Pearse McAuley: A violent terrorist with a lengthy record

Republican met future wife while jailed for killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe

While now beginning a long prison term for an act of extreme domestic violence that left his estranged wife lucky to survive, Pearse McAuley (50) became notorious for his terrorist activities.

While never convicted of murder, the former Provisional IRA man was a member of the gang that killed Det Garda Jerry McCabe in a botched armed raid in 1996.

Det McCabe was shot dead and his partner Det Garda Ben O'Sullivan left wounded and critically ill when an IRA gang opened fire on their car as they were providing an armed escort for a van delivering money to a post office in Adare, Co Limerick, on June 7th, 1996.

The killing, in which AK 47s were used, occurred just four months after the breakdown of the first IRA ceasefire.


McAuley, originally from Strabane, was convicted before the Special Criminal Court in 1999 of Det McCabe's manslaughter along with Limerick men Jeremiah Sheehy, Michael O'Neill and Kevin Walsh.

McAuley was on the run from both the British and Irish authorities at the time of the attack in Adare and when sentenced he and Walsh were jailed for 14 years for Det McCabe’s killing.

The two men were released in 2009 after serving their full sentences. Sheehy and O’Neill were released before them, having been jailed for 12 and 11 years respectively.

Early release

Sinn Féin made repeated efforts to secure the men’s early release under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. Though they served their full terms, the conditions they were kept in while in jail were regarded as contentious.

They were held in an area on the Castlerea Prison campus called The Grove, where prisoners lived in houses rather than cells. They were also free on occasion to order food from takeaways in the locality, a privilege that drew constant criticism.

In 2003, McAuley and the three other convicted men were pictured in the jail with four Sinn Féin TDs visiting them; Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Seán Crowe, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Martin Ferris.

The publication of the photograph in republican weekly newspaper An Phoblacht drew criticism from across the political system.

Earlier in 2003, McAuley was granted temporary release to marry Pauline Tully, a school teacher from Cavan and Sinn Féin member of Cavan County Council.

They began their relationship while McAuley was in jail. Ms Tully was part of a Sinn Féin delegation that visited the men and married McAuley within months of first meeting him on the visits.

After his full release the couple settled in the house in Kilnaleck, Co Cavan, where McAuley would stab the mother of two 13 times on Christmas Eve last year.

McAuley first sprang to real public prominence when he pulled off a daring prison escape in England in 1991 while awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

On July 7th, 1991, he had escaped from Brixton Prison along with cellmate Nessan Quinlivan. He was being held on charges of conspiring to cause explosions and in connection with a plan to murder a British brewery company chairman.

The two men had been arrested in October 1990, at Stonehenge in connection with the murder plot. And when 70lbs of Semtex explosives was found in northwest London the following month, they were linked to it and also charged in connection with it.

‘Hit list’

During the trial of other men in London in 1992, the Old Bailey heard the IRA active service unit McAuley and Quinlivan were members of had drawn up a "hit list" of prominent British figures.

They had also gathered intelligence on them, including their photographs.

The list included former Northern Ireland secretaries James Prior and Roy Mason, who both became Lords, as well as Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Mason. Thirteen members of the British armed forces were also on the list, including General Sir Richard Trant, the former commander of land forces in the North.

While being held in Brixton Prison, McAuley and Quinlivan managed to escape after McAuley produced a firearm from his shoe as he and Quinlivan were being taken back to their secure unit having attended Mass.

A number of shots were fired during the escape and one man was injured.

McAuley fled to the Republic, where he was later arrested on foot of an extradition attempt by the British authorities. However, he fought the extradition and was granted bail, which he skipped just four months before the attack in Adare, after which he was immediately arrested and held in prison until his trial three years later.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times