Soldier died during search for kidnap victim


BACKGROUND:Pte Patrick Kelly and Garda Gary Sheehan were killed when an IRA kidnap gang opened fire, writes PETER MURTAGH

THE INCIDENT that prompted David Kelly to confront Martin McGuinness yesterday happened on Friday, December 16th, 1983, when a gang of McGuinness’s IRA colleagues opened fire without warning, killing a soldier and a young trainee garda.

The soldier was David Kelly’s father, 35-year-old Pte Patrick Kelly, who served his country and the UN on peacekeeping duties in Lebanon and Cyprus. He was married to Katherine, whom he met at a dance in Moate, Co Westmeath, when she was 19. Together, they had four children – David and his three brothers, Michael, Patrick and Andrew.

The garda recruit who died was 23-year-old Gary Sheehan. From Kingscourt Road, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, he was the son of Det Garda Jim Sheehan and his wife, Margaret. He was one of four children, the others being his sisters Jennifer and Grania and brother David.

Gary Sheehan had been head boy at his school, the local Patrician Brothers High School, during his final year there and his name lives on in the Garda through the Gary Sheehan Memorial Medal, which is awarded to the best all-round recruit at Garda College.

Pte Kelly and Garda Sheehan were part of a search party of well over 1,000 gardaí and troops searching for Don Tidey, a supermarket executive kidnapped from near his home at Stocking Lane in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, on Thursday, November 24th, 1983. Tidey had been driving his 13-year-old daughter to school when an IRA gang posing as gardaí in uniform stopped his car. A gun was put to his head. He was taken out of his car and bundled into another, aided by a blow to his head from the butt of a gun.

After another vehicle change he ended up in Derrada Woods, a forest in Leitrim not far from Ballinamore. There he was held, with his legs manacled, his wrists handcuffed, a hood over his head, and at times chained to a tree. He was fed mainly bread and jam.

The kidnapping prompted a huge Garda hunt throughout the country. Tidey was a key business figure. He was chairman and chief executive, for the whole of Ireland, of Associated British Foods, owners of Quinnsworth supermarkets.

Apart from worry for Tidey himself, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government of Garret FitzGerald was deeply concerned at the potential knock-on effect of his kidnapping. The IRA demanded Associated British Foods pay it £5 million to free Tidey unharmed; the Government and company refused, fearing a rash of kidnappings if they did so.

Although Martin McGuinness claims to have left the IRA in 1974, few people believe him. Most analysts of the period, as well as security personnel on both sides of the Border, maintain he was a senior figure in the IRA throughout the early 1980s, almost certainly a member of its so-called army council, and therefore fully aware of those involved in the Tidey kidnapping.

His protestations of ignorance yesterday caused David Kelly to call him, quite simply, a liar. McGuinness denied the charge.

During Tidey’s captivity, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams was asked about the kidnapping and murder, by the IRA, of Edgar Graham, a 29-year-old Queen’s University law lecturer and Ulster Unionist Party member of the North’s then Assembly, which Sinn Féin boycotted. He was shot in the head and died instantly when two IRA gunmen walked up behind him as he stood on a path in Queen’s, talking to a colleague.

Speaking in Galway, Adams accused those who condemned the IRA for the murder of “crying crocodile tears” for Graham. Asked about Tidey, he refused to condemn the kidnapping.

“I would hope he’s released,” Adams said, adding: “but I think that’s a matter between his firm and the people, whoever they are, who have kidnapped him.”

Gardaí and troops were combing Derrada Woods on December 16th when, unknowingly, they came upon the gang’s hideout. The IRA opened fire without warning and threw a grenade. Pte Kelly and Garda Sheehan were killed instantly. Tidey, cynically made to look like one of the gang, found himself free as its members scattered.

The IRA members got away in a car, spraying automatic fire around them. Katherine Kelly and her children left Ireland after Pte Kelly’s murder and settled in London. Some of the children have since returned to Ireland.

In 2008, Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, a senior IRA figure and associate of McGuinness and Adams, was acquitted of the kidnapping.