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Bomb attacks on the State to fine art heists, The General was a feared thug

FROM art heists to attacks on the State, Martin Cahill's career as a criminal started from a young age.

The future crime lord's first conviction came when he and his brothers John, Eddie, Anthony, Michael and Paddy, began committing burglaries.

Cahill was first arrested at the age of 12 for larceny and he ended up in a string of institutions for young offenders.

The time that he spent behind bars as a young man did not stop Cahill from growing into one of the country's most notorious gangsters.

Cahill and his brothers had been identified by gardai as major criminals by the 1970s.

They were involved in robbing cash delivery trucks.


He came to further prominence with a string of high profile robberies and violent outbursts in the 80s, including one of the biggest art heists since World War II.

In January 1981 Cahill and an accomplice, Christy Dutton, robbed computer game company Quintin Flynn Limited, securing the equivalent of almost €9,000 in today's money.

They fled on a motorbike, were pursued by gardai but escaped in the Terenure area.

Both were later apprehended as they reappeared in the area carrying helmets.

It was the period when forensic evidence was coming to prominence in criminal cases and Cahill became paranoid about the evidence against him in his robbery.

It would lead to his next high profile crime - the attempted murder of forensic scientist, Dr James Donovan.

In January, 1982 Dr Donovan, who was also involved in the investigation into the IRA's murder of Lord Mountbatten, narrowly survived when a bomb was placed in his car.

It was initially thought that the IRA were behind the plot, but it later emerged that it was Cahill's gang.

Despite the botched hit, Cahill escaped conviction when the chief witness in the case said that she was never in fear for her life.

In 1983, Cahill's gang robbed the O'Connor's jewellers in Dublin and got away with a haul valued at around €3m in current terms.

It was this job that earned him the nickname of 'The General'.


One of his most flamboyant acts was the theft of 11 paintings from the Wicklow home of Alfred Beit.

Described as the second-largest art robbery in the world, the 1986 haul included a Vermeer valued at €30m.

Cahill also kidnapped and kneecapped civil servant Brian Purcell, former secretary general of the Department of Justice, who signed an order stopping his social welfare payments.