By Paul Williams
Today he is all but forgetten but this week 20 years ago the man known as The General was dominating the news
On August 19, 1994, the front pages of all the newspapers carried the story of the murder of Martin Cahill, the once notorious gang boss they called ‘The General’.
It was just before 3.20pm on the previous afternoon that a hitman posing as a corporation worker ended the reign of Ireland’s most feared – and colourful – criminal mastrmind.
The killer was cool and calm as he shot five rounds into The General with a powerful .357 Magnum revolver – ensuring that the dangerous hoodlum would not survive.
The murder of the mob boss as he pulled up at the stop sign on the junction of Oxford Road and Charleston Road in Dublin‘s Ranelagh was one of the highest profile gangland killings in the over 40 years that the phenomenon of organised crime has existed in this country.
At the time of his dramatic demise, The General was the undisputed godfather of the Irish underworld who had been responsible for some of the biggest heists in the State’s history.
Cahill, who wore balaclavas to try to hide his identity and liked to show his Mickey Mouse shorts off, captivated the public through his bizarre antics and high-profile crimes.
Ironically the enigmatic gangster succeeded in hiding his face from the world – until after his death.
Also referred to by the codename ‘Tango One’, he waged an unrelenting war against the Gardai.
In 1982, Cahill planted a bomb which critically injured Dr James Donovan, the State’s chief forensic scientist, who was the principal witness in an armed robbery case against him.
Then when his dole money was stopped in 1988 he had an inspector in the Department of Social Welfare abducted from his home and later shot in the legs.
The victim of that attack was Brian Purcell, who was the Secretary General of the Department of Justice until recently.
Cahill had also shown that he had absolutely no fear of the other hooded bogeymen of the criminal underworld at the time – the Provisional IRA.
In 1983, Cahill and his sidekicks organised the theft of gold and jewels worth over IR£1.5m from the O’Connors jewellery factory in Dublin.
The criminal underworld and the Provos went to the brink of war when the Republicans tried to extort some of the spoils from Cahill, who famously rebuffed them with the words: “If you want gold then go out and rob your own gold like we did.”
The situation was calmed down when gardai arrested an entire IRA active service unit after they had kidnapped one of Cahill’s lieutenants, Martin ‘The Viper’ Foley.
At the time the IRA had also taken another associate but released him with a warning for his boss. “Tell Cahill the next time we will never kidnap him – we will stiff him on the street.”
Such was the perceived value of Cahill’s scalp that both the IRA and the INLA claimed responsibility for his murder.
Twenty years later Martin Cahill has been all but forgotten – and the gangland he left behind is unrecognisable.
His murder was partially organised by two of his former associates: John Gilligan and John Traynor.
They were about to go into the drug trade and didn’t want to pay The General back the seed money he had loaned them for their first shipments.
Within two years they proved that they were even worse than Cahill when they murdered journalist Veronica Guerin.
If The General were to arrive back in Ireland today, he would think that he had landed on another planet.
Despite his propensity for terrifying violence, the late Martin Cahill could not hold a candle to the new breed of thugs in gangland.
Paul Williams is the author of the bestseller, ‘The General’, which was later adapted for the movie of the same name.
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