SAOR Eire were the first armed gang of the modern era -- and their arrival heralded the advent of gun crime in Ireland.
The group which later adopted the name first struck on February 27, 1967, when they carried out an armed robbery in Drumcondra, north Dublin. Paul Williams writes: "This was the first time that guns had been used on Irish streets for many decades. The mob involved in the robbery had heralded the arrival of organised crime in Ireland.
"The robbery crew was no ordinary criminal gang. It was a well organised, heavily armed, highly motivated and dangerously volatile group. Their 'jobs' were meticulously planned and executed with a ruthless efficiency."
The gang's reign would last just six years. Largely forgotten now, their activity played a pivotal role in ushering in the age of gangland crime. "They were a motley collection of dissident republicans, socialists, anarchists and criminals who gathered together under a flag of convenience to justify their actions," Williams claims.
The chief movers in the outfit were ex-IRA men Joe Dillon, from Portmarnock, Martin Casey, from Ballymun, and Liam Walsh, from Inchicore. Another member, Frank Keane, from Finglas, was one of the first of the gang to be prosecuted, for attempting to burn down Fianna Fail's party HQ. At its height the gang had 60 members but garda believed that it never had more then 20 committed activists. After the murder of Garda Dick Fallon, during a bank robbery at Arran Quay in April 1970, the gang had carried out 13 robberies in three years. As Williams explains: "Most of Saor Eire's robberies were 'half and half operations' -- half the proceeds went to fund the war and the other half went into the pockets of the patriots."
One of their highest profile jobs was the October 1968 robbery of a bank in Ballyfermot, in which the gang opened fire on unarmed gardai. Martin Donnellan, a former assistant commissioner who was one of the pursuing gardai that day, recalls the incident.
"There was a high-speed chase and they fired several shots directly at us. This was the first time I ever witnessed such violence. For me that was the end of an age of innocence."
For all their organisation the gang floundered in the early 1970s. Key players were arrested and convicted. Another of the main players, Liam Walsh, blew himself up carrying a bomb near McKee Barracks.
Williams writes: "In its short, violent existence it had failed to wrench power from the capitalists and create a workers' republic. It had, however, succeeded in making armed robbery an attractive proposition for the up- and-coming gangsters.
"Saor Eire's revolution had won independence for a place called Gangland."