Obituary: Adrian Hopkins
He was known as a risk-taker, but few expected Adrian Hopkins to turn up as an IRA gun-runner
Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30
In his daily life, former merchant seaman Adrian Hopkins was the well-liked, jovial and successful proprietor of Bray Travel, selling foreign holidays through a nationwide network of offices.
But after its spectacular collapse in 1981 with debts of £1.5m, Hopkins embarked on a secret life as skipper of five consignments of deadly arms sent from Libya to the IRA, which left the terrorist organisation better armed and equipped with more sophisticated weaponry than the Irish Army.
Hopkins, who died suddenly last Sunday of a heart attack in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin at the age of 76, was later jailed when the fifth consignment of 130 tons of weapons aboard the freighter the Eksund was tracked from Tripoli by the British and French intelligence agencies and intercepted off Brest on the French coast.
Born into a Wicklow sailing family, Hopkins and his wife Stephanie established Bray Travel in 1969. Cashing in on the new boom for sunshine holidays, it soon had 35pc of the travel market to the Canaries and a string of offices in Bray, Dun Laoghaire, Crumlin, Cork and Belfast.
A 'larger-than-life character', Hopkins moved into a family home in Greystones and bought a large property, St Helen's on Killarney Road, Bray as headquarters for the travel empire.
But it all came crashing down in 1981 when Aer Lingus and Spanish airlines refused to deal with the firm because of difficulties in gett ing paid.
Although he was described as "an adventurer" and a "risk-taker" at his funeral, even close friends in the travel business who knew him as a flamboyant operator were shocked at what came next.
Hopkins, who had embarked on a new career as a charter boat operator, then surfaced in spectacular fashion with the detention of the Eksund off the coast of France.
Codenamed 'Pender' by his IRA bosses, Hopkins was not a member of the terrorist organisation, but appears to have been in it strictly for the money. He later told investigators that he was handed stg£200,000 and $500,000 in cash in plastic bags by his handlers in the White Horse public house in Dublin in payment for his services.
After his arrest in October, 1987, with four IRA men on board the Eksund, he revealed that he had been recruited by Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, who co-ordinated the arms shipments with Libyan intelligence officer and diplomat Nasser Ali Ashour, who was close to the Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi.
The first vessel used by Hopkins was the Casamara, which made three 'runs' between Libya and Ireland, taking an estimated 10 to 15 tons of arms each time.
All three consignments were unloaded at Clogga Stand on the Wicklow coast past Arklow between August and October 1985. Significantly, they included tons of Semtex explosives, which was used to horrific effect by IRA bomb-makers.
The fourth shipment of over 80 tons of arms from Gaddafi's regime was transported to Ireland in October 1986 by Hopkins aboard a converted Swedish freighter, the Villa. The cargo was off-loaded at the little used Roadstone Pier near Arklow, where it was then loaded onto trucks and taken to secret locations.
In the planning of the fifth shipment, on board the Eksund, the IRA were so grateful to their Libyan suppliers that Hopkins was instructed to buy a German shepherd dog, a double bed and a clock in Valetta, Malta to bring as presents from IRA commander Joe Cahill to Nasser Ali Ashour. The ship, with 130 tons of weaponry, was tracked by British intelligence using spotter planes and intercepted off the French coast at Brest, where Hopkins and the IRA crew were arrested after failing to scuttle the ship.
After spending time in a French prison awaiting trail, Hopkins was eventually granted bail. Shortly afterwards, he disappeared and made his way back to Ireland, where he was arrested in Limerick in 1990. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison for his part in the gun-running plot, but Judge Liam Hamilton suspended five years of the sentence because of his co-operation with the authorities.
According to Toby Harnden, author of Bandit Country: The IRA in South Armagh, much of the weaponry was "of little practical use for the predominantly urban campaign the IRA was fighting".
The five shipments included AK-47s, automatic pistols, heavy machine guns, rocket launchers and anti-aircraft missiles, mortars, grenades, detonators and millions of rounds of ammunition, with over 100 tons of lethal cargo getting through to the IRA.
Since his release Hopkins lived quietly with his wife Stephanie in Killincarrig, Greystones. His funeral Mass took place on Wednesday and he is survived by his children Steven, Adrian, Tara and Neil.