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Irish Crime Boss: Martin "The General" Cahill


By David Amoruso

Martin Cahill was one of Ireland’s most notorious crime bosses. He and his crew were mostly involved in robberies, some of which netted them millions of pounds sterling. And a select few of those, put him on the radar of every cop in Ireland and the United Kingdom. As his notoriety grew, so did his paranoia and violent behavior. But it wasn’t until he stood up against the IRA, that he met his demise.

Martin Cahill was born on May 23, 1949. His father was a laborer, who later got a job as a lighthouse keeper. His mother stayed at home to look after the kids. The family lived in the inner city slums of Dublin. Cahill’s father had trouble earning enough money to support his large family, and would frequently come home drunk. His father’s drunk behavior set young Martin Cahill straight, as he never drank alcohol during his adult life. With his father unable to provide for his family, Cahill started thinking about life. His father was an honest hardworking man, but had nothing to show for it. He would do things different and, more importantly, earn more money.

Together with his brothers John, Eddie, Anthony, Michael and Paddy, Martin Cahill started committing burglaries. These burglaries resulted in his first arrest at age twelve for larceny. He got off with a warning. The warning did not slow down young Cahill. It seemed to encourage him as he continued his criminal behavior. After several more arrests he was eventually convicted of two burglary charges and was sentenced to one month of detention in Marlboro House Glasnevin. It would be his first time being locked up away from his parents. It failed to make him switch career paths. He would be sent to several juvenile institutions in the years to come.

By 1967 Cahill was considered a professional burglar. He and his brothers worked at night. Operating from their home and headquarters in the Hollyfield buildings in Rathmines, a suburb on the southside of Dublin. During the early 1970s, Cahill teamed up with another group of criminal brothers named Dunne. The Dunnes were skilled armed robbers, and it wasn’t long before the Cahill brothers were involved in a new staple of organized crime.

Even though Cahill (right) was a very successful gangster. Making thousands of pounds doing burglaries and robberies, he still lived in the slums of Hollyfield. It was the only place where he felt safe and protected. Proof of this was the fact that he had bought a large Mercedes and Harley Davidson motorcycle, which he parked right outside his home. The two vehicles stood out like a sore thumb and if they were owned by anyone else they would’ve been stolen or demolished. But people knew the owner was Martin Cahill, and by then that name meant something to those living in the area.

Though Cahill was considered a big threat to society, no one in law enforcement expected him to take a shot at one of them. But that is exactly what he did when they came close to convicting him.

Dr. James Donovan was the head of the forensic science laboratory. He was very good at what he did and thanks to his work many Dublin criminals received prison sentences. Two of those criminals were Anthony and Eddie Cahill. And Donovan was closing in on Martin as well.

On January 29, 1981 Martin Cahill and Christy Dutton robbed Quintin Flynn Ltd. The company was involved in sale and hire of computer games. The two men left with 5,724.47 pounds sterling and rode off on a Kawasaki motorcycle. Not long after they were apprehended by police while they were walking on the street. At the station, officers from the technical bureau took their helmets, gloves, and jackets. Since Cahill and Dutton were not in possession of the loot or motorcycle forensic experts had to connect them to those. And Donovan was the man who found the evidence.

Cahill was worried sick. He started contemplating several plans and eventually settled for a bomb. The IRA was using those, and had much success. On January 6, 1982 Dr Donovan was driving to work, when an explosion destroyed his car. But Dr Donovan survived the blast. Cahill’s plan was about to backfire.

Irish police started an investigation which led them to Cahill. After the failed hit attempt, Cahill didn’t lay low, matter of fact he had committed an armed robbery a day before cops picked him up in connection to the bombing of Dr Donovan. But there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Cahill with the bombing. And to make matters worse for authorities, Cahill was acquitted of the Quintin Flynn Ltd. robbery as well. He was on his way to becoming the most feared and dangerous gangster in Ireland.

And he did his best to let everyone know that he wasn’t a man to be fucked with. In his excellent book The General author Paul Williams details a story about the time Cahill felt he had been shorted by a member of his gang.

Cahill and an associate pulled the man off the street and dragged him into their car. They then drove to a dilapidated house near the Hollyfield Buildings. Upstairs the suspected thief was questioned about the missing loot. Williams writes: “At first Cahill and the lieutenant gave the terrified gang member a few slaps. When he wasn’t forthcoming with what Cahill considered the truth, the man was pinned to the floor. […] The man replied that he had done nothing. Cahill then stapled each of his fingers to the floor.” The torture and interrogation went on for hours. At one point Cahill also hammered six inch nails into the victim’s hands.

When the man continued to claim innocence, Cahill believed him. He then brought him to the hospital. Afterwards, he allegedly said: “People remember pain. A bullet through the head is too easy. You think of the pain before you do wrong again.”

While other robbers made a switch and became more involved in drug dealing, Cahill continued his illustrious career and hatched bigger and bolder plans. In 1983 Cahill and his gang robbed O’Conner’s jewelers in Dublin and got away clean with a loot valued at 2 million pounds sterling. In 1986 Cahill executed the second biggest art theft in the world when he stole eleven of the most valuable paintings in the collection of Sir Alfred Beit.

This last heist proved to be the beginning of the end for Cahill though. Law enforcement was sick of getting outsmarted by such a brazen crook and upped the ante with the formation of the so-called Tango Squad which was to bring down the crime boss. Meanwhile the media started taking notice of this new criminal mastermind who combined brain with vicious muscle as well. Another problem he faced was being a criminal in a country dominated by the IRA and Loyalist groups who were at war. At times Cahill did something that angered one of these groups.

As his gang had been slowly dismantled by the Tango Squad, Cahill continued as he had before. He still felt untouchable, but things had changed. He wasn’t the man he was years before. Nor was he surrounded by the loyal tough men from years back. He was nearing his final days.

During his life as a criminal, Cahill had been a major annoyance for the Irish police force, and not to mention the people who fell victim to his robberies, kidnappings, and violent behavior. But he had also pissed off a group that was neither part of the government, nor was it part of the civilian population, and though it could carry out criminal acts, it did not consider itself a criminal organization. The group I am talking about is the IRA and they were very unhappy with Cahill.

On the afternoon of August 18, 1994, Cahill sat in his car waiting in front of a junction. He was on his way to returning a video tape of the movie A Bronx Tale. As he waited, a man, dressed in worker’s clothes and carrying a clipboard, walked up to his car. Before Cahill knew what was going on the man pulled out a gun and fired several bullets at his target. Afterwards, the assassin calmly took a peek inside the car to see if his target was really dead. He then got on a waiting motorcycle driven by an accomplice and drove off.

In the aftermath of Cahill’s murder several groups claimed responsibility for his killing. But in the end, one group did something unheard of: they sent out a confession in which they gave every detail of the assassination. No doubt about it that this group, the IRA, was responsible. The IRA claimed they killed Cahill because of his involvement with pro-British death squads.

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Tags: Boss, Cahill, Dublin, IRA, Ireland, Irish, Profile

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