Bravery medals for gardaí who tackled armed kidnappers

Two detectives helped free a family held hostage by gang at Cork house in 2005

Two Cork-based gardaí who tackled an armed gang and helped free a family held in a "tiger kidnapping" are to be honoured with Scott Medals for bravery.

Det Garda John McDonagh and Det Garda Joe Young were on duty in Cork on May 2nd, 2005 when they responded to a call from Sgt Gary McPolin that his sister-in-law, Katie O'Donovan, her husband Gary and their four children, were being held hostage by an armed gang in their home.

The masked men, armed with a Colt revolver and a 60KV stun gun, knocked Ms O’Donovan to the ground when she answered the door at around 9pm. She was six months pregnant at the time.

They then held her and her four children at gun point Mr O’Donovan, who owned a chain of off-licences, returned home at 10pm.


When Mr O’Donovan saw Gaffey pointing a gun at his wife he “went” for him and almost managed to get the gun off him before Clarke zapped him with the stun gun, forcing him to release Gaffey.

Mr O’Donovan then tackled Clarke and had almost got the stun gun off him before Gaffey hit him a number of blows on the head with the handgun, fracturing his skull and causing him to bleed profusely.

A third raider also came to the house and Mr O'Donovan was told that he had to go to his off-licence headquarters in Little Island the next day and collect the takings or his wife and children would be killed.

One raider then took Ms O’Donovan upstairs while another guarded Mr O’Donovan after hooding him and tying his hands.

Fell asleep

However this raider fell asleep and Mr O’Donovan managed to free himself, escape from the house and raise the alarm.

Det Garda McDonagh, now retired, recalled how he and Det Garda Young, now working as a Det Sgt in Cork, responded to the emergency call.

“I remember meeting Gary O’Donovan battered and beaten with blood all over him. He told us what happened and we took up positions outside the house, hidden behind the wall. When the gang realised Mr O’Donovan had escaped, they just took off running,” he recalled

“We confronted them - one of them, Gaffey had a handgun, a Colt 45 fully loaded. The other fellow, Clarke had something in his hand but we didn’t know at the time what it was but it turned out to be a Taser,” he recalled.

“I stood out and just faced Gaffey down and roared at him: ‘Drop the weapon’ and thanks be to God, he did. Joe came in and tackled Clarke who had the Taser and he managed to disarm him and with support from some uniform lads, we were able to arrest both.”

Pleaded guilty

Clarke and Gaffey later pleaded guilty to falsely imprisoning the O’Donovans and of threatening to kill Mr O’Donovan and two firearms offences. Clarke was sentenced to 20 years and Gaffey to 12 years.

Clarke, a native of west Belfast but living at the time at John St in Cork had previous convictions from Northern Ireland, including one for attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, firearms offences, nine for explosives, two for kidnapping and IRA membership.

Gaffey, from Clountygoura Court, Dundalk, Co Louth, had pleaded guilty to the offences at the outset of the trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court but Clarke only pleaded guilty some nine days into the case before the jury and judge Patrick Moran.

Mr McDonagh, a native of Kells in Co Meath told The Irish Times this week he was both honoured and humbled to receive the medal and was glad his father, Tony, a retired Garda, would be able to attend the ceremony at Dublin Castle on Wednesday with his family.

"My father was more delighted than I to get this award. He was a guard in Kells and my grandfather John, who was from Oughterard in Galway and died two weeks after I joined the guards in 1984, was in the second group to join the guards in 1922. So I'm the third generation of my family to serve.

Det Sgt Young paid tribute to his colleagues who helped on the night.

“It’s nice to get recognition and it’s a great honour for me and my family but I think of the O’Donovan family and the horrific ordeal that they were put through that night so it’s bitter-sweet in that regard.

"And I think too of my other colleagues who acted with tremendous courage on the night, the likes of Gary McPolin, Sean O'Donoghue,Dan Lucey and others."

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times