TWO OFF MISTER
At 4.50 p.m. on January 6th, 1972, O'Donnell and a second man entered the Ulster Bank on the corner of Ranelagh and Beechwood Avenue. Fitzgerald stood guard on the door.
O'Donnell felt his shoes slip on the tiled floor and cursed to himself for forgetting to put on his crepe soled shoes. Acting in his usual role of bagman he was over the counter and had all the money he could find in a bag in thirty seconds. One customer, with a neatly trimmed beard which looked like it had been freshly laundered, stared at the second man. He was transfixed by the man's gun.
"I didn't come in here to lodge this," said the second man, referring to his gun. "Now get yer fucking arse over against that wall, or I'll show you how it works." He then followed O'Donnell out of the bank after warning the bank staff and the small number of customers not to follow.
The three crossed the busy road smartly and entered an unnamed lane off Chelmsford Lane. They then jumped over a back wall and within seconds were in a ground floor bedsit, which was nearly opposite the bank. It was as easy and as simple a robbery as anyone could commit.
Fitzgerald took off a curly black wig, put on a hat and headed out the front door. He crossed the street and mingled among the gathering crowd of gawkers as the gardai arrived. He was listening to what was being said so as to hear if anyone would inform the gardai that they had seen the robbers crossing the road and entering the lane. If the lane was pointed out (by a nosey parker in O'Donnell's vocabulary) Fitzgerald would return to the flat. Then the robbers would leave by the front door and just melt in with the crowds now returning from work in the darkening evening.
The customer with the neat beard was telling whoever would listen how one of the raiders had threatened to blow his head off. A woman told a heavy set sergeant that she thought that the man behind the counter with the bag was a busy teller.
"He had no mask. When he jumped out over the counter, I got such a fright that I nearly jumped out of my knickers."
Fitzgerald was about to point out to the fat sergeant he was standing close to that he had seen three men get into a car and head up Beechwood Avenue, when a green Morris Minor full of Branchmen pulled alongside the kerb. He recognized two, Josh and Bulla, and headed back to the flat.
"Some oulwan was disgusted at your language," he said to the second man.
O'Donnell went to the front door and looked across diagonally towards the bank. There was still a crowd around the entrance. From the front door, which was about eight feet above the road level he could see a number of uniformed gardai in the brightly lit bank. He relaxed. It was time to go back and put on a cup of coffee.
Within minutes of Fitzgerald leaving the street one garda was told by an eyewitness that two people had crossed the street in a bit of a hurry and walked down Chelmsford Lane. The garda followed up on the clue and walked down the badly lit lane. He came across a mechanic working in a shed cum garage.
"Did anybody pass by here about ten minutes ago?"
The garda walked back up the lane. There was a small lane, almost a path, which was a cul-de-sac off the main lane. If the eyewitness was correct and if the mechanic had not seen anybody, whoever came down the lane must have turned into the dead end track. He walked down using his flashlight for it was now dark. He came to a stone wall. After a slight hesitation, he climbed up the wall and looked over the top. As he did he nearly gave a heart attack to some people who were waiting at a bus stop on Appian Way.
"Did anyone climb over in the last half hour?" he inquired.
"No one an' we're here bloody hours," they muttered.
One elderly woman who took out her top false teeth to talk said that the sliced pan loaf had not been invented when she first arrived at the bus stop.
The garda hurried back with the information. If the information from the pedestrian was correct, it was possible that the men who entered the lane were the robbers. If that was the case, they had to be in one of the back gardens or one of the ten or so houses on that part of Ranelagh. As the three inside were enjoying their coffee and laughing about the fussy customer's outrage at the coarseness of the second man, the gardai outside were throwing a cordon around the area.
Somebody heard a noise. The light was switched off. Through the window they saw a uniformed garda move around the back garden of number 80 with a torch in his hand. Those inside were experienced enough to immediately realize what was going on. It was only a matter of minutes before the houses would be combed one by one.
"We'll just have to burst out the front door and take our chance."
"Who d'yah think we are? Dan fucking Breen!"
O'Donnell went to the front door and opened it slightly. There were two uniformed gardai standing down at the gate. Others were standing in small groups at intervals along the street. They came up with a quick plan.
In the bank O'Donnell wore a green jacket and black sweater. Now he pulled off the sweater and donned a white polo neck shirt of the type then made popular by Pat Quinn, the supermarket owner. The jacket was replaced by a black overcoat and the spectacles, which he had worn in the bank, were pocketed. He also stuffed a bundle of bank notes into a pocket.
The plan was that O'Donnell, now carrying a briefcase, would open the front door. The gardai at the gate would undoubtedly approach. O'Donnell would entice them into the darkened hall where they would be jumped on and tied up. Fitzgerald and O'Donnell would grab their tunics and hats, walk out the front door and shout a warning to the other gardai in the vicinity that the robbers were now in number 82. In the general dash for number 82 the pair of bogus gardai and their accomplice would make themselves scarce, they hoped.
"How about a roar of c'mon Gortnapisha," Fitzgerald suggested as he laughed nervously, seconds before O'Donnell opened the front door.
"'Scuse me Sir," called out one of the gardai at the gate. He walked briskly up the granite steps. O'Donnell remained at the half open front door.
"Do you live here?"
"I do. Yes."
"What's your name?"
"Where are you going?"
"To Trinity College, to a lecture," he slightly lifted up the brief case.
"Is there anyone else in the house?"
"Eh, I couldn't say. Come on in guard an' I'll see."
O'Donnell took a step back into the hall. The youngish garda stared at the figure who was half swallowed in the semi darkeness. He did not move. He looked down the steps. The garda who had been standing with him at the gate had walked further up the street. He was alone. The figure in the hall stood quite still. The garda felt that something, he did not know what exactly, except that it boded ill for his promotion prospects and maybe even his wedding plans, was up, and so stood his ground. Fitzgerald gave up on the plan. He pulled the door full open and walked quickly out.
"Just a tenant from upstairs," said O'Donnell, stepping out from the open door.
Fitgerald walked down the steps and passed some gardai on the street. They must have assumed that the garda now in strained conversation with O'Donnell had authorized his departure. O'Donnell watched Fitzgerald stride, business-like, towards the Ranelagh triangle with two of the three handguns in his possession. He could not attempt to move until he knew that Fitzgerald was clear.
"I better go or I'll be late," he announced.
Some of the money O'Donnell had shoved in his coat pocket was slightly sticking out. At a glance it was clearly money. The garda shouted and within seconds O'Donnell was surrounded by gardai. He was ushered down the steps to a patrol car. A sergeant made an attempt to punch him through the open window of the garda car. A garda pulled the sergeant away.
"Who are yeh?" he shouted.
"Yer a fucking liar," shouted the sergeant.
O'Donnell lifted the wig a little as if he was tipping his hat to a lady in a more chivalrous age and smiled from the back of the patrol car. The sergeant's eyes widened in his ruddy face as he saw the fair hair beneath the dark brown wig.
"Be jaysus, it's him alright."
A short siege occurred before a second man was brought out and the two were taken by patrol car to the town-hall-like building that was Donnybrook Garda Station. They were led into one of the main rooms which quickly filled with detectives and uniformed gardai. The wrozzers were in a buoyant mood and the room seemed to buzz. Everybody, except the two in custody, was in high spirits.
"You're a terrible man not to have left a forwarding address," said Nobber. "Oh! Did you enjoy the pint in Lesie Allen's?"
Inspector Corristine, who had been climbing up every tree in Dublin, for years, with a warrant in his back pocket in connection with the Ballyfermot car chase, arrived with a relieved look on his face. The second detained man refused to tell the Slug or anybody else who he was. He denied knowing O'Donnell or anything about the bank raid in Ranelagh.
"Oh this fellow, the man from God knows where, doesn't know his own name," shrugged the Slug, "and the other fellow over there blathers on endlessly, so I've heard anyway, about isms if you don't mind."
"Oh all kinds of isms," said Josh, cutting in. "Socialism, if you don't mind, and we finding his pockets stuffed with bank notes. For the poor, I suppose," he jocosely surmised, enormously pleased with his exposure of an ideological contradiction.
And not a word out of him about bank robberyism, or blackguardism or bombsawayism," added the lanky, loquacious Pah Wah.
"What about going around wiggism?" said Nipper, a small Cork Branchman. He examined the black wig and spectacles, and approached O'Donnell.
"Put them on."
"Why not? The gardai in Ranelagh said that they suited you very well. They said that you looked like a new man. And a lot like a man who had been doing quite a bit of banking business recently. Would you go on an identification parade with them on?"
"No. Thanks very much all the same but no thanks," replied O'Donnell, wondering if it was the first time a person had been asked to go on an identification parade in disguise.
The gardai soon learned that the second man they had in custody was Tom Savage from North Dublin. Savage was 22 years old and had only recently arrived back in Dublin having been active in Derry for most of 1971.
The night had fully edged in when Fitzgerald arrived at the second storey flat in York Street.
"Jesus Dan, you look like you've seen a ghost," said a concerned Miss Reid as Fitzgerald entered the flat. He told her the story: then he took out the two handguns.
"Could you put those in the wardrobe or somewhere for the moment."
"I'll put them in the hatbox on top of it."
Fitzgerald had a quick cup of coffee and then left.
He arrived in the Peacock breathless.
"You're having us on," said Marsh.
"I'm not. It was only a fluke that I managed to get away meself."
"There's no way that we can blow them out with all the tightened security since the last caper," shrugged Ructions.
"Not with one of his bombs," Edwards laughed, pointing towards Marsh. He was now at the counter informing Clarke that he had just lost two customers for a period that would be determined by what side of the bed some judge tumbled out of in the next month or so.
"Jesus there'll be more of them in the 'Joy' than here if this keeps up," said Clarke, throwing his sparkling eyes upwards.
"It's fucking unfair competition. You should get on to that crowd that investigates monopolies," advised Long.
O'Donnell and Savage were charged in the garda station with the bank robbery at the Ulster Bank in Ranelagh.
"Definitely not guilty," they replied in unison.
"Perhaps they got the money and gun from a fella in a bank," the Slug laughed.
"Did you see the face on Josh when we pleaded not guilty?" said Savage.
"Yeah. I thought he was going to burst a spring."
The two were remanded to Mountjoy Prison.
"Two off mister Bunead," shouted Macker, the Chief Officer, as the pair entered the remand wing.
"Keep well back from his head," O'Donnell advised Savage as they followed the wobbly warden to their cells.
Later O'Donnell received a six year sentence for the Ranelagh robbery when he appeared before Justice Andreas O'Keefe.
Prior to that case, a jury had found him not guilty of the bank robbery in Newbridge, County Kildare in 1968.
On May 10th, 1972, he stood before Justice Butler having pleaded guilty to possession of firearms with intent to endanger life. Butler adjourned the proceedings for thirty minutes to allow O'Donnell to give an undertaking to the court stating that he would no longer involve himself in political organizations. O'Donnell refused.
On the resumption Butler said that any form of crime involving firearms deserved condign punishment. He sentenced O'Donnell to ten years imprisonment. However, he said that he would review the sentence when the six year sentence that O'Donnell was already serving was completed. The review would be based on O'Donnell's behaviour in prison.
Tom Savage pleaded not guilty to the Ranelagh bank robbery. He was found guilty and was sentenced by Justice Butler to seven years imprisonment. Again, Butler put a condition on the sentence. Savage would have his sentence reviewed after three years and would be released if his prison demeanour was exemplary.