Saturday 27 December 2014

I heard the words 'tango one is down' and was first to find my old foe dead

The General: 20 years on

Gerry O'Carroll

Published 19/08/2014 | 19:29

Martin Cahill
Martin Cahill

IT's hard to believe it's 20 years since Martin 'The General' Cahill was assassinated.

I still remember the event as if it was yesterday. At 3.30pm on August 18, 1994, I was driving out of the Swan Shopping Centre in Rathmines.

Martin Cahill
Martin Cahill

I was on my own in an unmarked garda car at the time. I was a Detective Sergeant stationed in Sundrive Road Garda Station.

As I turned on the police radio I heard an excited dispatcher from the control room in Harcourt Square calling on all mobiles in the south city to go immediately to the junction of Oxford Road and Charleston Road. He repeated one phrase again and again: "Tango One is down, Tango One is down."

Tango One was the code name given to the country's most notorious criminal by the Tango Squad. This unit, of which I was a member, was head-quartered at Harcourt Square.

It had been specially set up and organised with the sole aim and purpose of taking down Martin Cahill and his gang.

Leaving the Swan Centre I turned left on Charleston Road and was at the scene in less than a minute. The first thing I saw was Cahill's black Renault 5, which had crashed into the iron railings of 45 Charleston Road.

I was the first detective on the scene. I leapt from my own car and ran to the Renault. And then I stared in disbelief at the bullet riddled body inside. Cahill was slumped sideways in the driver seat still strapped in by his safety belt. He had sustained gun shot injuries to his neck and chest and his shirt was drenched in blood.

His last few strands of lank hair were hanging limply to one side, exposing the bald head he had always taken such care to conceal - with the help of a ludicrous combover. Blood leaked from a gaping wound in his neck.

In the passenger seat a video tape of the film A Bronx Tale was beside him on the seat.

Cahill had been on the way to Ranelagh to return it to a video shop when he was attacked.

The irony of the title was not lost on me. A Bronx Tale is a gangster film about a young kid torn between affection for his honest law-abiding father and his fatal attraction and admiration for the local mafia boss.

No marks for guessing that The General would have identified with the latter character. Cahill's brutal demise was the all-too-common end for many gangsters, one we are all used to experiencing on celluloid. But this was all too real.

Martin Cahill, an arrogant and extremely violent man was now a lifeless heap, lying in his modest car.

Despite his long and brutal reign as Ireland's leading crime lord - and his well publicised hatred for the gardai - I felt no jubilation as I stood over him. His lifeless blank expression was indeed a piteous sight.

I placed my hand on his chest inside his shirt to check for any sign of life. There was none.

As I was checking his pulse a doctor arrived beside me at the car. After a brief examination, he pronounced Cahill dead.

Within minutes speculation began to shift to the suspects and the motive.

There is little doubt that the Provisional IRA was responsible for the murder. Cahill had always been a thorn in their side and they later issued a very detailed statement outlining their reasons for killing him.

These included his alleged involvement with pro-British death squads and especially his involvement with the Portadown UVF. The Provos claimed this unit responsible for the gun and bomb attack on the The Widow Scallan's pub on Pearse Street in which an IRA man had been shot dead.

But in fact the Provisional IRA had signed Cahill's death warrant 10 years previously, in 1984.

That year a lifelong friend of Cahill's had been kidnapped by the Provos and held for 12 days before they released him, telling him to convey a message to Cahill that they would not kidnap The General but "stiff him on the street".

A decade later they made good on that threat and murdered Cahill, two weeks before the first IRA ceasefire was declared.

On Monday August 22 after the funeral mass in the Church of Our Lady of Refuge in Rathmines, Cahill was taken to his last resting place a grave beside the ruins of an old abbey in mount Jerome cemetery.

Some months later a black marble headstone was erected over the grave, the inscription read: "It isn't life that matters, it's the courage you bring to it."

I certainly don't hold with those sentiments. Mr Cahill was, at the time of death, the most notorious and violent criminal in State. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

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