Coffin opened as graveyard plot thickens

It could have been a plot from Father Ted. The peace, quiet and sobriety of Dublin’s only Orthodox cemetery rang to the scrunch of large boots and the clank of steel shovels as men set to work.

For once, instead of a body being interred, Dublin Orthodox Cemetery was the scene of one apparently being taken away by the garda — the Dublin police. But they would not say why.

The garda descended, on Wednesday of last week, on the cemetery in Aughavannagh Road in the Dolphin’s Barn area, erected screens around a grave and proceeded to remove the coffin that had been buried there.

There was intense speculation in local papers that police were searching for an IRA arms cache, because the cemetery had been used in the past to hide weapons owned by a drugs gang, led by a man called John Gilligan. Just to complicate matters, the detective leading last week’s exhumation was Superintendent John Gilligan.

The papers also put forward the suggestion that the wrong body might have been placed in the grave.

According to a report in the Herald, an Ingrams sub-machine gun was found in the cemetery in 1996 when police were hunting the killers of journalist Veronica Guerin.

Either way, Sgt Alan Roughneen of Dublin Police was giving nothing away, except to say: “Despite all the speculation by certain sections of the media that firearms were found, I can say this was not the case.”

Everything had been done according to the book, he said. Permissions for the exhumation had been obtained from Dublin City Council and from the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern.

He revealed that whatever came out of the grave had undergone an initial examination by the state pathologist.

So what did he examine? “I’m afraid I can’t tell you that either,” said Sergeant Roughneen.

The police, he said, had also been “in close liaison” with the Dublin Jewish community “and we continue to be so”.

But the Jewish community seemed to know very little about what was going on. Stewart Barling, secretary to the Chief Rabbi of Ireland (position vacant at present) knew nothing about it, nor did Chevra Kadisha president Eddie Segal: “I’ve been away. It’s news to me.”

Will the mystery ever be solved? Watch this space.

    Last updated: 1:41pm, January 22 2009