HP Archive: The true story of the John Gilligan gang
With John Gilligan now released from prison, we delve into the Hot Press archive for an extraordinary interview conducted by Jason O'Toole in 2008...
Jason O'Toole, 28 Jul 2008
Did you get a buzz from stroking?
“Of course you did. I used to think that all those factories were mine. If I wanted to take anything out of those factories, I’d just go and do it. It wasn’t a case of, ‘Will I be able to do it?’ They were mine. In my head, I owned them. I know that’s a bad attitude, but you asked me a straight question and I’m not going to lie to you. I know the answer I could give! Maybe that’s what I thrived on – that and gambling – because I didn’t drink for 20 years. That was my vice – stroking and gambling,” he says.
Why did you give up drink?
“I was cranky on drink. I’ll tell you why exactly I gave up drink. I’m ashamed of it but I’m not ashamed to say it – when my son was born I got drunk. And I was drunk for three or four days. I came home drunk and Geraldine was doing the ironing. I walked in and hit my foot on a stool and I picked it up and threw it in the corner. And I didn’t realise – I was after getting a pram for my son and Geraldine had lifted the top of the pram – you know the way you can lift it off? – and put him, in it, on the floor in the corner. But I threw the stool and it bounced off the wall and it landed in the end in the pram. When I seen it, I just sobered up instantly. If he was turned around the other way I think the stool would have killed him. I went, ‘On his life I’ll never drink again’. She said, ‘ Just drink shandies from now on’. I said, ‘I have to go. I’m going’. I went down stairs and she came down and said, ‘John, don’t go’. I said, ‘Fuck, that nearly killed him. If that pram had been turned the other way he’d be dead’.
“I didn’t drink for 20 years because of that. One night Geraldine, Tracy and Darren said, ‘Listen, you are doing everything for us. Will you have a drink?’ I said, ‘I’m afraid. If I have a drink don’t give out to me. I won’t have a row because I’m afraid to have a row’, and I had a drink. I can tell you now that I get more happy on drink than anything else.”
John Gilligan was arrested in 1976 for possession of stolen goods and was locked up in Mountjoy Jail for 18 months. “I had to be the unluckiest man in Ireland to get jailed in 1977,” he laughs. “Do you know why? In 1977 there was an amnesty going. There was a huge number of cases backlogged. Cases were taking five years. It was told unofficially to every barrister that if your client pleads guilty he’ll more than likely get a suspended sentence – even if it was for armed robbery, banks, post offices – everything. I know loads of fellas that were up for three or four post office robberies who would’ve normally pleaded not guilty and tried to win them – but they all pleaded guilty. The whole town pleaded guilty.
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