A mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.
Ireland has had its fair share of mysteries. In this feature, journalist Ger Leddin takes a look at five unsolved Irish mysteries that still baffle us today.
From bank robberies to missing people, these cases are almost impossible to explain.
5. Shergar – the prize-winning horse
On 8 February 1983, an armed masked gang held the family of Jim Fitzgerald hostage as they raided Ballymany Stud, where Jim worked as the head groom.
The gang took the retired racehorse, Shergar, who was valued at £10 million. They demanded a ransom of £2 million for the horses’ safe return.
Negotiations commenced between the kidnappers and representatives of the Aga Khan, the majority shareholder in the syndicate owning Shergar.
However, the remaining 35 shareholders refused to pay a ransom so negotiations were never finalised. They feared that by doing so, they would encourage further kidnappings of this type.
The ransom negotiations broke down and nothing more was heard from the kidnappers. The Garda carried out nationwide searches but learned nothing further about the whereabouts of Shergar.
Many possible explanations and theories have been put forward regarding what happened to this magnificent and distinctive racehorse. Rumours include involvement of the American mafia or Colonel Gadaffi.
However, the most plausible theory of one of the top unsolved Irish mysteries is that the kidnap was organised by an IRA splinter group.
It is thought that out of inexperience with handling thoroughbreds, the group injured the horse.
Another possibility is that, due to intensive Garda surveillance making it too risky to simply release the horse, the group deliberately put it down and buried the remains.
4. Aer Lingus Flight 712 – a mysterious tragedy
On the morning of 24 March 1968, an Aer Lingus operated Vickers Viscount flight from Cork to London crashed into the sea near Tuskar Rock off the County Wexford coast, killing all 61 people on board.
An immediate multi-agency investigation launched involving both Irish and British agencies. However, after two years of investigation, the cause of the crash remained undetermined.
Many possible reasons for the crash, ranging from bird strike structural failure and inadequate maintenance, have been put forward. Still, the mystery surrounding the crash deepened after two separate sources claimed two distinct and different reasons for the impact.
One is that a rogue missile strike from a nearby Welsh missile test area brought down the plane. The other is that a never reported mid-air collision between flight 712 and a French/Irish Air Corp training flight.
Some years after the crash, a crew member of the British ship HMS Penelope made an interesting revelation. They alleged that part of the recovered wreckage was secretly removed to the U.K.
3. Peter Bergmann – the man who never was
Not many people in Ireland are aware of the obscure case of Peter Bergmann, one of the unsolved Irish mysteries. A man who checked into the Sligo City Hotel on 12 June 2009 used the alias Bergmann.
Bergmann, whose true identity has never been established, travelled by bus from Belfast to Sligo. Hotel CCTV footage shows him leaving the hotel each morning of the five days he stayed there carrying a plastic bag full of assumed to be personal belongings.
CCTV cameras around Sligo town recorded Bergmann disposing of the bag’s contents at various locations. Each night he would return to the hotel minus the contents of the bag.
On Sunday morning, 14 June, Bergmann left the hotel. He got in a taxi asking the driver to take him somewhere to have a quiet swim.
The driver took Bergman to Roses Point on the Atlantic Coast. Bergmann just viewed the location and asked the driver to return him to Sligo.
The following morning, witnesses saw Bergmann acting strangely around a cafe and at Sligo Bus Station. Reports state that he took pieces of paper from his pockets, read them, and then carefully tore them up. He then deposited them in various separate litter bins.
Later that afternoon, he boarded a bus for Roses Point, where witnesses saw him walking on the beach.
The following morning, passersby found Bergmann’s naked body lying on the beach along with his clothes, which were scattered in various locations on the shore.
The questions as to why he gave a false name and an address that didn’t exist have never been answered. He also removed all identifying labels from his clothes and took other elaborate measures to hide his identity.
Despite a painstaking Garda investigation and the involvement of other international police agencies, his true identity has never been established.
2. Ireland’s Vanishing Triangle – eight missing women
The media adopted the name Ireland’s ‘Vanishing Triangle’ to refer to the strange occurrences between 1993 and 1998 in Leinster. The occurrences involve the disappearances of eight surprisingly similar young women in a roughly triangulated area.
Annie McCarrick, 26, Eva Brennan, 39, Imelda Keenan, 22, Josephine “JoJo” Dullard, 21, Ciara Breen, 17, Fiona Pender, 25, Fiona Sinnott, 19, and Deirdre Jacob, 18, all disappeared without a trace despite constant and ongoing investigations by the Gardai.
Some of the missing-cases similarities, particularly that of Deirdre Jacob, are extremely disturbing. Particularly as the women involved went missing in broad daylight.
The combination of similarities in the cases fostered the belief that a serial killer may have been responsible for the murders.
The 2001 conviction of a man for abducting, repeatedly raping, and attempting to murder a woman in a forested area of the Wicklow Mountains, strengthened this belief. After his arrest and subsequent imprisonment, the pattern of missing-women crimes ceased.
This is one of the most chilling unsolved Irish mysteries.
1. The disappearance of Amy Fitzpatrick – a missing 15-year-old
Amy Fitzpatrick was a 15-year-old North Dublin girl living on Spain’s Costa del Sol with her mother, brother, and step-father when she disappeared on 1 January 2008.
Amy’s mother Audrey had moved to Spain a few years previously to live and work. She moved along with Amy, her older brother Dean, and her partner Dave Mahon.
Amy had spent the day helping her friend Ashley Rose babysit Ashley’s younger brother.
Amy left Ashley’s house at about 10 pm and began walking home. The short walk that she had taken hundreds of times before should have taken a few minutes. However, the family told police that she never arrived.
Despite massive police searches around the vicinity and surrounding province, investigators found no trace of Amy or a body.
Interestingly, Ashley and her mother, Debbie, say that they are 100% positive that Amy had her mobile phone when she left their house. They report that Amy used it to retrieve her mother’s number and call her using the Rose’s landline.
Investigators later found the phone in Amy’s home but it disappeared during a subsequent break-in of the Fitzpatrick’s Spanish solicitor’s office.
Audrey and Dean, along with Dave Mahon, returned to Ireland. Some year’s later, police charged Mahon with stabbing to death then twenty-three-year-old Dean on 26 May 2013.
On 13 June 2016, the Dublin Central Criminal Court found Mahon guilty of manslaughter, and he is currently serving out the remainder of his sentence. Amy is still missing.
Above, you have just a teaser of five unsolved Irish mysteries that are worth reading into to find out more.
Bonus mystery – The Northern Bank Robbery
On 20 December 2004, a gang robbed the headquarters of the Northern Bank in Belfast City. They took an amount totalling 26.5 million pounds sterling in what was Ireland’s most audacious bank robbery ever.
The thieves got away with the vast amount of money and the robbery. Further, subsequent events threatened what was then an extremely fragile and infant peace process in Northern Ireland.
Police reports indicate that the gang responsible for carrying out the tiger style kidnappings and the robbery had been planning the crime for months before.
The actual series of events leading to the heist began on the night of 19 December with two break ins at the homes of bank officials.
Junior bank official Christopher Ward was watching television with his parents and girlfriend when gunmen broke into his house and threatened his family.
The gang then drove Ward to the home of the bank’s senior official Kevin McMullan while his family remained hostage.
The gang took McMullan’s wife from her home to an unknown location and kept her at gunpoint.
They gave the bank officials mobile phones and told them to go to work the following morning as normal.
During the course of the day, gang members kept in touch with both McMullan and Ward via the mobile phones.
The gang ordered Ward to remove a large around one million pounds and carry it to a bus stop in Queen’s Street to hand over to one of the robbers. Many people view this act as a test run for what was to follow.
Later that afternoon, acting under instructions from the gang, McMullan informed his staff that they could finish work and leave early. This left only him and Ward, along with two security staff, in the bank.
Ward and McMullan told the security staff they were arranging to get rid of some rubbish and loaded crates of banknotes on to trolleys.
They covered them with broken furniture and, using the bank’s internal lift, carried them to the loading bay at street level. Here, they met members of the gang who, after loading the cash, drove away.
Sometime later, the gang returned to carry out the same procedure. Again, the gang drove away, leaving McMullan and Ward to tidy up and return home.
On finding his family safe, Ward contacted the PSNI, and the police action commenced. The gang released McMullan’s wife a short time later.
Some convictions for money laundering have taken place and a small amount of the cash has been recovered. However, no successful prosecutions have taken place and the gang is still at large.
Police and political figures in the north and south have alleged that the robbery was carried out by the IRA. But this has always been denied by Sinn Féin.
So, there you have it: six crazy unsolved Irish mysteries that still baffle us today.