The Unsolved Murder Of Brian Stack
On the 25th of March, 1983, Brian Stack and five friends were enjoying a night of boxing at the National Stadium on the South Circular road in Dublin. They were there to watch Ireland’s finest fighters in the Irish senior boxing championships. A passionate sportsman, he had been instrumental in resurrecting the boxing club in Port Laoise.
Such was the passion Brian had for the sport he had recently obtained his international boxing referee licence and he was also a well known figure in the amateur boxing circuit. Sport was very important to Brian, not only because he was very sporty himself but it also gave him an outlet for escaping the pressure cooker that was Port Laoise Prison.
Brian loved his job and he had attained the highest ranking uniformed position (Chief Prison offi cer) and had clear ambitions to reach the top. With youth on his side he knew he could yet become governor. As Brian left the stadium there were many people on the street heading back to their cars having attended the night’s boxing. Brian crossed over the South Circular road from the stadium to meet his friends where they were parked in nearby Washington Street.
They had already gone to the car and were waiting for him. Brian had been delayed talking to people. It wasn’t uncommon for him to get caught up in a chat or sometimes a heated debate about boxing. He’d walked around the stadium for much of the night, meeting trainers and young prospect boxers from all over Ireland. Now he was heading back to meet his fellow-members of Port Laoise boxing Club.
The arranged plan was to drive to a restaurant, Jow Wongs on the Naas road, for something to eat. It would be well after midnight before they finally got home to Port Laoise, but it was tradition that they always stopped at Wong’s, near newlands Cross, whenever they were returning form the capital.
When Brian turned onto Washington Street the killer struck. he had followed Brian around the corner from the South Circular road. Brian Stack never saw his killer. The gunman was wearing a balaclava with distinctive white colouring around the eye sockets.
He moved quickly to catch up with Brian, who was still unaware of the imminent danger. The killer stopped a short distance behind Brian. He used both hands to hold the gun, and a second later he fired at point-blank range at the lower part Brian’s head.
Brians friends witnessed the shooting, but everything happened so quickly they didn’t see the gun after it went off. They had seen their friend walking towards them and had seen a man running behind him. suddenly they heard a loud bang and saw brian fall forward on his face. Then another man appeared on a motorbike at the nearby corner. The gunman ran to the motorbike and jumped on the back.
In a matter of seconds they were fleeing at speed, mounting a footpath as it went and nearly colliding with a car on the South Circular Road. It sped away towards the nearby junction at Clanbrassil Street popularly known as Leonards
His thirteen year old son witnessed his father being shot. He ran towards Brian and shook him, but there was no response. Christopher’s father, Joe, and Brian’s other friends – Jimmy Sullivan, Tom Timmons and Garda Fitzgerald – also jumped put of the car and ran to Brian.
Seconds earlier they had started the car and were already moving towards Brian when they saw the masked approach from behind and saw Brian fall to the ground. For a moment after the sounds of the gunshot and the motorbike roaring away there was total silence, and then the people started to scream.
Corporal Joesph O’Brien raised the alarm. He was standing inside the main gate of the nearby Griffith Barracks (now a third level education institution known as Griffith College Dublin) when he saw the flash in the darkness. He ran to the gate and looked across the road and saw a man in dark clothes running from Washington Street back out onto
the South Circular Road.
The man jumped on the back of a getaway motorbike, which was headed in the direction of Leonard’s Corner. The motorbike had a prominent red light on the back, below the seat. Corporal could smell cordite and knew immediately that a weapon had been fired. He saw a man lying on the footpath across the road and people running towards him. He rushed back into guard room and made an emergency call to the switchboard operator.
Brian might have died immediately were it not for the work of three doctors from Belfast. Eugene Maguire and the brothers John and Martin Donnelly were medical advisers to the Ulster Boxing Council. They were still in the National Stadium when they heard the commotion across the road.
John and Martin grabbed medical bags, and the dozen people who were now gathered around Brian Stack, and they cleared the way for the doctors to get in. Eugene Maguire turned Brian onto his right side and saw that he was bleeding from a wound above his right eye.
This happened when he had fallen to the ground. Brian lay beside a street light, so despite the dark night the doctors were able to study his injuries quite quickly. Martin Donnelly found the entry wound at the back of Brian’s neck on his left side at shoulder level. Eugene Maguire meanwhile was listening for a heartbeat but could not hear one. He began thumping Brians chest and massaging his heart.
John Donnelly took a long piece of tubing from his medical kit and inserted it into Brian’s mouth and down his throat to establish an airway. He then began mouth to mouth resuscitation through the tube and then alternated with John Donnelly. Through their prompt actions Brian was still alive when the ambulance arrived at 11.10pm. The bullet that entered Brian Stack’s neck severely damaged part of his spinal cord. It left him quadriplegic, severely brain damaged, and a total loss of control of his bowels and bladder.
His kidneys stopped working for a time, and he had to undergo dialysis for thirty-four days. He was also now partially deaf. A week after the attack he developed bronchopneumonia; the hospital gave him an intensive cocktail of antibiotics and the illness passed. Brian was put under Garda supervision in case the attacker would attempt to finish what he set out to do.
Three weeks after the shooting Brian was moved from the intensive care unit of the Meath Hospital to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire. It was now clear that he would need 24-hour care for the rest of his life. He would be confined to a wheelchair and, because of his brain damage, would never work again.
A team of Brian’s colleagues from Port Laoise Prison organised a rota to take Sheila (Brian’s wife) to Dublin to visit her husband. Because of advice from the doctors it was at least three months after the shooting before his sons got to see him. Brain damage affects every victim in a different way. In Brian Stack’s case it often seemed that he was like a four-year-old in his speech and his mannerisms; at other times there was more apparent brain activity and flashes
of his old character.
The first time he saw his sons in Dún Laoghaire he called Oliver by a special pet name he had previously bestowed on him. He began speech therapy, and was finally able to breathe unaided, but his short-term memory was poor. Eventually the doctors in Dún Laoghaire said Brian could go home.
On Sunday 9th of September 1984 Brian Stack went to the Laois hurling final at O’Moore Park in Port Laoise. It was now a year and a half since he had been shot and paralysed. His family brought him to the ground in a specially adapted car that was allowed to park at the side of pitch. After the match the winning Port Laoise minor team gathered round Brian to show him the cup.
The replay of the senior match was scheduled for the end of the month, but Brian Stack would not live to see it. Over the previous eighteen months Brian’s body had suffered greatly. He was only able to move his head, and he had a limited speech. His immune system had been depleted by failing kidneys.
Doctors had warned that Brian’s life expectancy would be curtailed, but they couldn’t say by how long. The once fit and healthy man had been replaced by a shell. In a search for some sort of solace, Brian’s family felt that perhaps it was a good thing that he was brain-damaged: the dynamic man he was before the attack couldn’t have coped with this reality.
On Tuesday the 11th of September 1984 Brian suddenly fell unconscious and stopped breathing. Shiela ran for a neighbour, Theresa, who was a nurse, and the two of them got Brian out his wheelchair and put him on the floor. Theresa tried mouth to mouth resuscitation and they rang for an ambulance. Brian was rushed to Port Laoise General Hospital; he was still alive but was in a coma. He was transferred to the Meath Hospital in Dublin, but he never regained consciousness. On Sunday 29th of September 1984 Brian Stack died.
From the start of the investigations, detectives knew Brian Stack was shot because of his job as Chief Prison Officer in Port Laoise. But what was the exact motive? Senior officers drew up three possibilities, which still hold to this day. Was Brian shot because of a personal grudge relating to a previous incident in the prison?
Was he shot as a warning or threat to all prison officers? Or was he shot because he had discovered or was about to discover something relating to Port Laoise Prison? Of the three possibilities, the least likely is that he was shot as a warning to all prison officers. If this had been the motive, some group would have claimed responsibility or issued threats of further attacks.
What is certain is that Brian was singled out for assassination. But was this because of a previous personal encounter with a prisoner, or was he becoming a a thorn in the side of a group of people? A friend of Brians who worked closely with him told of three occasions where Brian was involved in physical confrontations with prisoners. The colleague said that on each occasion Brian was struck first but managed to defend himself, on one occasion being forced to use his baton. Such confrontations were not uncommon in a highly charged prison environment, where many prisoners spent their time planning escape attempts and many violently resisted strip searches.
One thing the Gardaí noted about the eventual attack was that the gunman did not appear to speak. All witnesses who had been closest to the shooting described hearing the sound of the gunshot but did not hear anything being said by the attacker. If Brian was shot because of a personal grudge or vendetta, detectives thought the gunman might have shouted something as he pulled the trigger. The gunman had been cold and callous but also seemed professional and organised. He was either a paid killer or part of a group who thought nothing of shooting someone in the back of the head.
Another possibility is that Brian was shot to simply get him out of Port Laoise for the immediate future. The gunman fired only once at point-blank range. He was sure he had hit Brian, but as he ran to the waiting motorbike he didn’t know if he had killed Brian or just incapacitated him. Gardaí wondered was there any signifance in the fact that there was only one shot fired. Did the gun jam? Was the killer happy with the fact that Brian fell instantly after being shot? Or did the killer not care about the outcome of Brian’s wound and was satisfied with simply making sure Brian Stack would be absent from Port Laoise for a period of time?
In 2007 the Stack family wrote to the Garda Commissioner seeking answers about the status of the case. The family would like to see the case reopened, with a view to establishing answers about who was responsible for Brians murder. “I want Brian’s murder to be looked at properly again. I want to see every available resource being used to get to the truth of who killed him. I want to see every conceivable witness being spoken to again. My husband suffered greatly for eighteen months after being shot before he passed away. It was one of the most callous, cowardly, brutal attacks on a husband and father and a servant of this state.”