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'Border Fox' Dessie O'Hare mutilated his kidnap victim far worse than previously known, new show reveals

Dr John O’Grady's brother-in-law has spoken about the horror kidnapping that shocked the nation in 1987

Eugene Masterson

Kidnap victim John O’Grady’s fingers were mutilated by Dessie O’Hare much more severely than people realise, his brother-in-law has revealed.

David Darragh - a brother-in-law of Dr O'Grady - said a number of 'urban myths' have sprung up around the brutal events which shocked the country in 1987.

Dentist John O'Grady was kidnapped by the INLA who were looking for ransom money to be paid for his release.

It is believed that David's father, businessman Austin Darragh, was the original target of 'Border Fox' Dessie O'Hare and his gang.

When O’Hare’s demands were not met he rang solicitor, and O’Grady family friend, Hillary Prentice and told her the tops of two of the dentist’s little fingers could be found in Carlow cathedral and more of his body would be chopped up if they were not listened to.

“There are a number or urban myths I want to get off my chest,” David Darragh says.

“First of all, this concept that John lost the tips of his fingers really, really tires me.

Dr John O’Grady

"Because the thing is - it was far more than the tips of his fingers..

"They were down to there (he gestures to stumps) and I haven’t big fingers, so John had.

"So those two were gone and it was as a result of the ransom note which they had written being misplaced by them that John lost his fingers.”

Dr O'Grady came to national prominence when he was dragged from his home in Cabinteely, Dublin in front of his wife Marise Darragh and their family, on October 13, 1987, by O'Hare and his gang, a cell of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

INLA chief O'Hare was a dangerous and volatile paramilitaries who had been involved in shootings on both sides of the border.

The dentist never spoke afterwards of his 23-day ordeal at the hands of the terrorist and his gang during which parts of two of his little fingers were severed.

The kidnappers initially demanded IR300,000 before upping the stakes to IR£1.5 million in cash for his safe return.

David Darragh recalls on RTÉ’s Scannal the turmoil which engulfed his family when his father called him over to his house.

Dessie O'Hare

At the time Austin Darragh was a well-known doctor, appearing on radio shows such as the Gay Byrne Show, and was also a major shareholder in a leading pharmaceutical company.

He had given the house he used live in Cabinteely to his daughter and her husband, unknown to the kidnappers.

“I came down about 4.30 and I walked into the room and he said ‘I’ve got news for you’.

"I said ‘really’ ‘Your sister has been on the phone and says John has been kidnapped’. I went ‘oh, what?’,” recalls David.

Dessie O’Hare was jailed for seven years last year. Photo: Gerry Mooney

“He [Austin Darragh] knew he was a target. His name was over the door of the house.

"His name was over the door of the business. John had nothing to do with any of it. It was a no-brainer that we knew he was the target, we knew that from day one, we knew that from the first 30 seconds.”

When the kidnappers realised, they had John they attempted to meet Austin.

“I said ‘if he’s kidnapped, they obviously want you, they don’t want John’,” recollects David.

“So maybe this is a ruse to get you out there. So, we debated what we would do for a little while, so after about 20 or 25 minutes we decided that I think we better head to Irishtown.

“There was a football match on in Lansdowne road. I wasn’t sure whether the police station in Harcourt Terrace was opened.

"So, we headed up there. We met a detective there who, funnily enough, recognised my father and within half an hour we had all sorts of detectives around, giving details.

“I gave them details of John’s car. That’s when the whole thing kicked off. They then found the car and realised there had been a kidnapping.”

The gang was almost caught when Gardai became suspicious of a container in Co Cork, but after inspecting it they left only for the hiding gang to flee.

“I’ll be very honest with you.

"At the time I would have been quite annoyed about it and would have had concern about competence in the Guards.

Dr John O’Grady never spoke of the 23-day kidnapping

"But, as time has gone, an Garda Siochana at that time they were constantly looking for more money and more resources. I wasn’t happy, but I know why it happened,” admits David.

The family were told a message would be left under a statue of Our Lady in Limerick Cathedral.

“We decided we would send my father’s chauffeur because he was a very good guy at keeping his mouth shut.

"Then we sent a very good friend of my mother’s called Betty Dunne. She sat on our ethics committee and she would have been in the way of identifying statues in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do,” remembers David.

“When they arrived at the cathedral in Limerick, she went as instructed to the statue of the Blessed Virgin and a piece of paper was found there, which was decoded and it was a novena as Gaeilge.

Dessie O’Hare

"We couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.”

A furious O’Hare rang Hillary Prentice.

"It just cost John two of his fingers, now I'm going to chop him into bits and pieces and send fresh lumps of him every f**king day if I don't get my money fast,” said O’Hare.

Parts of Dr O’Grady’s little fingers on both his hands were severed with a hammer and chisel and left in a bloodied package in Carlow Cathedral as a warning of their intentions to further harm him if the money was not forthcoming.

“We were all brought over to the offices of her law firm I don’t know why that happened particularly. That was quite distressing for her, an awful, an awful phone call….,” says a visibly upset David, recalling the tape of the phone call made by O’Hare to Hillary Prentice.

Sunday World columnist Fr Brian D'Arcy acted as an intermediary with the terrorists as Dr Darragh frantically tried but failed to raise the necessary cash.

The gang moved Dr O'Grady to different locations in Dublin and Cork before he was finally freed by gardai on November 5, 1987, after a shoot-out in the Cabra suburb of Dublin during which one of his rescuers was shot and injured.

O'Hare had already left the scene before gardai arrived and after a dramatic car chase in the follow-up operation he was stopped at a roadblock near Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, during which his associate Martin Bryan was shot dead and O'Hare was injured by an army sniper.

The terrorist subsequently pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges, which meant that Dr O'Grady did not have to give evidence of his ordeal.

Dessie O'Hare was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. He was given extended temporary release in 2006 by order of the High Court under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Border Fox is currently back behind bars in Portlaoise Prison where he is serving a seven-year sentence for false imprisonment.

He never apologised to Dr O'Grady or his family for the kidnapping. Dr Darragh died at his home near the Hill of Tara in Co Meath in October 2015 at the age of 88.

Dr O'Grady later died from cancer at the Blackrock Clinic in September 2016 at the age of 67.

- Scannal RTÉ 1 Tuesday RTE1 7pm

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