Gardaí confirm Provisional IRA killed garda and soldier during Don Tidey kidnap

Patrick Kelly’s family call for end to ‘orchestrated nationwide campaign of misinformation’

The family of the only Irish soldier to be killed during the Troubles has called for an end to the “orchestrated nationwide campaign of misinformation” surrounding his death.

Private Patrick Kelly was killed alongside Garda Gary Sheehan by the Provisional IRA at a shoot out during the rescue of businessman Don Tidey in December 1983.

The pair were part of a search party which found the hideout in Derrada Woods outside Ballinamore, Co Leitrim where Mr Tidey was kept for most of the 23 days he was kidnapped by the IRA.

The gang ordered that a £5 million ransom be paid by Mr Tidey's employer, Associated British Foods (ABF), which then owned the Quinnsworth chain of supermarkets. The ransom was never paid and Mr Tidey was rescued.


Pte Kelly's son David Kelly said rumours have circulated from the beginning that his father was killed by "friendly fire" and this was designed to distract from the reality that the Provisional IRA had killed two members of the Irish security forces.

Gardaí have now shown the Kelly family evidence that the bullets which killed his father came from a Heckler & Koch assault rifle used by members of the gang.

“That is the weapon that killed my father and it was recovered eventually,” he said.

“The gardaí were able to match the bullets that the State Pathologist (Professor John Harbison) removed from my father’s body with the rifle.”

The case is subject to an ongoing review by Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll as part of the Serious Crime Review Team (SCRT).

He and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris met with the Kelly family in September to tell them that the evidence was incontrovertible that both their father and Garda Sheehan had been killed by the IRA.

In a statement to The Irish Times, An Garda Síochána said it " is satisfied there is sufficient evidence (physical, forensic and eye witness accounts) to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that fatal shootings of both Garda Sheehan and Private Kelly were not by firearms carried by either An Garda Síochána or the Irish Defence Forces.

“An Garda Síochána continues to keep the families of both Garda Sheehan and Private Kelly updated on this review.”

Friendly fire rumours

Mr Kelly said the rumours of friendly fire had being going on since the shooting which occurred on December 16th, 1983.

The Kelly family had received anonymous letters suggesting friendly fire and it had caused them a great deal of distress.

The gardaí appeared to be unaware of the strength of the rumours surrounding the case until he brought it to their attention.

“The official version of what has happened has been disputed by supporters of the Provisional movement. There was a campaign to erase it from history,” he said.

“It was to create an air of ambivalence around what happened that day to downplay or distract from the significance of what happened.

“I was never in any doubt myself that the gang opened fire as the young garda and my father came across the hideout. It was a burst of automatic gun fire.

“The gardaí and the army and the taoiseach [then Garret FitzGerald] said it at the time.

“It was so terrible what happened. It shocked the whole country. It goes back to the fact that they [the Provisional IRA] didn’t recognise the State or our security forces. Disparagingly they called it the 26 county forces. They claimed to be the true Irish army, they claimed the title Óglaigh na hÉireann.

“To kill an actual Irish soldier from the actual Irish army was so awful that they wanted to do anything they could to take away their responsibility for what they did.

“I have heard people say to me recently, ‘I have heard so many different stories. I don’t know what happened’ and that situation had to be addressed once and for all.”

The death of Private Kelly left his wife Katherine bring up their four sons, David, Michael, Patrick and Andrew, on their own. David was aged nine when his father was killed.

Mr Kelly said his mother never recovered from her husband’s death and died young.

In 2011, Mr Kelly confronted the then Sinn Féin presidential candidate Martin McGuinness in Athlone and told him he knew who the killers of his father was. Mr McGuinness denied the suggestion.

In 2008, Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, a former Maze escapee, was acquitted on charges on being in possession of a firearm and falsely imprisoning Mr Tidey.

His trial collapsed after gardaí lost items including a milk carton, a plastic container and a cooking pot – all of which, it was claimed, had his fingerprints on them.

His retrial at the non-jury Special Criminal Court in Dublin collapsed in 2008, when the prosecution said it would offer no further evidence after a court ruling that garda evidence was inadmissible.

Mr Kelly called on Mr McFarlane to make a public statement as to why his fingerprints had been found at the scene in Derrada Woods.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times