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How a posh English heiress who once curtsied to Queen became infamous IRA soldier dropping bombs on cops from a chopper

HELL-BENT on murder, IRA terrorist Rose Dugdale pelted the Royal Ulster Constabulary station with bombs from a hijacked helicopter.

Yet the fanatical bandit queen’s onslaught must have left her fellow Provo renegades perplexed.

Bridget Rose Dugdale was jailed after masterminding what was then history’s biggest art heist for the IRAPA

Her journey from English society girl to IRA bomber was the ultimate act of rebellion.

Dugdale orchestrated a raid on 100 room mansion, Russborough HouseAlamy

For Dugdale was an English heiress who, as a debutante, had curtsied to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Brought up on a rambling Devon estate, she had a governess, went to finishing school and attended Oxford University.

Despite a life of privilege, she would become the world’s most wanted woman after masterminding what was then history’s biggest art heist for the IRA.

So was Dugdale — who died on Monday aged 83 — an earnest but deluded poor little rich girl?

Or had she allowed anguish and embarrassment at her gilded upbringing to turn her into a cold-hearted killer?

Her journey from English society girl to IRA bomber was certainly the ultimate act of rebellion for a daughter of the establishment.

Dr Bridget Rose Dugdale was born into silver-spooned luxury in 1941.

Her dad, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Dugdale, ran a successful syndicate at insurer Lloyd’s, while mum Caroline’s family were wealthy through cotton.

The family pile was set in 600 acres near Axminster, Devon.

Rose learned how to ride ponies and play the piano during her “very, very happy” childhood.

The family also owned a Georgian townhouse in Chelsea, West London, where Dugdale was looked after by a French governess.

She was later educated at Miss Ironside’s School for Girls in nearby Kensington.

Also a pupil was future agony aunt Virginia Ironside, whose two great-aunts ran the place.

‘Fanatical path’

Virginia wrote this week that Dugdale was brought up with “stultifying conventionality”.

She said Rose and her older sister Caroline were “obliged by their mother to wear only blue frocks with matching ribbons in their hair”.

The author added that the girls had to “curtsey to every visitor” and “change into formal clothes for dinner and wear long white gloves”.

Later, Dugdale attended finishing school in Europe then, in 1958, she was one of the last of the debutantes.

Alongside other upper-class girls she was “presented” to the Queen before being launched into the four-month “season” of glittering balls in the hope of finding a rich husband.

She later described her coming out ball as “one of those pornographic affairs which cost what 60 old age pensioners receive in six months”.

After winning a place at St Anne’s College, Oxford, Dugdale is said to have had passionate affairs with novelist Iris Murdoch and a female tutor.

She made headlines for the first time after posing as a man to get into the male-only Oxford Union debating society. It would result in women being officially admitted.

Future Tory MP Edwina Currie, an Oxford contemporary of Dugdale, recalls sipping sherry with her.

Edwina, 77, former PM John Major’s secret lover, said: ‘‘I viewed Rose as one of those privileged idiots who felt she could do whatever she wanted.

“Within the next decade or so her lot were trying to kill my lot.”

Dugdale had an upper class English upbringing, which made her choice to become an IRA terrorist even more baffling

Dugdale grew close to Wally Heaton, who described himself as a revolutionary socialistRex

Dugdale became a Doctor of Philosophy after studying in the US and at London University, later working as a government economist.

In 1972 she met ex- Guardsman and petty criminal Wally Heaton, who described himself as a “revolutionary socialist”.

They made frequent trips to Northern Ireland to march in political demonstrations as The Troubles raged.

Dugdale had finally found her cause and nothing, not even the pain she caused her family, would deviate her from a fanatical path.

On the night of June 6, 1973, she knew her parents would be away at Epsom races. With Heaton, she stole paintings and antiques worth £82,000 from the family pad.

Proceeds were thought to be destined for the IRA.

Arrested and sent for trial, she told her father from the dock: “I love you, Daddy, but I hate everything you stand for.”

She added that her parents were “gangsters, thieves and oppressors of the poor”.

A judge gave Dugdale a two-year suspended sentence, believing she was unlikely to offend again.

It was to prove a fatal misjudgment, as she travelled to the so-called bandit country between Northern Ireland and the Republic to hook up with an IRA active service unit.

The hardened Provos from working-class estates needed convincing that Dugdale was not an MI5 plant. And in January 1974, her chance came.

She teamed up with maverick IRA operative Eddie Gallagher, who was now her lover, and hijacked a helicopter in County Donegal.

Hovering over the heavily fortified RUC barracks in Strabane, they dropped milk churns filled with explosives.

The makeshift devices failed to explode, but now Dugdale was beyond reproach by IRA colleagues.

She later called the botched raid the happiest day of her life.

On April 26, 1974, the former trust fund toff became the world’s most wanted fugitive.

It was a warm spring night at around 9.30pm when she knocked on the door of Russborough House, County Wicklow, home of diamond magnate Sir Alfred Beit and his wife Lady Clementine.

She led a raid on the mansion owned by Sir Alfred and Clementine Lady Beit, who were friends of her parentsPA:Press Association

Frames in Russborough House were left empty after the multi-million pound art theft with 17 paintings stolenPress Association

Imogen Poots plays Dugdale in new movie Baltimore, which tells the story of their brazen heistAlamy

They were her parents’ friends and she would have known they were rich, with a priceless art collection.

Adopting a French accent and wearing a black wig and make-up, she said her silver Ford Cortina had broken down.

Seconds later she was joined by three men brandishing revolvers.

Sir Alfred was hit on the head with a gun and he and his wife were tied up.

The gang stole paintings by Gainsborough, Rubens, Goya and Vermeer worth £8million.

At trial, she gave a clenched fist salute from the dock and called Britain ‘the filthy enemy’

The first member of the Irish police force, or Gardai, at the scene was young Sergeant Sean Feeley.

He told me in 2009: “Dugdale was in charge, telling the gang which pictures to take.

‘Cut-glass accent’

“She pointed up at the walls and said, ‘That one, that one’. She had been in the house before as a guest.

“Sir Alfred had blood streaming out the back of his head where he had been hit by a gun.”

Dugdale’s unit demanded the release of sisters Dolours and Marian Price, jailed for their part in an IRA bombing, plus £500,000 in exchange for their haul.

After eight days a huge hunt led the Gardai to a rented cottage in Glandore, County Cork, where they found Dugdale and the paintings.

At trial, she gave a clenched fist salute from the dock and called Britain “the filthy enemy”.

Jailed for nine years after pleading “proudly and incorruptibly guilty”, she gave birth to Gallagher’s son Ruairí in Limerick jail.

Now, their brazen heist is the centrepiece of movie Baltimore, starring Imogen Poots, which was released yesterday and has been accused of offering a sympathetic portrayal of Dugdale’s character.

In October 1975 Gallagher and accomplice Marian Coyle kidnapped Dutch industrialist Dr Tiede Herrema and demanded the release of Dugdale and two other terrorists.

The kidnappers were traced to a house in Monasterevin, County Kildare, and a two-week siege began.

Gallagher — who had held a gun to Herrema’s head — finally gave himself up and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

On January 24, 1978, Dugdale and Gallagher married in the chapel of Limerick prison as three-year-old Ruairi looked on.

The newlyweds were allowed a five-hour honeymoon inside one of the cells.

Dugdale was released in 1980 after serving six years of her sentence.

Gallagher left prison in 1990 but, after 14 years inside, their relationship did not survive.

Dugdale settled in a working-class Dublin suburb, helping organise IRA vigilante campaigns against drug dealers and teaching English and environmental science at a school.

Then, in 2022, an authorised biography by journalist Sean O’Driscoll revealed that, after her prison release, Dugdale had a key role as an IRA bomb-maker.

The book — Heiress, Rebel, Vigilante, Bomber — told how she and new lover Jim Monaghan invented a powerful explosive called Ballycroy 3-4, used in the 1991 bombing on Glenanne Army barracks in Armagh that killed three soldiers.

They developed devices that killed three people and injured 91 at the Baltic Exchange in London in 1992, plus two others in London Docklands in 1996.

In 2009 I caught up with Dugdale outside her Dublin home and asked if she had regrets over the blood on her hands.

With a woolly Celtic FC hat pulled over her greying hair, and dressed in scruffy jacket and combat trousers, she barked: “Clear off, right. I’m not answering questions.”

Having betrayed her country, class and family, the only hint of her past was her cut-glass accent.

Following Dugdale’s death she was praised by republican supporters, who hailed her a “freedom fighter” and “true revolutionary”.

But Ann Travers, whose sister was killed by the IRA, had a different epitaph.

“She was a terrorist, bomber and murderer,” she wrote on X/Twitter.

“Thinking of all of her victims, who weren’t afforded the natural death that she was.”

Dugdale had refused to answer questions when confronted over her pastNews Group Newspapers Ltd



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