HAVE we seen the last of John Gilligan? It certainly looks like it.
The photograph of the old thug hurriedly fleeing from James Connolly Memorial Hospital early on Sunday said it all.
It was hard to believe, looking at the frail, gaunt figure slumped in a wheelchair, that this pint-sized gangster was once Ireland's most feared gang boss.
Gone was the bravado, the smirks, the shouts he'd bellow out to photographers as he was being led to a prison van.
Gone too was the arrogance with which he regarded the forces of law and order and indeed every law-abiding citizen.
Gilligan's crew imported vast quantities of cannabis and an arsenal of firearms into the country. His gang will always be linked to journalist Veronica Guerin, who was murdered in 1996.
Before Gilligan graduated into the drugs business in the late 1980s I knew him as a burglar and armed robber who targeted warehouses as a speciality – hence his nickname Factory John.
I've written before of my encounters interviewing him. He was a spiteful and sinister character, who was not averse to threatening gardai – including myself.
Knowing him as I did I was not surprised that his gang murdered Guerin. But that proved their undoing. The subsequent establishment of CAB cost Gilligan and many other gangsters a lot of money.
It would not be unthinkable that some Dublin criminals still want Gilligan dead for this. When he walked out of prison last October I offered him some advice, telling him to get out of the country if he wanted to stay alive. Gilligan's still breathing today, but only by the grace of God, and haplessness of the gunmen who've tried to kill him on two occasions in the past three months.
When he walked out of Portlaoise last year and went to a party at his brother's house we saw the same, boastful Gilligan who was arrested in the 1990s. It's amazing how a gunman's bullets can change your mindset. His appearance as he fled to Dublin Port this week, in a wheelchair clutching a plastic bag, was that of a frightened man.
No doubt Gilligan had planned to walk out of the hospital in time, to laugh off the attempt on his life and attempt a wisecrack or two.
But all that changed when his buddy Stephen 'Dougie' Moran was shot dead last Saturday night in Lucan.
The same gang who killed Moran are suspected of the two attempts on Gilligan's life. Were he to remain in Dublin they would likely have returned to target the gangster again – and I'm sure the phrase "third time lucky" was echoing around Gilligan's mind. I am glad to see that Factory John has at last taken my advice and departed Ireland.
Wherever he goes he'll be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.
Good riddance to you Gilligan.