“On the evening of 26 April 1974, four thieves armed with AK-47s broke into Russborough House in County Wicklow, the vast Palladian pile belonging to the diamond heir Sir Alfred Beit,” The intruders hit Beit on the head with a revolver butt, tied him up along with his wife, and helped themselves to the couple’s “fabulous art collection”, making off with two Gainsboroughs, three Rubens and a Vermeer.
Their leader was a woman with an obviously fake French accent, who seemed to know something about art. “Take zis one!” She commanded the gang. “Not zat one!” She was, in fact, Dr Rose Dugdale, an upper-class English debutante who’d been presented to the Queen and read PPE at Oxford before becoming a member of the IRA. In this “fascinating” biography, the Irish journalist Sean O’Driscoll charts her journey from “deb” to terrorist. Dugdale was born in 1941 on her parents’ country estate in Devon, Her father, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Dugdale, was a Lloyds underwriter, while her “strict but chic mother” Carol was Oswald Mosley’s sister-in-law. Dugdale grew up “curtseying to her parents’ dinner guests, and listening to Mozart, Bach and Rachmaninov”. At Oxford, she began an affair with one of her dons, a woman named Peter Ady, who specialised in “decolonisation and reparations”. It was the start of Dugdale’s embrace of left-wing politics; she was soon giving most of her money away to the poor. Heiress, Rebel, Vigilante, Bomber is a “superb biography”, which provides an “evenhanded and thrilling gallop through her improbable life”.
Dugdale was recruited to the IRA in the early 1970s, by her lover Walter Heaton, At his prompting, she raided her parents’ home, stealing valuables worth £82,000. At her trial (where she received a suspended sentence), she told her father from the dock: “I love you, but hate everything you stand for.” She was arrested again after the Russborough heist, and spent six years in prison, where she gave birth to a son. She returned to terrorism upon her release, becoming, with her partner Jim Monaghan, one of the IRA’s chief bomb-makers; her weapons were used in deadly attacks. Now in her 80s, she remains unrepentant about the suffering she caused. While interviewing her at her nursing home in Ireland, O’Driscoll asked her if she had any regrets. “No, I cannot say I do,” she replied.