Dan Ahern, a man I spent many hours sitting in a patrol car with, had passed away. I was completely stunned because I didn’t even know he was ill.
We worked together for a few years and always got on well. He was a solid, reliable character and I always knew he’d be there if I needed him.
It used to be the case that uniformed gardaí carried nothing but a timber baton for protection. They have something more substantial now, but the pieces of hickory we had didn’t offer much protection, so it was important to have a dependable partner beside you if things got a bit sticky.
I remember one night, back in the eighties, we were on patrol together when things went a little pear- shaped. On those occasions, you couldn’t have a better person by your side than Dan. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was broad shouldered and as strong as a bull.
We were out in Watergrasshill, which in those days was part of the Blarney garda district, so we had to patrol that area as well. Blarney was later downgraded and Gurranabraher became the headquarters station.
We were travelling the back roads around midnight when we got a radio message that a wanted man, Dominic McGlinchey, had driven through an armed checkpoint near Silversprings Hotel in Tivoli, heading east.
That got our attention because this guy had been on the run in Cork for a few weeks and he was highly dangerous.
For those of you who have never heard of Dominic ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey, let me give you some background information, courtesy of the journalist, Cormac Looney.
McGlinchey was the head of the extreme group, the Irish National Liberation Army, and he was on the run in the Republic for 18 months. He and his gang were rampaging around the country, pursued by gardaí.
‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey claimed to have killed 31 people, including a child, and was wanted for the murder of a 77-year-old woman, Hester Mullan, in Derry, after his fingerprint was found on the roof of the car used by her killers.
In 1983, he tortured and murdered fellow INLA man, Eric Dale, from Armagh believing he had slept with his wife, Mary. He was insanely jealous and believed Mary had an affair while he was in Portlaoise Prison previously.
McGlinchey’s killing spree continued. After one murder, when he shot a man through the back of the head as he sat watching television, he slit his throat and drained his body of blood to make it lighter to carry, before dumping it near the border in a secret grave.
On another occasion, McGlinchey and his henchmen tortured an INLA man for hours, roasting him on an Aga cooker.
He also became heavily involved in smuggling and extortion in the border area. Now, ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey was in Cork with his gang,
They were heavily armed with automatic assault rifles, a pump-action shotgun and handguns.
On two occasions McGlinchey’s car was stopped at garda checkpoints and on both occasions, they overwhelmed gardaí with their firepower.
At Cobh, McGlinchey allegedly had to restrain his wife, Mary, after she threatened to murder two gardaí.
The gang robbed a bank in Foynes and were eventually located at a house in Newmarket.
As teams of detectives approached the house, McGlinchey opened fire from an upstairs window.
A gun battle ensued as firing continued from inside the house. In the exchange, a detective was hit in the shoulder.
They forced their way into the house and McGlinchey then called for a priest and surrendered after the priest arrived.
While McGlinchey was in prison in 1987, gunmen burst into his family home and murdered Mary as she was bathing her children. They shot her nine times in the head.
McGlinchey was released in 1993. A broken man, he still tried to fall in with criminals in Dublin and the border area, but they betrayed him to his former INLA enemies, and they shot him dead in Drogheda the following year.
So that gives you some idea of what we were dealing with in Watergrasshill all those years ago when this gang was on the run in Cork.
Dan and I were driving along this narrow road, in the middle of nowhere, when we came across a car abandoned in the middle of the road.
The lights were on and all the doors were wide open but there was no sign of anyone. I think the engine was still running.
Both of us had our two little batons so we were not about to tackle these characters. We had no idea where they were anyway. For all we knew they could have been watching us from a ditch, so we beat a hasty retreat.
Dan was behind the wheel and, in fairness to him, he was a very good driver. He slapped the patrol car into reverse and I was lucky I didn’t get whiplash from the speed he went up the road, not knowing whether we were driving into danger or away from it.
As it happened, they were gone but we weren’t to know that.
The whole incident only lasted a couple of minutes, but it was a bit frightening.
It was one of those occasions where I was glad I was sitting beside Dan Ahern.