3 October 2015Forty years ago, on October 3, 1975, Dutch industrialist Dr Tiede Herrema was flagged down at a garda checkpoint as he drove to an early morning meeting at the Ferenka steel plant at Annacotty, Co Limerick.
When the chief executive of the factory complex confirmed his name, the 'guard' whipped out a revolver and bundled the 54-year-old into a getaway car. A phone call to the Dutch embassy demanded the release of three republican prisoners from prison. Failing the release of the trio, the industrialist would be "executed" in 48 hours.
It quickly became apparent to the authorities that the daring crime had been committed for largely personal motives. The bogus garda was rogue republican bomber Eddie Gallagher, on the run from the law north and south, and from ex-IRA pals now gunning for him.Abduction victim Dr Tiede Herrema
One of the three Gallagher wanted set free was his partner in crime, Rose Dugdale, who'd given birth to their son in Limerick Prison 10 months earlier. Gallagher's young accomplice, Marian Coyle, sought the release of boyfriend Kevin Mallon, who was serving time for IRA crimes.
The immediate response of Liam Cosgrave's FG/Labour government was that there would be no deals with terrorists, although they left open the suggestion that they wouldn't stand in the way of anyone - meaning Ferenka - that wanted to try paying a cash ransom.
The economy was on its knees after six years of Troubles and the ongoing slump from the 1973 oil crisis. Quite apart from the human tragedy, the kidnap and threatened murder of the boss of one of Ireland's biggest employers would surely send foreign firms packing and lower the boom on any future inward investment. The fate of the nation hung in the balance.
Industrial strife was the scourge of the time and the fitters at Ferenka abandoned their current unofficial strike to join a mass march through the streets of Limerick to demand Herrema's safe release. The city's Lord Mayor pleaded with the republican movement - who'd denied any involvement - to make a truce with the State and use their resources "to find this man and bring him back, otherwise 1,200 people will be out of work".
The 48-hour deadline passed and in the eternity that followed everyone feared the worst. Then, as hope was fading, fresh demands came through, including the shut-down of the strikebound Ferenka factory. The kidnappers hoped that the factory's giant parent company would lean on the Irish government to grant their demands, secure Herrema's release and get production rolling again. That hope was wildly misplaced.
The plant was shut down and the Army and Gardaí focused on the greatest manhunt in the history of the State, with troops posted at every port, airport and border back road, but all to no avail. In the absence of any hard leads, wild rumours filled the vacuum, including groundless whispers that the kidnappers were threatening to cut off one of their victim's feet.
Finally, after two weeks gone to ground, the kidnappers released a tape of Herrema's voice. He confirmed he was in good health. It was accompanied by new demands for a £2m ransom and a flight to the Middle East.
After two weeks in the dark, the nation awoke on a Sunday morning to radio bulletins of a dawn raid by Special Branch backed by snipers on a terraced house in the Kildare town of Monasterevin. As the guards smashed down the front door, Gallagher and Coyle retreated, shooting wildly, to an upstairs bedroom with their hostage. By early afternoon the sleepy estate in Monasterevin was swamped with security forces and media. One paper wrote: "The Hazel Hotel nearly ran out of food and by 2pm the only fare on the menu was haddock." That flippancy quickly flagged after a haggard Tiede Herrema came to a window and told the police to stay away. Everyone settled in for what would be a long siege.
After several days the kidnappers began accepting food placed in a shopping basket hoisted on a lowered rope. Days crawled by into weeks. When a demand came for fresh clothes, including three pairs of underpants and a petticoat, speculation mounted that they were sprucing themselves up for surrender. It turned out they just wanted clean undies. A failed attempt at another dawn raid through a back window left one detective wounded in the hand.
Then, on Day 17, the kidnappers asked for headache tablets. Hours later they threw their guns out the window and came out. Gallagher thought he had meningitis and asked for medical help. Herrema seemed in fine fettle. He flew home to the Netherlands, where he forgave his captors, saying: "They could have been my own children. They must have been through desperate times to come to this."
Now aged 94, Herrema has maintained close ties to Ireland, having been made an honorary Irish citizen shortly after his ordeal.
The kidnappers and their accomplices received a total of 71 years behind bars. Gallagher was reunited with his lover Rose Dugdale in Limerick Jail, where in 1978 they became the first convicted prisoners in the history of the State to wed behind bars. Dugdale was released in 1980, 10 years ahead of her husband.
In 2005, Gallagher recalled those turbulent times as "a bit like taking a stroll through a reptile pit".