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The Kidnapping: A timely remember of Ireland’s contentious past

A harrowing account of the abduction of Don Tidey by the IRA 40 years ago effectively merges anecdote and the bigger picture

The Kidnapping: A hostage, a desperate manhunt and a bloody rescue that shocked Ireland
Author: Tommy Conlon and Ronan McGreevy
ISBN-13: 978-1844886630
Publisher: Sandycove
Guideline Price: £16.99

December 18th, 2023, will be the 40th anniversary of the rescue of kidnapped supermarket executive Don Tidey. His IRA abductors shot dead Garda recruit Gary Sheehan and Private Paddy Kelly as they escaped from their hideout in Derrada Wood near Ballinamore, Co Leitrim. The Kidnapping, a timely revisiting of those events, contains new information and fresh perspectives. Crucially, it has interviews with Tidey and with family members of the two men who gave their lives to free him from his captors.

The book’s two authors are “of the parish” – from Leitrim. Ronan McGreevy is a native of Carrick-on-Shannon, whereas Tommy Conlon is from Ballinamore. McGreevy is an Irish Times journalist and has contributed significantly to its Decade of Centenaries coverage. Conlon is a sportswriter with the Sunday Independent who has co-authored books with the likes of Keith Earls and Ronnie Whelan.

A strength of this book is it combines Mc Greevy’s interest in the big picture and historical backdrop with Conlon’s ability to forage for anecdote and detail.

Tidey was kidnapped near his home on the outskirts of Dublin on Thursday, November 24th, 1983, by a gang wearing Garda uniforms. His captors shoved him into the gap between the front and back seats of a Ford Cortina and sat on him, compressing his rib cage.


Conlon and McGreevy meticulously describe the circumstances leading to Tidey’s release 26 days later. Ten teams of soldiers and gardaí, including trainees, were searching forested uplands five miles north of Ballinamore. One recruit spotted two men crouched with guns, wearing military-style clothing. He shouted “Soldier, answer my call”. A burst of semi-automatic gunfire rang out. Garda recruit Gary Sheehan (23), three months into his career, and Private Paddy Kelly (36) were mortally wounded.

In the mayhem, the kidnappers were making their escape, using a number of captured soldiers and gardaí as human shields. Tidey knew what he called le moment critique had come. He made his break and rolled down an incline. To the soldier, weapon cocked, who found him, “he looked like one of the armed criminals that started the gunfire in the wood”. But Tidey’s plea “I’m Don Tidey; I’m the hostage” was accepted.

The authors mine the accounts of several gardaí and soldiers who were involved in the saga. They don’t duck awkward issues

In the chapter headed It Was All about the Money the authors tell how the kidnappers were trying to raise funds for the IRA’s Northern Command. Several IRA members, on the run since escaping from the Maze prison in September 1983, were being sheltered in Co Leitrim. The book names a number of them as members of the kidnap gang.

In June 2008, the trial of 56-year-old Brendan McFarlane, a former IRA Maze escaper, charged in connection with Tidey’s abduction, collapsed at Dublin’s Special Criminal Court after prosecution evidence was ruled inadmissible.

The kidnapping of Don Tidey

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Presented by Bernice Harrison.

The authors mine the accounts of several gardaí and soldiers who were involved in the saga. They don’t duck awkward issues. How did the kidnappers escape from Ballinamore and later from the armed gardaí who had them surrounded in a house near Claremorris, Co Mayo? Was it appropriate to involve unarmed trainee gardaí, such as Sheehan, in the search operation?

They describe how Garda Donal Kelleher, shot in both legs in Derrada Wood, was not among the group of 15 from the rescue given a Scott medal for bravery in September 2021. He died of cancer in February 2023: three months later his widow and children received his posthumous award.

Conlon and McGreevy draw on their local knowledge to give their work extra heft. They describe the influence of John Joe McGirl, Sinn Féin vice-president, Leitrim councillor and Ballinamore publican and undertaker. They detail the intimidation of those businesses that refused to fly flags during the hunger strikes or allow the sale of An Phoblacht in their premises. Yet, a number of times, they refer to the area’s loyalty “to the police, to democracy and the rule of law”.

Tidey provides a detailed account of the exercises he used when chained, handcuffed and wearing a blindfold during his captivity. It involved a static contraction of muscles without any visible movement. He has never returned to Derrada Wood.

The interviews with Paddy Kelly’s sons and Gary Sheehan’s sister Jennifer are deeply moving. The Sheehans knew that Gary and his fellow recruits were staying in Cavan during the search duties in Co Leitrim. They were set to travel from Carrickmacross to meet him when they learned he had been killed.

The Kelly boys were aged nine, six, four, and 11 weeks, when the IRA shot their father. Their mother, Caitriona, lost her own father shortly before her husband’s death. The account of the family’s difficult but ultimately successful struggle to not go under is harrowing.

Like Rory Carroll’s impressive work Killing Thatcher, for those of us who were around in 1983 and for generations not born, The Kidnapping is an important reminder of our imperfect, contentious past.

Journalist Tommie Gorman was RTÉ's North West Correspondent in 1983 and from Ballinamore broke the story of Don Tidey’s release