Jim Fitzgerald

Jim Fitzgerald, Shergar’s groom .

In Part I of this blog, we went back almost 30 years to February 8th, 1983, when Shergar, Ireland’s famous and successful racehorse turned stud, was kidnapped from his stables in County Leitrim, Ireland during  “The Troubles” – that period of killing and strife from the late 1960s until around 1998.

The kidnappers had cleverly chosen to kidnap this racing superstar the day before Goff’s racehorse sale. The highways and country roads were jammed with horse vans and trailers so the van carrying Shergar would have blended right in and nobody would have taken any notice of it.

The kidnapping was a mess right from the get-go: using the codename King Neptune and incorrectly thinking that he was the sole owner, the kidnappers then began secret negotiations with a representative of the Aga Khan. If they had done some research they would have been dismayed to find that there were 34 other syndicate members to deal with and who had to agree with the decisions and tactics regarding Shergar. There was also the fear that if the kidnappers got what they wanted then every other successful racehorse in Ireland would become a possible kidnap target. The kidnappers had also misjudged the Irish love of horses; every known Republican stronghold and safe house was raided and many arms’ caches were discovered in an all out effort to find this Irish racing star.

The police investigation was also a calamity from the start. Chief Superintendent James Murphy became the darling of the media for using bizarre methods including mediums and psychics to try and solve the case. Captain Berry, then Chairman of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, revealed that his senior officers were carrying on investigations that were in direct competition with the local County Kildare police and that the two groups were not sharing information.

To add to the confusion were the countless conspiracy theories that ran wild: some thought that the mafia were behind the kidnapping for a deal gone wrong with the Aga Khan. Others thought that Colonel Gaddafi was behind it in return for arms for the IRA. However, the majority of investigators felt that the IRA was to blame. Years later Sean O’Callaghan, a double IRA killer turned police agent revealed in his book “The Informer” the names of seven former Provos he claimed had planned and carried out the kidnap with senior IRA leader Kevin Mallon as the man who devised the plot. O’Callaghan also stated in his book that the horse had injured himself early on in the kidnap and had been destroyed, but that the IRA kept up the pretence that he was alive.

However, according to another IRA source, even O’Callaghan didn’t know the whole truth because the gang was so embarrassed by what they had done. Another source who was a friend of one of the kidnappers claimed that the Army Council, the Provos’ ruling body, had sanctioned the kidnap, but plans went afoul. The vet who had agreed to look after Shergar changed his mind after his wife found out what was happening and told him that if he walked out the door to look after Shergar and play a part in the wrongdoing, he would never walk in again.

England’s Sunday Telegraph revealed that four days after the kidnapping and following extensive stalling by the Aga Khan’s representative, the Army Council felt the horse was worthless and wanted to release him. However, Mallon was under surveillance, the Garda were all over Ireland and letting the horse free amidst such turmoil and scrutiny would have been impossible. Mallon then decided to kill the horse and what followed is the ultimate tragedy for a horse that was known for his kind and gentle temperament.

He was taken to a remote stable and machine gunned to death in the same way that the IRA had killed countless human victims. The details are gruesome and not for the fainthearted and to this day nobody in Ireland knows where he is buried though speculation runs wild. Even broad Republican sympathisers would not have forgiven the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein for killing a beloved horse in such a manner.

Over the years, the IRA has tried to blame renegade members for the kidnapping but historian and journalist Kevin O’Connor dismisses this idea knowing that an operation of such intensity and manpower required authorization at a high level.

To this day Shergar’s final resting place remains a secret and Gerry Reynolds, a former MP for Sligo/Leitrim for 20 years admitted that, “I would love to see this mystery resolved so that we all know what happened to the horse’s remains. But I honestly don’t think Shergar’s grave will ever be found.”

Was he buried in a bog near Ballinamore at the farm of a Provo supporting family? Was he buried at a farm near Ballinamore?  If anybody knows, nobody is talking. In Ballinamore the locals turn their heads and walk away when questioned and British journalists get no answers when they visit this town known as the “Falls Road of the South” because of its support for the Provos. Even men like Kevin Mallon who is now viewed as a “headcase” refused to answer questions and others mentioned in Mallon’s book deny any involvement.

Jim Fitzgerald, Shergar’s groom is now an old man, but he still holds the memory of Shergar dear to his heart. When he was told how Shergar died, apparently he wiped a tear from his eye and said, “Shergar was a grand horse and he deserved better.”