independent

Monday 21 April 2014

'Don't be dead heroes,' IRA gang told gardai, soldiers

For the first time it has been revealed that seven gardai and soldiers were taken hostage and forced to run at gunpoint through fields as the kidnappers of Don Tidey made their escape from Derrada Wood in Leitrim 25 years ago.

While the businessman was able to make his escape from Derrada Wood in 1983, the IRA gang whose hideout had been discovered, turned the tables on the security forces and forced gardai and soldiers to surrender, telling them: "This is no time for dead heroes."

During the shoot-out, trainee garda Gary Sheehan, 23, of Carrickmacross. Co Monaghan, was murdered along with Private Patrick Kelly, 35, of the Defence Forces, who was from Moate, Co Westmeath.

Maze prison escaper Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane, a 56-year-old father of three, from Jamaica Street, Belfast, has pleaded not guilty at the Special Criminal Court to falsely imprisoning Mr Tidey between November 24 and December 16, 1983.

He also denied possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life at Derrada Wood between November 25 and December 16, 1983, and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose.

On Friday, William O'Brien, a retired Army corporal, recalled how he cocked his rifle after he heard gunfire and explosions. He saw another corporal coming out of the wood with his hands over his head followed by two gunmen armed with an Armalite rifle and a submachine gun.

He pointed his rifle at the gunmen, but one of them said: "This is no time for dead heroes,'' and told him to drop his weapon.

The gunmen had captured three soldiers, three recruit gardai and a garda. They ordered the captives to run in front of them with their hands in the air, while one of the gunmen fired shots into an Army radio. Gda Det Francis Moran, then a trainee, said he heard intense bursts of automatic gunfire and one or two loud bangs and he dropped to the ground.

He saw eight or nine people coming out of the wood, three of them bearded and in combat gear and armed with rifles and submachine guns.

A man pointed a rifle in their direction and told him and two soldiers and another garda to get up and said: "Dead heroes, no good."

The gardai and soldiers were ordered to run with their hands up through fields, ahead of the gunmen. At one stage one fired shots in the direction of a detective.

Retired Det Insp Bill Somers recalled that on Friday, December 16, 1983, his armed search party, code named 'Rudolph One', arrived at the wood. The officer told the court he heard heavy gunfire coming from a small wooded area and saw another search party lying on the side of a hill.

They had "flushed out the terrorists" and were coming under fire. He radioed for help and then saw someone coming through a ditch in combat gear and thought it was one of the terrorists making a break -- it turned out to be Don Tidey.

The garda officer calmed Mr Tidey when he saw a blue car driving towards them and the driver opened fire. There was also gunfire from the car boot. Det Insp Somers pulled Mr Tidey to the ground but Gda Det Donal Kelleher was shot in the legs.

The car sped off around a corner but came up against a garda checkpoint and further gunfire was exchanged.

Det Insp Somers said he put a bullet-proof vest on Mr Tidey and got him into a car which drove him to safety.

The garda later found a hole in the elbow of his jacket, a tear on the inside of the left sleeve of his sports coat and another tear which he said were caused by the gunfire. Another garda inspector said a prayer in the ear of trainee garda Gary Sheehan, who died in the shooting.

Insp Seamus O'Hanlon said after he heard gunfire he heard somebody shouting: "Garda dead over here.''

Almost immediately another voice shouted: "Soldier dead over here."

Insp O'Hanlon said: "I identified him as Garda Gary Sheehan. I had known him for 14 years. He had a large wound in his head and was dead."

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