Crime Correspondent Ali Bracken profiles 12 women choosing to stand by their partners – dead or alive – who are some of the country's most notorious criminals
THEIR MEN are well known, for all the wrong reasons. They are Ireland's most notorious criminals, in charge of running the underworld. But less is known about the country's most infamous criminals' wives and girlfriends (CWAGs). Unlike the WAGs of Ireland's sporting heroes, most of these women are anxious to remain out of the spotlight and don't court publicity. While some might enjoy the trappings of luxurious lifestyles from the proceeds of crime, many pay a far higher price. The men in their lives often spend more time in prison than at home with their families. Because of these long stretches in jail, they sometimes rear their children largely alone.
They have the constant worry about when their offspring will understand what their fathers do for a living. These women also face the constant fear of murder attempts, not just threats against their boyfriends and husbands, but also possible threats to their own lives and families. While the money for exotic holidays and lavish houses may be there one day, it can be gone just as easily the next – particularly if the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) takes an interest, something that John Gilligan's estranged wife Geraldine is keenly aware of at the moment as she battles Cab in the courts.
None of the women below, except for Michelle Bambrick who is currently serving a prison sentence, are involved in crime in any way. The extent of the knowledge they have about the illegal activities of their loved ones differs from case to case. Their lives can change in the blink of an eye depending on the fortunes of their men. But it is a life these women have willingly chosen. Few would have any sympathy for their troubles.
1. ANNABELL DUNDON
Only sister of Wayne, John, Dessie and Ger Dundon, and fiancée of Joseph Hehir, a member of the McCarthy-Dundon crime gang
Annabell Dundon is the teenage sister of the infamous Dundon brothers – Wayne, Ger, Dessie and John. She recently became engaged to Joseph Hehir, a low-level member of Limerick's McCarthy-Dundon crime gang. The couple have just moved to London, where many of the McCarthy-Dundon gang, those who are not in prison, are now based. Last year, a senior member of the McCarthy-Dundon gang tried to have Hehir shot dead. Hehir, from Raheen Square in Ballinacurra-Weston, was hit with a bullet in the back following a dispute over money on 23 February 2009. In February, Hehir was arrested by gardaí after he was caught tailing a prison van near Wheatfield Prison with a senior member of the McCarthy-Dundon gang.
Dundon is extremely loyal to her family. The shooting dead of Roy Collins came about as a direct result of the youngest Dundon. When she was 14, Roy Collins' cousin refused to serve Annabell alcohol. This enraged her eldest brother Wayne, leader of the crime gang, and he returned to Brannigan's bar and threatened to kill barman Ryan Lee, Roy's first cousin. Lee and Collins lived in the same house and were raised as brothers. Dundon was later jailed for 10 years for threatening to kill the barman. As a result of this, the McCarthy-Dundons had Roy Collins shot dead because members of his family gave evidence against Dundon. "Annabell Dundon isn't involved in crime in any way, but the refusal of Ryan Lee to serve her alcohol led to murder," said a source. "She is extremely loyal to her brothers and would do anything for her family. She sometimes has a strained relationship with her eldest brother Wayne; they've been known to fall out in the past and have rows. They are both quite hot-headed but they always make up. The Dundon brothers are equally protective of their only sister."
2. FRANCES CAHILL
Widow of murdered crime boss Martin 'The General' Cahill
Martin Cahill's sex life was an open secret during his criminal reign over the city. His wife Frances is the mother of five of his children but her sister, Tina Lawless, also had four children by Cahill. The unconventional arrangement saw The General spend his days and some nights at home with his wife but on other nights, he would stay overnight at her sister's house, which he bought for his other family. His wife gave her blessing to this unorthodox arrangement.
The General was shot dead in 1994 by the IRA over a row about his refusal to hand over cash to the paramilitaries from one of his biggest ever robberies.
Most of Cahill's millions are still missing, believed to be buried in the Dublin mountains.
Frances married the notorious criminal when she was just 16 and he was only two years older. She has always shunned publicity but gave a rare interview in 2002 and discussed the love triangle she was involved in for several decades. Her husband's criminal career is the subject of two films and one book. "I've never seen either The General or Ordinary Decent Criminal, and I didn't read the book. But I know they made it out like we both shared the bed with Martin all the time. It wasn't like that," she said.
Martin Cahill became a near-heroic figure for the various art, jewellery and cash heists he masterminded. But he also arranged a car bomb attack that almost killed forensic scientist James Donovan, somewhat destroying his image as a 'Robin Hood'-type character. While many women nowadays would find it unacceptable if their husband began a sexual relationship with their sister, at the time when Frances married The General the view was more widely held that a marriage was not something a person should walk away from despite any problems. Also, because of his vast wealth from the proceeds of crime, Cahill was able to keep both his wife and her sister in a style to which they soon became accustomed. Both women now live in the UK. Following Martin Cahill's murder, the bond between the sisters seemed to fracture. Frances Cahill has said her husband's criminal legacy has deeply affected her children. "Having Ireland's most notorious criminal as their father has made it difficult for them to get a start in life," aid Frances.
"They are perfectly normal children. But with one exception – they hate the police, and I can't blame them." The General's eldest daughter, also called Frances, made Irish publishing history in 2007 as the first offspring of a notorious Dublin criminal to pen a memoir of life growing up in the shadow of her infamous father.
3. NATASHA MCENROE
Girlfriend of imprisoned gang leader Brian Rattigan
Natasha McEnroe embodies the modern day squeeze of a major Irish gang leader – she is independent, outspoken and demands respect from her long-term partner's associates. Rattigan is a major gang leader from Drimnagh; he is currently serving a life sentence for the 2001 murder of his former friend Declan Gavin. Rattigan is the leader of the Drimnagh gang that has been involved in the long-standing Crumlin-Drimnagh feud, which has claimed 16 lives.
Despite the fact that he's serving a life sentence, Rattigan still has considerable influence over his gang. But since many of his criminal associates are now dead or also in prison, his influence is beginning to wane, and a new generation of young criminals are making names for themselves in the area. Rattigan and 27-year-old McEnroe started going out when they were teenagers. Fiercely loyal to Rattigan, she is standing by him despite the fact that he will spend at least the next 15 years behind bars after being convicted of murder last year. McEnroe regularly visits her boyfriend in Portlaoise, where he is held on the maximum security E1 landing with some of the country's most notorious criminals.
McEnroe was arrested as part of the Declan Gavin murder investigation and told gardaí the dead man was "only a rat". She said her only regret about the murder was that someone "should have got a motorbike and done it right. I hated him." But living without her partner is something McEnroe is well accustomed to – they have spent much of their relationship separated. Before he was jailed for life last year, Rattigan spent most of the previous six years in prison for possession of €27,000 worth of heroin in May 2003. But the couple seem determined to stay together; McEnroe has vowed to wait for him. The young woman has never been afraid to get involved in her criminal boyfriend's affairs. In 2002, two men burst into Rattigan's home and he was shot at point-blank range. Miraculously, he survived. McEnroe witnessed the incident and identified 'Fat' Freddie Thompson as the shooter but the DPP directed there be no prosecution. She has also been at the centre of a major criminal investigation.
In March, McEnroe was arrested after the names and addresses of the jury who found her boyfriend guilty of murder were found in her apartment. This sparked a major criminal investigation, but after several months it was decided that McEnroe would not be charged in relation to the "worrying discovery". Under the law, as a defendant, Rattigan was entitled to access to the personal details of the jury in his case. However, this did not mean that Natasha McEnroe was entitled to have this information in her possession. But as the young woman told gardaí that Rattigan must have left this confidential information at her apartment, there was insufficient evidence to charge her with any criminal offence. While there has been speculation that McEnroe has been involved in a relationship with another man, everyone agrees that her heart will always belong to Rattigan. A source said: "Natasha is extremely loyal to Brian. She commands respect from everyone and is in no way whatsoever seen as the 'little woman' in Brian's life. She is a powerful and influential woman in her own right."
4. SHARON RATTIGAN
Sister of crime boss Brian Rattigan and partner of murdered gang member Shay O'Byrne
Sharon Rattigan saw her long-term partner shot dead last year – and even got shot herself when she tackled the gunman to try and save Shay O'Byrne's life. Rattigan, who has two children with O'Byrne, was extremely dedicated to her partner, who was a key member in her brother's Drimnagh-based crime gang. Rattigan is not involved in criminality in any way. As well as her partner, she has also lost a brother in the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud. Joseph Rattigan (18) was murdered in 2002. A source said she is "a very strong woman who has been through a lot. She was fearless when there was a gunman shooting the man she loved and she is equally protective of defending her family." She has a fractious relationship with the gardaí and believes that they regularly search the Rattigan family home purely to intimidate them.
5. GERALDINE GILLIGAN
Estranged wife of crime boss John Gilligan
Once upon a time, John and Geraldine Gilligan had the perfect life. As a major drug dealer, he amassed vast wealth and the couple lived an extravagant lifestyle. But by 1995, cracks in their relationship began to show and the couple split after 21 years of marriage as he was having an affair with a much younger woman. Today, he's serving a 20-year sentence for drugs offences while Geraldine is desperately trying to hang on to her home, the expansive Jessbrook House which encompasses an equestrian centre, which Cab has frozen and is currently trying to take complete control of.
The couple married in 1974 and had two children, Darren and Tracey. In 1994, Gilligan began buying land from farmers around Enfield in Co Meath. Throughout that year, Gilligan amassed some 77 acres of land, at a cost of less than £200,000. Work started on building a seven-bedroom bungalow and a 3,200sq m equestrian centre with stables, outhouses and an apartment for stable workers. The sign on the wall proclaimed Jessbrook Equestrian Centre as "more than a riding school". The Jessbrook estate, or the Taj Mahal as some gardaí call it, was an impressive monument to the profits of a cannabis importer.
Its wrought-iron electronic gates were controlled by a closed circuit television link to the family bungalow. Inside, the house was furnished with heavy Dutch furniture. Gardaí believe that the windows used in the house were stolen, along with some of the wiring equipment put in place to service the numerous kitchen and laundry appliances.
The man cleared of Veronica Geurin's murder clearly never strayed far from his criminal roots. Geraldine had ponies that grazed in the fields around the house and an impressive indoor arena with seating for hundreds of horse enthusiasts.
The family often travelled to far-flung destinations for holidays and generally enjoyed a charmed existence. But all was not well between the couple; Gilligan had met a 19-year-old woman from Palmerstown at a bookmakers where she worked. Gilligan ended his marriage to Geraldine in July 1995, putting Jessbrook in her name. But the couple remained close.
At present, Gilligan, who has been imprisoned since 2001, is trying to prevent Cab from taking complete control of properties that once belonged to his estranged wife and children – the biggest of them Jessbrook in Co Meath – that were first frozen by the bureau in 1996 as part of a process to sell them off. Pending the outcome of the legal challenge, Geraldine Gilligan has the right to remain as "caretaker" in Jessbrook.
Gilligan claims the properties were bought with funds accrued through legitimate business and through gambling and could not be classed as the proceeds of crime. The action has been adjourned until October.
After he was jailed for drugs offences in 2001, Geraldine and her daughter lived on the Costa del Sol, and worked at The Judges Chamber pub in Alicante, which it is believed Gilligan bankrolled. Despite their split, the couple have maintained contact and are united in their fight to try and keep the various family properties Cab is determined to take.
Geraldine has always shunned the limelight, with some gardaí even saying she has a "dignified air," and is regarded as someone who is dedicated to her children and grandchildren. In court in her battle with Cab she has consistently claimed she had known nothing about how her husband paid to build their home and equestrian centre and said he kept her very much in the dark about where his money was coming from.
A source said: "She's a very intelligent woman. Family is of paramount importance to her. She is of a different breed to the younger women currently involved in relationships with Ireland's gang leaders. But it has been a spectacular fall from grace for John and Geraldine."
6. APRIL COLLINS
Partner of gangland criminal Ger Dundon
The pregnant young mother-of-two was recently charged with intimidating a woman whose relative is the only witness in a major investigation into organised crime in Limerick. On 26 May, the 23-year-old appeared before Limerick District Court charged with the offence. Collins is accused of following the woman into Penneys on Limerick's O'Connell Street in May, where the offence is alleged to have taken place.
Solicitor Sarah Ryan told the court that Collins, who was pushing a buggy at the time of the alleged offence, is "a regular customer in Penneys" and would have left the store if she realised the alleged injured party was there. Collins, who lives at Hyde Avenue, Ballinacurra Weston, is the primary carer of both her children who are aged four years and 19 months, and she is expecting another child.
Her boyfriend Ger Dundon is facing trial for violent disorder at the Special Criminal Court, along with seven other men charged with other offences, under the new gang legislation brought in last year. When the charge was put to him at Limerick district court on 24 July, Dundon gave the judge the middle finger and said: "I am not listening to the court."
7. VICKY DEMPSEY
Partner of 'Fat' Freddie Thompson
Vicky Dempsey has been in a relationship with the gang leader, a key figure in the Crumlin/Drimnagh feud, since they were teenagers. They have a 10-year-old son together. They broke up for a couple of weeks five months ago because of the strain put on their relationship due to his self-imposed exile from Ireland following threats on his life, but are now back together.
Thompson is said to be a dedicated father. He fled to Spain in February 2008 following a number of attempts on his life. He returns to Ireland sporadically and Dempsey often travels with her son to visit him abroad.
From the Marylands Estate in south Dublin, Thompson first started dating Dempsey when he was just an up-and-coming drug dealer in the '90s. Her relationship with the notorious criminal has been anything but plain sailing. Just one day after Thompson left Ireland last year, his enemies placed a pipe bomb under a car parked outside her house. The army bomb disposal unit had to defuse the device, which was attached to the underside of a E320 Mercedes.
Dempsey's brother Karl is a well-known associate of Thompson's. In 2000, Karl Dempsey was jailed for five years after he was caught with €63,000 of heroin. CAB also ordered him to pay over €400,000 following an investigation in 2002.
Vicky's younger brother Les was also on the outskirts of Freddie Thompson's gang but was not considered a key player. He took his own life just days before his 26th birthday in August 2008. Dempsey has set up an online tribute to him.
8. ANNE CASEY
Wife of Limerick gang leader Wayne Dundon
Casey was there to greet her husband in March upon his release from prison after completing a lengthy sentence for threatening to kill barman Ryan Lee. The couple travelled to Mexico for a holiday after his release from prison. Casey, like her husband, is from a well-known settled Traveller family. The couple have two children.
In May, the couple raised eyebrows when they splashed out thousands of euro on a horse-drawn Cinderella carriage for the First Holy Communion celebration for their daughter. The party brought city-centre traffic to a halt when the Dundons and their entourage pulled up outside the People's Park to pose for photos.
Wayne Dundon later reacted angrily when these photos were published in newspapers and stormed into the Limerick Leader newspaper offices to speak to the editor.
"All Travelling people do a big day for their children's Communion. It was on the TV last week. I'm a Traveller, my wife [Anne] is a Traveller. But we didn't spend €8,000 like it says here," he said.
Casey has focused on raising their two children while her husband's criminal exploits have made him a household name.
9. CIARA KILLEEN
Partner of John Dundon
John Dundon was jailed three weeks ago for two years after he was caught driving a stolen Mercedes-Benz valued at €54,000 in Dublin. This means that his partner has been left to raise their young son alone while he is incarcerated. Like most of the partners of the Limerick gangland criminals, she shuns media attention and is not involved in criminality. Her brother, Nathan Killeen, is a key member of the McCarthy-Dundon gang and has been questioned in relation to the murders of Roy Collins and Shane Geoghegan.
10. NICOLA NUGENT
Partner of jailed gangland criminal Karl Breen
Karl Breen is the leader of the Clondalkin 'D22' gang. He has been in prison since he was convicted in 2007 of the manslaughter of his friend Martin McLaughlin, who he stabbed to death on New Year's Eve 2006. Nicola Nugent was present that night when her boyfriend killed his friend in a drunken row in Jury's hotel beside Croke Park after they had spent the night drinking champagne and returned to the hotel room Breen had booked for himself and Nugent, with whom he has three children.
After his two-week trial ended, Nugent spoke of the heartbreak it would cause her to have the father of her children locked up for nine years.
"This is a nightmare," she said. "You have no idea what it's like to have to go through something like this. I've got small children and this is such an incredibly difficult time for them. For them to see my picture splashed across the papers going to court every day was awful. I now just want to be left alone when this whole thing is over. It's a nightmare."
11. MICHELLE BAMBRICK
Partner of drug dealer James O'Reilly
Michelle Bambrick was jailed for three years three months ago for her role in possessing €300,000 of drugs under a secret panel in her bedroom press. The mother-of-four's partner, James O'Reilly, was jailed for 10 years for possession of a gun, ammunition and drugs worth over €300,000 a week before his partner was arrested in 2007. Gardaí found cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA and mixing agent in the bedroom and hydraulic presses in the garden shed.
The 34-year-old woman showed gardaí where the drugs were hidden under a bedroom press panel and broke down to officers, saying she didn't think her partner had been "that far" into the drugs trade. James O'Reilly had been arrested on other matters a week before the garda raid on her home and had told her that someone would come to collect the drugs.
Michelle is a niece of Michael Bambrick, who in the early 1990s butchered two women and buried their bodies.
12. LORNA DALY
Girlfriend to murdered crime boss Martin 'Marlo' Hyland
Hyland was shot dead by some of his associates in a house in Finglas in December 2006, along with innocent apprentice plumber Anthony Campbell. The major drug dealer had been coming under increasing pressure both from within his own gang and as a result of sustained unwelcome garda attention. He was involved in a long-term relationship with Lorna Daly since his teenage years.
Though in the last few months of his life, she saw little of him as he moved around safe houses as he knew his life was in danger. He had become increasingly distant to everyone in his life, including Daly, because of the strain he was under as he knew he was wanted dead.
Those close to Daly say that she is still heartbroken and hasn't recovered from her partner's death.
August 8, 2010