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Thursday 21 August 2014

Couple formed unlikely bond with kidnappers

Lord and Lady Donoughmore did not want their IRA kidnappers to be punished, says Lynne Kelleher

Published 15/06/2008 | 00:00

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AN IRA gang had targeted two elderly Irish aristocrats before settling on Lord and Lady Donoughmore, who were held for five days as the Irish Government resisted their kidnap demands.

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According to new evidence, the gang had first planned to kidnap Sir Alfred Beit -- a friend of the British Royal family -- at his stately pile, Russborough House in Co Wicklow. But they couldn't track down the wealthy Sir Alfred, who also had homes in London and South Africa. They also failed to locate the Marquess of Waterford, who lived at Curraghmore near Portlaw. The gang eventually settled for the Donoughmores, who lived at Knocklofty House near Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Now their son has revealed for the first time how the couple formed an unlikely bond with the maverick gang.

The plucky couple became celebrities in 1974 after being released into the Phoenix Park in the middle of the night, following five days held in captivity by an IRA gang.

The armed IRA unit hatched a hasty plan to kidnap a random member of the aristocracy by picking out potential targets from a book on Irish stately houses. They believed that by kidnapping some of Ireland's better known "bluebloods", they would be putting more pressure on the Irish and British governments to give in to their demands.

They abducted Lord and Lady Donoughmore in Clonmel in June of that year.

Now their son, former Guinness and Bank of Ireland executive Mark Hely Hutchinson, has revealed that his good-humoured parents were treated so well that they didn't want to see the gang punished.

"My father was interviewed for 25 hours and my mother for over 30. I think there were a number of things he didn't tell us or the gardai which he felt might help identify the people who had captured him. I think it was his personal hope they would never be captured," he says.

"They were a very close couple and both had a very strong sense of humour. Although they had the title, they were very ordinary people and very easy to get on with. There was no doubt they could survive something together that maybe either of them individually wouldn't have been able to survive."

The RTE documentary series, Hostage, reveals how there was a good-humoured clash of cultures during the kidnapping, with Lady Donoughmore sending her compliments to the chef for a fry cooked for them by the head of the gang. On another occasion, their son revealed, one of their guards blurted out the answer to a Gaelic games crossword question.

"My mother was working on a crossword puzzle and one of the questions was, 'Whose colours are black and amber in Gaelic games?' There were a couple of people guarding them who were local volunteers and told never to speak to them. My father had gone through about eight counties and the man said, 'For God's sake, don't you know it's Kilkenny'?"

The documentary revealed that the unit captured the couple from their home in a desperate attempt to influence official policy on the ongoing hunger strike in British jails. Five IRA prisoners, including the two Price sisters -- one of whom, Dolours, later went on to marry the actor Stephen Rae -- were at death's door after more than 200 days without food in a bid to extract repatriation and political status. The hunger strike lasted so long because the strikers were force-fed.

But the abduction by the breakaway unit angered the IRA leadership as a major police and army search was launched, causing huge problems for IRA men hiding in the south.

The people of Clonmel also came out in force to register their protest at this mistreatment of a popular local couple.

Their son said his parents put up a brave fight when they were pounced on by the gang as they got out of their car outside their home.

"My mother not only bit the leader on the hand, and apparently got quite a decent bite at him, but she also landed what she thinks was a left hook because she hurt her knuckle doing it."

He said the family were astonished that no ransom call was made.

"My brother organised that we got some money from the bank, and we had arranged a shift system of sleeping in the sitting room because we were expecting a ransom call. The gardai had organised a recording machine."

He said his mother was one of the first people to find out the reasons behind their kidnapping. "She asked one of the captors, 'What sort of a ransom would you be asking?' and he thought it was very funny and said, 'You don't seriously imagine we've taken you for a ransom.' Then they were told about the hunger strikers.

"My parents were very well known in the community and very respected and there was an immediate reaction of horror when people heard what had happened."

After five days the hunger strike situation was resolved through mediation by the SDLP, and the kidnappers freed them in the middle of the night in the Phoenix Park.

Their son said the couple turned into mini-celebrities after impressing the whole country by their stoic bravery.

"My father was an extrovert and liked telling stories. Everybody wanted to listen. They were treated like celebrities, and my father would go into Clonmel and people would be rushing up to him and hugging him, and the same with my mother."

Were they traumatised?

"My mother's personality was never quite as fun-loving and easygoing afterwards. Some years earlier my mother had complained about the fact that my father insisted on having three dogs in the bedroom, and he got banished to the room next door.

"After the kidnapping she insisted on him moving back, and didn't even mind him having the dogs there."

'Hostage', RTE One, today, 7pm

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