This Rathkeale Gang, are very Dangerous, Money and Guns, and Global, Criminal Connections?

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Three-way fight for gangland dominance behind serious violence in Rathkeale

Gangs linked to the Co Limerick town have evolved into international drug trafficking and money laundering operations

Simon Harris
Simon Harris
The scene in Rathkeale after Monday’s violence
The scene in Rathkeale after Monday’s violence
CAB has taken aim at the assets of John O’Donoghue
CAB has taken aim at the assets of John O’Donoghue
The scene in Rathkeale after Monday’s violence
The scene in Rathkeale after Monday’s violence

Today at 10:58

A three-way fight for dominance between criminal gangs led to the serious violence witnessed in Rathkeale last week.

A vehicle described as a “German war jeep” was used to ram at least six SUVs in a shocking incident that saw armed gardai flood the Co Limerick town.

It came just hours after a wild brawl between rivals at a venue in the area, according to Sunday World sources.

Despite the large garda presence now in the town, the prospect of more violence is “a certainty”, a source added.

“There’s no talking to them at the moment,” our source said.

Last Monday’s attack also left vehicles belonging to innocent people badly damaged, while a number of elderly people are described as being “trapped” by fear in their homes.

Parties scheduled to go ahead in the town have been cancelled and some Traveller traders who returned for Christmas have left in fear.

CAB has taken aim at the assets of John O’Donoghue
CAB has taken aim at the assets of John O’Donoghue

Criminal gangs linked to the Co Limerick town have, in recent years, evolved into international drug trafficking and money laundering operations.

This week’s incredible scenes of expensive SUVs left smashed on the road after series of a rammings have highlighted the sense of impunity in how the gangs operate.

Videos of the aftermath showing the badly damaged vehicles and a machete lying on the tarmac leave no doubt as to the criminal intent behind the attacks.

Christmas is when many of the Traveller traders return to Rathkeale to celebrate after spending much of the year outside the country.

Known as the Rathkeale Rovers for decades, they have been associated with the door-to-door sale of furniture as well as antique dealing and tarmacking.

But within the group there are fraudsters and serious criminals with links to international underworld gangs.

The scene in Rathkeale after Monday’s violence
The scene in Rathkeale after Monday’s violence

Calls for a garda crackdown and even the use of the Army to restore order don’t reflect the national and international efforts already gone into breaking up criminal gangs linked to the town.

Local criminals, such as John O’Donoghue and those linked to ‘The Dead Zoo Gang’ who specialised in stealing rhino horns, have been the target of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Operation Oakleaf, originally announced in 2010 by Europol, targeted the Organised Crime Groups with links to the Limerick town which operated across Europe

O’Donoghue, whose Rathkeale property was previously raided as part of Operation Oakleaf, was named this month in a High Court action by CAB aimed at having €820,000 declared the proceeds of crime.

The Rathkealer was named as one of three men who controlled Bawn Motors, which CAB contends had been set up for the purpose of laundering drug money from criminal gangs in Limerick.

O’Donoghue is described as an associate of criminals in the Limerick area, including crime boss and convicted drug dealer Christy Keane and the Kinahan organised crime gang, according to CAB.

He was convicted in the UK after being targeted there by the National Crime Agency as he set up a cannabis deal in 2012 in which he was caught on surveillance footage.

Members of his wider clan have also been involved in feud violence, according to sources.

Last year, the Sunday World reported how O’Donoghue got a 10-year prison sentence for a vicious machete attack in which his victim thought he was going to die.

Like this week’s violence, it happened during the festive period when the victim, a man in his late 70s, had returned to the town for the first time in 17 years.

O’Donoghue attacked the man in a planned ambush in which at least 10 men emerged from two cars and effectively held the victim’s family at bay as O’Donoghue slashed his target with a machete.

During his sentence hearing the court was told at Christmas 2020 that he approached gardai to organise a public meeting to encourage young people in Rathkeale for the holidays to stick to Covid regulations.

The cash-rich traders have often been seen as a soft touch for hardened criminals and this year’s violence is linked to attempts at extortion, according to sources.

Kinahan cartel-linked thug Gerard Mackin was jailed in March 2017 when he was sentenced to three years for his role in a torture session in a bid to extort money from a Rathkeale man.

The victim was put in a chair in the middle of the kitchen in a Limerick house and his foot was nailed to the floor.

The annual influx of people, which some politicians this week said can see Rathkeale’s population swell by three or four times its normal level, has led to previous clashes as old scores are settled.

Acting Justice Minister Simon Harris said any additional garda resources required in Rathkeale “would be forthcoming” to tackle feuding factions.

This year’s violence also included shots being fired, mobile homes being smashed up and a garda car rammed.


In 2013, the Sunday World obtained footage of a house being attacked by a mob, some armed with slash hooks, as they smashed up the property.

In another incident, a pipe bomb exploded at the home of a member of ‘The Dead Zoo gang’ who was in custody in the US over rhino horn smuggling.

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