John Traynor, who has died in England aged 73, was consigliere to Martin Cahill, a feared drugs lord and adviser to John Gilligan
John Traynor, who died on Sunday in Kent, was part of a troika who changed the face of organised crime in Ireland.
Despite the fact he came from a respectable, comfortable background, Traynor had been involved in crime from his early teens.
In 1977, he received his most serious conviction when he was jailed for five years for possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
Years later, he recalled it with typical bravado: “Most of my convictions were for stupid things I did when I was drunk.
“I was in a pub in Newcastle, outside Dublin, and had a .22 pistol, which I bought for £100. I got in a row with a cop who was there. I hit him with a gun and swung it around threatening the people in the bar.
“It was more a joke than anything else.”
He served his sentence in Mountjoy Prison alongside John Gilligan and Martin Cahill – both of whom were already becoming major players in Ireland’s burgeoning world of organised crime.
Traynor, who was 73, was a convicted fraudster turned drug trafficker and a key player in organised crime for more than 40 years.
He had continued his involvement in the drug trade, having lived in the UK for many years where he operated a used car business, after escaping charges connected to the murder of Veronica Guerin or Gilligan’s drug empire.
Described by veteran gardaí as “extremely clever, manipulative and duplicitous”, the gangster was a friend of Gilligan since the pair started working together as seamen for the now defunct B&I shipping line during the 1960s.
Traynor went on to help Gilligan establish one of the most successful drug trafficking operations in the history of Irish crime. Dubbed the ‘Coach’ by Veronica Guerin, Traynor had been one of the journalist’s main underworld sources, who, at the time of her murder in 1996, was seeking a High Court injunction to stop her publishing a story about his involvement in the drugs trade.
Traynor was a vital cog in the criminal organisation run by his other friend from childhood, Martin ‘The General’ Cahill.
Traynor acted as Cahill’s adviser – what is referred to in mafia parlance as a consigliere – and helped mastermind and organise several of the General’s most spectacular crimes during the 1980s.
These included the robbery of diamonds, gems and gold from O’Connors jewellery factory in Dublin in 1983.
The haul, worth over €3.5m in today’s values, was the biggest heist in the history of the State at that time. The robbery led perilously close to an all-out war between Cahill’s mob and the IRA, who had demanded a share of the loot.
Traynor also played a pivotal role with Cahill in organising the theft of the priceless Beit art collection three years later – one of the biggest art heists in the world.
‘The Coach’ fled Ireland within days of the murder of Veronica Guerin and never returned.
He later admitted to this writer that he had been privy to Gilligan’s plan to have her murdered.
Many veteran detectives and criminals have described Traynor as an extremely clever criminal, which was borne out by the fact he did not die at the end of an assassin’s gun or serving a long prison stretch.
Traynor and Gilligan both set up Cahill for murder when they told the IRA that ‘The General’ was responsible for assisting a UVF hit team who attacked a Sinn Féin function at The Widow Scallans Pub in 1994.
The dangerous partners in crime used the attack as an excuse to get rid of Cahill.
At the time, ‘The General’ was demanding the repayment of a £500,000 loan he had given them to finance their first drugs shipments in 1993.
Traynor died after having been receiving palliative care in a hospice after being diagnosed with terminal cancer some time ago.
Sources close to him said his remains will not be returned to Ireland for funeral and burial but will be cremated in the UK instead.
He is survived by his partner of several years and four grown children.
One retired garda who had investigated Traynor many times said yesterday the manner of his passing was down to his sharp survival instincts.
“He was a very clever and cunning gangster who played the game on both sides of the tracks – he was an informant and arch manipulator,” the former garda said.
“Traynor came very close to being shot on many occasions over the years and it is probably testament to his conniving nature that he died of natural causes.
“Traynor literally got away with murder.
“His legacy will be that he played a pivotal role in the evolution of organised crime in this country, particularly the drug trade.
“Gilligan would never have become as powerful and wealthy as he did if it wasn’t for Traynor.
“He died with the blood of many men and a journalist on his hands.”