The life and crimes of Dessie O’Hare, Border Fox
‘Dessie O’Hare's reputation alone would be enough to terrify most people’
Dessie O’Hare, who was jailed for seven years at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin for the violent attempted eviction of a man and his family from their home in Co Dublin in 2015. Photograph: Courtpix
When Dessie O’Hare cut off the tops of two of Dr John O’Grady’s fingers he used a hammer and chisel.
It was a savage attack ensuring he was depicted in the media as an especially crazed paramilitary – an INLA “mad dog” in the same vein as contemporary Dominic McGlinchey.
But he cut a very different figure sitting quietly on a bench outside the Special Criminal Court on Wednesday morning last week.
Now aged 62 and having developed interests in yoga and crafts, O’Hare has aged remarkably well. He was well groomed and smartly dressed.
He sat on his own on the landing of the Criminal Courts of Justice. The look of extreme worry on his face was the only aspect of his appearance to distinguish him from the plain clothes, middle-aged gardaí milling around.
It had been a while since the “Border Fox” had darkened the door of a courthouse -–31 years to be precise. Back then he was jailed for 40 years for his crimes against Dr O’Grady.
On Thursday he returned to hear his fate: a 10-year sentence with three suspended for the violent attempted eviction of a man and his family from their home in Co Dublin in 2015.
The court heard O’Hare told gardaí he was was working for businessman Jimmy Mansfield jnr when the gang assaulted and falsely imprisoned Martin Byrne who had worked for almost 20 years for the late Jim Mansfield snr. Mr Mansfield jnr has denied the claim.
While little has been heard of O’Hare since his release from prison in 2006, gardaí believe he has remained active in extortion and also applying menaces in collecting debts on behalf of people.
One Garda source said he was “something of an enforcer in the business world”, called in by clients to lean on people for various reasons, mostly because they owed money.
“When Dessie O’Hare turns up on your door demanding you pay up, his reputation alone would be enough to terrify most people,” said another Garda source.
O’Hare also ran a crafts business, using the skills he developed when in prison. He has made and sold items such as bodhráns, ceramics and wooden ornaments including clocks. All of his work features republican symbolism.
The bodhráns have featured mini-murals of terrorists and their deeds. His ceramics include Easter lilies stood over by a gunman with rifle and head bowed and his clocks feature hands in the colours of the Tricolour.
Living in Newtownhamilton, Co Armagh, in recent years, Garda sources say he has also done some farming for local people over the years, and had worked with people with disabilities on his release.
However, gardaí say he has also remained in contact with active dissident republicans, including those in the New IRA. And they say he was close to members of the main drugs gang in Finglas, Dublin, which was led by Marlo Hyland and Eamon Dunne, both since murdered.
He was also a close associate of gangland figure Eamon Kelly; carrying his coffin and speaking at his funeral in 2012 after Kelly (65) was shot dead outside his home in Killester, Dublin.
Back in 1988, O’Hare – dubbed the “Border Fox” for his ability to evade justice North and South – was jailed for two terms of imprisonment of 20 years, to be served consecutively, for the kidnapping of Dr O’Grady and mutilating him.
The Special Criminal Court in 1988 said O’Hare must serve the full sentence. However, he was released from Castlerea Prison, Co Roscommon, on Thursday, April 13th, 2006, under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.
O’Hare was the last of the State’s inmates to qualify for early release under the terms of the agreement.
He once shot at his wife when they argued over another man. And he was heavily involved in feuding within the INLA, and boasted to journalist Vincent Browne that he had been involved in the killings of 26 people.
Born on October 26th, 1956, O’Hare grew up in a strongly republican family in the Ballymacawley area of Keady, Co Armagh, and joined the Provisional IRA aged 16.
His grandmother served six months in a British prison for the offence of “keeping Republicans”. O’Hare’s father and six uncles were interned in the early 1940s, and one of his uncles died while interned on the Isle of Man.
In February 1977, he was found with Colt .38 special revolver and five rounds of ammunition in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan. He claimed at the time he had the gun as he feared he would be snatched and taken across the Border into the North by the SAS. Claiming to be 17 years old at the time, it appears the authorities did not realise he was in fact aged 20.
O’Hare’s barrister, Patrick MacEntee SC, argued to the court that if such a young man was sent to Portlaoise Prison he would be corrupted and radicalised. The court accepted the pointed and imposed a suspended sentence, though just 13 months later O’Hare repaid the court’s confidence in him by trying to murder a groom at his wedding.
The British army’s Gary Cass, a 23-year-old lieutenant at the time had just walked out of St Patrick’s Church in Trim, Co Meath, after marrying when O’Hare and an accomplice shot him twice in a murder attempt.
However, he was acquitted following a trial in which all the evidence was based on the visual identity of O’Hare, with the judge warning the jury that convictions on that evidence alone could be unsafe.
Just weeks later O’Hare was shot in the leg and hand in an IRA attack in south Armagh in which British soldiers were shot at on the street in Keady. This followed an attack on the nearby home off an off-duty prison officer, who returned fire with his legally-held firearm.
One of the men O’Hare was with was shot dead during the incidents, and the second, Eugene McNamee, was wounded. McNamee had been cleared alongside O’Hare of shooting the British soldier just after his wedding service.
At the time he was shot in south Armagh in June 1979, O’Hare’s relationship with the IRA was already strained. Indeed, from 1978 his allegiance appears to have switched back and forward between the south Armagh IRA and an INLA faction in the Dundalk area.
Less than four months after being shot and delivered to Monaghan Hospital in June 1979, O’Hare was shot again during another attack. This time, in October 1979, he and two other IRA men he was with were confronted by armed gardaí as they drove between Monaghan and Armagh in a car with a gun and ammunition.
They crashed into cattle in a field, and O’Hare ended up in hospital with two broken ankles and other injuries, while one of his accomplices was killed.
The following month he was brought before the Special Criminal Court and convicted for possession of the gun and bullets and sentenced to nine years.
At that time, November 1979, the RUC said after O’Hare’s conviction that they wanted to speak to him in connection with 26 murders of members of the security forces.
At an appeal hearing he tried to escape by bolting quickly from the accused’s bench in Cavan courthouse, jumping on to the clerk’s desk and then on to a balcony where he tried to jump out a window before being restrained by gardaí.
Just before he was arrested in 1979 he had become engaged to Clare Doyle, from Co Armagh but living in Castleblayney. They married in Portlaoise Prison the following year and shortly afterwards their daughter was born.
On release from prison in 1986 he fell back in immediately with the INLA in Dundalk. However, some gardaí at the time believed O’Hare at some level intended to leave the country with his wife and daughter.
And they believed his primary motive for engaging in extortion, armed robberies and kidnapping at that time was not to raise money for the INLA’s terrorism, but to access money he could use for himself – to leave Ireland and perhaps start a new life.
A number of now retired gardaí suspect O’Hare may have kidnapped Dublin dentist John O’Grady for personal, rather than terrorist, fundraising reasons, though O’Hare insisted in media interviews years later that the money from the kidnapping was to go to the INLA.
On his release from jail he became involved in an intense INLA feud between factions in Dundalk and Belfast. In an interview with the Sunday Tribune, O’Hare admitted involvement in the feud, saying he had killed and tortured Monaghan victim Tony McCluskey, whose fingers are believed to have been cut off before he was shot dead.
“I did not want him to die lightly,” O’Hare said, adding he had been determined to inflict “a hard death” on McCluskey.
When Mary McGlinchey, the wife of INLA man Dominic McGlinchey, was shot dead while bathing her children, O’Hare effectively had control over the Dundalk INLA, which numbered about two dozen active terrorists at the time.
He appeared to enjoy his status; carrying out killings and bank robberies and evading justice. And when some of the media began calling him the Border Fox, he began referring to himself by this moniker when issuing statements to the Garda.
On October 13th, 1987, O’Hare led the INLA kidnapping of Dr O’Grady 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 Dr Austin Darragh. However, Dr Darragh had moved out, and O’Grady and his family took up residence in the house a number of years earlier.
The intention was to hold Dr Darragh hostage until a £1.5 million ransom was paid. In the end Dr 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 remain at large with their hostage.
Dr O’Grady was eventually freed from a house in Cabra, Dublin, where he was being held. Despite have portions of two fingers hacked off by O’Hare using a chisel while his associates pinned the dentist to the ground and stood on his arms, he resumed his dental practice in south Dublin.
O’Hare escaped the scene, but was later tracked down to Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, where he was shot by an Army sniper and one of his accomplices was shot dead.
During the 23-day Garda hunt for the gang, O’Hare and his INLA men had engaged in gunfire with gardaí several times before escaping.
After being jailed for 40 years for the O’Grady kidnapping and torture, O’Hare was realised in 2006 on licence.