 from Mr Gearty and a further €100 from fellow board member Beatrice Shanley. The court was told Ms Shanley took photographs of Mr Cranny during the heist while another board member and local priest, Fr James McKiernan "very cleverly and surreptitiously" contacted gardaí at the same time.

Ms Egan told a previous hearing: “Utter fear and trepidation engulfed me. Mr Cranny had the capacity to inflict serious injury.”

Ms Shanley said: “I can never erase the horror of our principal’s face as she realised what was happening.”

“The menacing look in his eyes terrified me.”

Mr Cranny, who his counsel Dara Foynes said had endured a "wretched life" with his "second home" being Mountjoy Prison, wrote letters of apology to each of his five victims. "It's not about what or who I rob, it's about getting my next fix," said Mr Cranny, who first became addicted to drugs aged 12. "What I did to threaten people was no excuse and I deserve what I get."

In determining sentence, Judge Keenan Johnson said the entire episode had clearly been a "very traumatising and unsettling experience" for each of the five board members present. Mr Johnson praised the swift and brave actions of Mr Gearty, Ms Egan and the board's three other members, saying St Joseph's NS were fortunate to boast such a "caring and committed" principal at its helm.

The judge said the holding of a screwdriver to the neck of Ms Egan was “extremely aggravating” and instilled a sense of fear in both Ms Egan and those present.

Mr Cranny’s early plea of guilt, his decision to write letters of apologies to each of his victims and his difficult upbringing in which both his parents were also addicted to drugs were all mitigating factors, he said.

He sentenced Mr Cranny to four years and six months in prison, suspending the final 18 months for a period of 10 years subject to a number of conditions. The sentence was backdated to January 4th, when Mr Cranny first went into custody.