Northern Ireland

English heiress who was involved in failed IRA helicopter-bomb plot 'estranged from family'

Rose Dugdale. IFI Film Archive
Rose Dugdale. IFI Film Archive

One-time English heiress Rose Dugdale, who joined the Provisional IRA and once hatched a plan to bomb a Co Tyrone police station from a helicopter, has been largely estranged from her wealthy family since she moved to Ireland five decades ago.

Details of the privileged upbringing of Dugdale, also involved in the theft of millions of pounds worth of paintings from Wicklow’s Russborough House,  will be revealed in a three-part RTÉ documentary starting on Tuesday.

Her nephew, Andrew Ground, told the Irish News he has had no contact at all with 82-year-old Dugdale, who is believed to be living in a Dublin nursing home.

Dugdale’s sister Caroline, who died in 2017, was married to Patrick Ground, a Conservative MP first elected in the 1983 Thatcherite wave.

Rose Dugdale in the 1970s
Rose Dugdale in the 1970s

Mr Ground, confirming he is related to Dugdale, said he would be of no use “as I have had no contact at all”.

His father Patrick previously said the family has never talked publicly about Dugdale.

Dugdale, with her partner, Donegal IRA man Eddie Gallagher, attempted to bomb Strabane RUC station in early 1974. But two milk churns full of explosives failed to explode.

She was sentenced to nine years for her involvement in the Russborough raid. She gave birth to a child by Gallagher in prison.

Contributors to the documentary series reveal details of Dugdale’s early life as the daughter of a Lloyd’s of London underwriter and multimillionaire. 

The family had a 600 acre property in Devon and a house in Chelsea, London.

Journalist Liz Hoggard said: “Like all high end families, they kept a house in Chelsea. She and her sister led a fairly conventional life. 

“It was a world where your clothes were chosen, your friends were chosen, where you were educated was chosen by your parents. You know, we hadn't even had the sixties teenager yet. So it was very much a world where you did what you were told.”

Virginia Ironside went to school with Dugdale. They attended Miss Ironside’s school in Kensington, London, run by Ms Ironside’s great aunts.

“The parents of Rose were tremendously formal and strict and wanted the very best for their children,” Ms Ironside said.

Ms Hoggard added: “You really weren't expected to have a proper education. You learn to sew. You learn to dance. You had a dressmaker. You would have probably learned to press flowers and to appreciate music and to go to exhibitions.

“They'd had this quite arty tuition, you know, with the Ironside School.” 

Russborough House in Wicklow
Russborough House in Wicklow

She reportedly was the one who chose which paintings should be stolen from Russborough, include a Vermeer. 

Teachers at the school were described as “fairly eccentric” by Ms Ironside, adding: “Some of them were brilliant, but some of them were really kind of old drunks and old oddballs." 

She said: “Again, nearly all those spinsters, because it was just after the war. And we were taught music by a wonderful Austrian refugee who lived here legally, had been taught by somebody who had been taught by somebody who had been taught by Beethoven. So it was an eccentric place. Everybody, everybody was eccentric.”

Dugdale was also a debutante in 1958, the last year young women were presented to Queen Elizabeth. 

The Heiress and the Heist - RTÉ One - 9.35pm Tuesday.