Recalling the day the border fox was jailed for 40 years in Portlaoise Prison

Diarmaid Mac Dermott


Diarmaid Mac Dermott

Portlaoise Prison

Portlaoise Prison was home to the Border Fox for many years.

I was in court when Dessie O’Hare, the so-called “Border Fox”, self-confessed mass murderer, would be extortionist, criminal and torturer, was sent back to jail for seven years by the Special Criminal Court.

I had sat in the same court 31 years ago, then based at the imposing and historic Green Street courthouse, when O’Hare was jailed for 40 years for the barbaric torture and imprisonment of dentist John O’Grady in 1987.

O’Hare showed no emotion as Mr Justice Tony Hunt sentenced him to ten years imprisonment with three suspended for false imprisonment, and to a concurrent sentence of three years for assault.

The judge said: "The threat represented to society by O’Hare has not completely abated”. He added that O’Hare’s “appalling and violent offences” in the past were an aggravating factor in the court’s sentence. And he said that O’Hare had pleaded guilty to “a disturbingly violent assault”.

During the sentencing hearing, O’Hare sat and listened intently as the judge described his violent activities.

However, in 1988 O’Hare made an angry, bizarre and chilling speech from the dock after Mr Justice Liam Hamilton sentenced him to 40 years imprisonment, the heaviest prison sentence ever handed down in the State for a non-capital offence (i.e. one not involving the murder of a garda in the course of duty).

For ten minutes O’Hare stood in the dock - the same dock where  patriot Robert Emmet in 1803 gave his historic speech after his death sentence - and railed against his supposed enemies in Ireland, north and south.

Perhaps inspired by his surroundings and in his misguided belief that he was the true inheritor of Emmet’s message, O’Hare thundered out his psychotic message of hate and violence.

There was silence in court as uniformed gardai and armed detectives watched intently for any sign of a physical attempt by O’Hare to jump from the dock into the body of the court.

The tension was palpable as the three judges listened without any show of emotion to his rantings, while supporters above in the public gallery lapped up his words.

O’Hare, who had cut off the tips of two of John O’Grady’s fingers and who had shot and seriously wounded Detective Garda Martin O’Connor with a sawn off shotgun in the stomach at point blank range to escape capture, portrayed himself as the victim.

He was, he said, the victim of the brutality of the British and Irish authorities, of the RUC and the gardai, of prison staff in jails in the north and south.

O'Hare called for support for his self styled “Irish Revolutionary Brigade” and called for “republicans” to to turn their guns on the Irish judiciary, Irish Prison Service, Defence Forces and Gardaí.

He also attacked the leadership of the Provisional IRA, who in 1988 was in the midst of its “war” in the north, and accused them of being “quasi republican”.

As the rambling speech continued the atmosphere in the crowded court was electric, with gardai who had hunted the notorious terrorist watching on.

O’Hare ended his tirade with a bloodthirsty outburst: "May all my deeds reverberate until bloody war is waged against the British and their southern allies”.

The Co Armagh man, who once boasted to a journalist that he had murdered 26 people, was then led away from the docks by prison officers to the cells below to begin his 40 years sentence.

There was applause from the handful of supporters in the public gallery.