Trading faces | 

'From Africa to Iceland, Norway to New Zealand, Rathkeale Rovers' Travellers have dealt in everything from tarmac to rhino horn'

Coronavirus restrictions has had an effect on the Rathkeale Rovers activities, but if anyone can make money during a pandemic they can.

Jeremiah and Michael O'Brien leaving Ennis circuit court in 2013.

Richard ‘Kerry’ O’Brien Snr outside his home in Rathkeale

House owners survey a botch-job in Bergamo, Italy

Rathkeale traders selling dodgy generators in Sydney, Australia, in 2008

Richard ‘Kerry’ O’Brien Jnr in 2004 at Bruges court

Sammy Buckshot.

Eamon Dillon

For a man who gave sworn evidence at a murder trial that he couldn't read, Sammy Buckshot did remarkably well as an antiques trader.

Buckshot, whose real name was Simon Quilligan, was the original Rathkeale Rover, capable of doing business anywhere in the world.

Extraordinarily gifted at spotting items worth thousands of euros, he was no ordinary antiques dealer and became a multi-millionaire.

His success inspired other Traveller traders from the Limerick town to find ways of making money, but not all stayed on the straight and narrow. By the time Buckshot died in 2015 at the age of 77, the Rathkeale Rovers had become infamous for trading in bogus electrical goods, smuggled cigarettes, classic cars, tarmacking and, most bizarrely of all - rhino horns.

Last week, a new scam was added to the list, as the Rathkeale Rovers were singled out by Europol as peddling fake coronavirus test certificates that allow people to travel.

The criminal element within the Rathkeale Traveller community work very hard at what they do, rarely missing a day to hustle for cash. Bogus Covid test certificates are simply the latest way to make money.

Driven by a sharp sense of rivalry among themselves, their Facebook pages are full of photos of a huge roll of cash with a caption such as "not bad for Monday morning". But the real displays of wealth are reserved for the annual Christmas pilgrimage home to Rathkeale at the wheel of a high-end car.

The festive season has seen the streets of Rathkeale lined with high-end Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes, collectively worth millions of euros.

Over the years, the Sunday World has tracked the various locations around the world where the Rathkealers have roamed and found themselves causing or getting into trouble.

In 2004, Belgian authorities had finally decided to crack down on people harassing truckers near their sea-ports to Britain who wanted packages of cigarettes and tobacco brought across the channel.

Several men from Rathkeale were convicted and jailed, including Richard 'Kerry' O'Brien Jr and Danny 'Turkey' O'Brien.

Richard ‘Kerry’ O’Brien Jnr in 2004 at Bruges court

It was the height of the so-called 'ant-smuggling' tobacco trade to the UK, where the higher duty meant that the hard-working ants could make as much as stg£7,000 a day. One older trader from Rathkeale complained that he couldn't get anyone to sell his suites of furniture because they were making too much from the 'baccy'.

In the boom years from 2000 to 2008, the Rathkealers made out like bandits as up to 25 tarmacking crews knocked on doors all over Europe and beyond.

It's a business model that is not restricted by cultural differences or language barrier and the Rathkeale hawkers can sell you a line in just about every European language.

I watched Claudio's face fall as our interpreter explained we were tracking a tarmacking gang that were ripping off customers.

The fireman in Bergamo, northern Italy, said he had paid them €7,000 and his neighbour a similar amount to have their shared driveway surfaced.

The Sunday World's story and the activities of the 'asfaltaris Irlandese' later made the TV news in Italy.

In Germany they're known as 'teerkolonne' and as 'les faux bitumeurs' in France.

Another crew made fools of themselves when tarmacking in South Africa when they posted a video of their crew racially abusing one of the black workers they'd hired to do the heavy lifting.

The tarmackers have turned up in the most unlikely of places including Chile, Colombia, Mexico and all over north America.

One Romanian businessman complained how a Rathkeale crew had taken his rental construction machinery and never returned.

Norwegian police reported how the tarmackers had turned up in all but one of their 27 police districts.

One Rathkealer came to the attention of police on an island off Iceland and others were robbed at knife-point in New Zealand.

In 2009, Australian authorities made a point of driving a bulldozer over shoddy electrical generators that were hawked from Darwin to Sydney by Rathkeale traders.

Rathkeale traders selling dodgy generators in Sydney, Australia, in 2008

Dozens were arrested but left before any prosecutions took place.

Some 'Rovers' with connections to the antiques trade found a lucrative niche in the illegal practice of buying and selling rhino horns.

A spate of museum break-ins all over Europe and attempts to buy rhino horns in the United States saw 'The Dead Zoo Gang' in full flow.

Sought by the rich elites of Vietnam and China, a kilo of rhino could command up to €60,000.

The rhino horn stolen from a storage warehouse used by the Natural History Museum was likely worth €150,000 on the black market.

Richard 'Kerry' O'Brien Jr ended up behind bars again this time in Denver, Colorado, after a sting operation by special agents from US Parks and Wildlife service.

His cousin Richard Sheridan was another of the half a dozen Rathkealers to be jailed in the US for attempts to trade in rhino horns.

O'Brien Jr, Sheridan and 'Turkey' O'Brien were also among 14 people convicted in the UK of conspiracy to steal museum artefacts.

Richard 'Kerry' O'Brien Sr, who had been arrested during the operation but not charged has been the target of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Richard ‘Kerry’ O’Brien Snr outside his home in Rathkeale

He is not the only Rathkeale Rover targeted by CAB; others have had vehicles seized by Revenue and face legal wrangles with local authorities over houses and yards built without the correct permissions.

Coronavirus restrictions has had an effect on the Rathkeale Rovers activities, but if anyone can make money during a pandemic they can.


  • The original Rathkeale Rover antique dealer Sammy Buckshot at his shop, in Adare, Co. Limerick.
  • Bruges, 2004: Richard 'Kerry' O'Brien jr was convicted of cigarette smuggling along with his brother-in-law Danny 'Turkey' O'Brien.
  • Sydney, Australia: A group of Rathkeale traders selling electrical generators in the summer of 2008.
  • Brohers Jereiah and Michael O'Brien caught with €500,000 worth of rhino horn flying into Shannon from Portugal.
  • Bergamo, Italy: A householder shows us the botch job done by a Rathkeale tarmac crew in 2010.
  • Richard O'Bren Jr, arrested in Colorado later convicted of illegally trading in rhino horns in 2010.
  • Rhino horns reported stolen throughout 2010 until 2013 in France, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, England and Ireland.
  • Operation Griffin sees 19 arrests in 2013 that leads to convictions of 14 people, including Richard O'Brien Jr, Richard Sheridan and Danny 'Turkey' O'Brien.
  • After launching Operation Oakleaf in 2011, Europol again singled out the Rathkeale Rovers this week over the selling of fake Covid test result certificates.

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