The IRA bombmaker who sipped sherry with Edwina Currie at Oxford


The IRA bombmaker who sipped sherry with Edwina Currie at Oxford: Former Tory minister reveals her meeting with Chelsea millionaire’s daughter who masterminded explosives that killed Brits in four NIneties attacks

  • Former Tory MP Edwina Currie has told of her days sparring with Rose Dugdale 
  • Dugdale, 80, turned her back on a life of wealth and privilege to join the IRA  
  • Their connection is explored in a new book Heiress, Rebel, Vigilante, Bomber
  • The book, by Sean O’Driscoll, claims that Dugdale, originally from Chelsea, effectively pioneered the ‘research and development’ department of the IRA 
  • Dugdale’s association with the IRA has long been known after she was sent to prison for nine years for stealing art to raise money to release two IRA prisoners

Edwina Currie has told how she once sipped sherry at Oxford with the British heiress unmasked as a key figure behind the IRA’s bombing campaigns in the 1990s.

Oxford graduate and debutante Rose Dugdale, 80, turned her back on a life of wealth and privilege to join the Provos’ bloody terror campaign.

And her route from high society to terrorist saw her repeatedly cross paths with future Tory MP – and secret lover of PM John Major.

Currie, 75, told MailOnline of their meeting: ‘‘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.’

Oxford graduate and debutante Rose Dugdale, 80, turned her back on a life of wealth and privilege to join the Provos’ bloody terror campaign

Oxford graduate and debutante Rose Dugdale, 80, turned her back on a life of wealth and privilege to join the Provos’ bloody terror campaign

The case of Dugdale – and her connection with Currie – has come to attention because of a new book which details how she played a key role in constructing a series of bombs which killed six people in the capital and three soldiers at a barracks in Armagh.

Heiress, Rebel, Vigilante, Bomber, written by O’Driscoll, claims Dugdale effectively pioneered the ‘research and development’ department of the IRA.

Dugdale is now living in obscurity, frail and in a wheelchair, in a Dublin nursing home, where she has been tracked down by MailOnline,

It’s a far cry from her origins: Dugdale hailed from a very wealthy English family and her father James, a Lloyd’s underwriter, owned an 800-acre estate in Axminster, Devon and a house in Chelsea.

She was educated at Miss Ironside’s School for Girls in Kensington and then a finishing school overseas.

In 1959 she ‘came out’ at her debutante ball, an event she later described as ‘one of those pornographic affairs which cost about what 60 old-age pensioners receive in six months’.

Her association with the IRA has long been known after she was jailed for nine years for stealing art to raise money for the group and to secure the release of two IRA prisoners. But it is the first time it has been alleged that she played a key role as a bomb-maker.

Dugdale (pictured next to Gerry Adams) is now living in obscurity, frail and in a wheelchair, in a Dublin nursing home

Dugdale (pictured next to Gerry Adams) is now living in obscurity, frail and in a wheelchair, in a Dublin nursing home

Dugdale’s story is also laced with irony, not least her connection to — and rivalry with — Edwina Currie.

The two women’s very different paths intersected at various points along a fascinating timeline spanning almost 30 years.

At Oxford in the 1960s, Dugdale, five years’ Currie’s senior, was at the centre of student dissent.

She had seen Rev. Martin Luther King in the US just weeks after his ‘I had a dream speech’ in 1963 when she studied in Massachussetts.

And Dugdale, by then an anarchist, had also blazed a trail for women’s rights by sneaking into the Oxford Union dressed as a man to help bring down its men-only membership rule.

But one of the unlikely recipients of that legacy would be Jewish tailor’s daughter Edwina Currie, née Cohen, whose debating skills were well regarded by her peers.

Currie, a young Conservative, was of course diametrically opposed to the left-wing politics of Dugdale, whose revolutionary socialism would soon bring her into the orbit of the Provisional IRA.

Before that, the paths of the two women – who had both studied at St Anne’s College – would directly cross.

One day, around 1968, the economics don Peter Ady – despite her first name a woman – invited her friend Rose Dugdale to meet one of her PPE students in her garden in Oxford.

Dugdale's association with the IRA has long been known after she was jailed for nine years for stealing art to raise money for the group and to secure the release of two IRA prisoners

Dugdale’s association with the IRA has long been known after she was jailed for nine years for stealing art to raise money for the group and to secure the release of two IRA prisoners

Edwina Currie (pictured) has told how she once sipped sherry at Oxford with Dugdale 

Ady, a lesbian who had a love affair with Irish writer Iris Murdoch, was by now having a fling with Rose, and wanted to introduce her latest undergraduate protegée, Edwina Currie, whom Ady had been paying to stay in her apartment in St Giles between terms, feeding her dog, Zuleika, with sheep’s heads stored in the fridge.

As Rose arrived in the garden, Peter and Edwina had been sparring over a political point.

Currie, 75, recalled to MailOnline: ‘It didn’t take long before Ireland came up and we were clearly never going to agree. She was totally committed to the unification of Ireland by whatever means necessary.

‘After all, within the next decade or so, her lot were trying to kill my lot.’

‘I viewed Rose as one of those privileged idiots who felt she could do whatever she wanted. I wasn’t in that position – I’d come from a grammar school and my daddy wasn’t going to bail me out with a job in the City if I messed up. I had just one chance.’

Currie recalled that later, some of the ‘loot’ from one of Dugdale’s art heists was found in the basement of Ady’s Oxford house.

‘It’s an intriguing thought that as we sat there staring frostily at each other over Peter’s sherry, the swag might have been only yards away,’ she said.

She recalled in the book, ‘I was a Tory and Rose was a revolutionary.

‘There was to be no chatty meeting of minds. Rose was not rude or aggressive, she just did not want to engage.’

Dudgale attended Oxford University where she met Edwina Currie

Dudgale attended Oxford University where she met Edwina Currie

Nearly 20 years later in 1983, Currie would become one of the new intake of Tory MPs at Westminster, following Margaret Thatcher’s triumphant post-Falklands election.

Another in that crop of new Tories was leading barrister Patrick Ground, QC, married to Rose’s elder sister Caroline. On his victorious election night, Caroline stood at his side amid the huge cheers of their supporters waving Union flags and holding up Margaret Thatcher balloons and ‘Hounslow for Maggie’ signs.

Like all newly-elected Conservative MPs, Patrick and Edwina were given security tips from the police on avoiding IRA attacks. They were briefed on how to check for bombs under their cars, and where they should and shouldn’t park in the House of Commons. Four years earlier, Irish republicans had killed the Conservative MP Airey Neave by planting a bomb under his car in the House of Commons car park.

And in 1984, the IRA bombed the Conservative Party conference at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, killing five people, including Sir Anthony Berry, the deputy Conservative whip in the House of Commons and Roberta Wake, wife of the Chief Whip. The trade secretary, Norman Tebbitt, a close friend of Prime Minister Thatcher, was badly injured and his wife, Margaret, was permanently disabled.

Currie witnessed Lord Tebbitt being extracted from the rubble and taken to hospital. She and her fellow MPs and party activists were all told to go to the conference and put on a brave face.

She recalled in the book: ‘I think we all felt dazed, bewildered, lacking information, with a highly incomplete picture; a kind of incoherence reigned, in which good behaviour was paramount. Call it a stiff upper lip if you like.’

Dugdale had also blazed a trail for women’s rights by sneaking into the Oxford Union dressed as a man to help bring down its men-only membership rule

Dugdale had also blazed a trail for women’s rights by sneaking into the Oxford Union dressed as a man to help bring down its men-only membership rule

Seemingly, Patrick Ground had always been quite open with his constituency association in Hounslow, west London, about the Republican black sheep in his wife’s family, but that didn’t mean he was keen to discuss it publicly.

When MailOnline approached him this week, he said was aware of the new book, but added: ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that is a subject we have decided as a family, not to discuss with the media.’

In 1999 Mr Ground was one of those vying to become the Tory candidate for the newly-created Mayor of London but was unsuccessful.

After Oxford and a brief visit to Castro’s Cuba, Dugdale soon established herself as a committed Republican terrorist with a significant criminal record.

Her first run-in with the authorities came in June 1973, when she and her left-wing lover Walter Heaton were arrested following a burglary at her family home in Devon.

Art and silverware worth £82,000 were stolen, with the proceeds destined for the IRA, the police suspected.

Dugdale’s father appeared as a prosecution witness and his daughter’s words as she cross-examined him left little doubt about the path her life would follow. She told him: ‘I love you, but hate everything you stand for.’

On being found guilty, she rather grandly told the jury: ‘In finding me guilty you have turned me from an intellectual recalcitrant into a freedom fighter.’

Nevertheless she escaped with a suspended sentence as the judge considered she was unlikely to reoffend.

On the contrary, she joined the IRA within months and her son Ruairi would be born in Limerick Prison in 1974, following her conviction on charges of art theft and, along with the baby’s father, IRA man Eddie Gallagher, whom Dugdale would marry.

Her first run-in with the authorities came in June 1973, when she and her left-wing lover Walter Heaton were arrested following a burglary at her family home in Devon

Her first run-in with the authorities came in June 1973, when she and her left-wing lover Walter Heaton were arrested following a burglary at her family home in Devon

Currie (pictured) was diametrically opposed to the left-wing politics of Dugdale, whose revolutionary socialism went on to bring her into the orbit of the Provisional IRA

Currie (pictured) was diametrically opposed to the left-wing politics of Dugdale, whose revolutionary socialism went on to bring her into the orbit of the Provisional IRA

The pair also hijacked a helicopter used to mount a bombing raid on an RUC station using milk churns packed with explosives which failed to detonate.

The revelations come from author and investigative journalist Sean O’Driscoll partly based on interviews with Dugdale herself.

By the early 1990s, Edwina Currie’s career was not exactly stellar, but she had certainly made her mark. As a junior health minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, a remark about salmonella in egg production sparked outrage among farmers and led to her resignation, earning her the nickname ‘Eggwina’.

Unbeknown to the public at the time, she had embarked on a four-year affair with fellow Tory John Major before he became Prime Minister and turned down a position in his new government in April 1992.

The day after that election, Rose Dugdale’s deadly handiwork was in evidence at the Baltic Exchange bombing in the City of London, according to the new book.

Whether by accident or design, the IRA gave a misleading telephone warning 20 minutes beforehand, saying there was a bomb outside the Stock Exchange – half a mile away from the actual location.

The massive one-ton device, hidden in a truck and made from fertiliser with a semtex detonator, was the biggest bomb unleashed on mainland Britain since World War II. It killed three people, injured 91 others, and severely damaged the Baltic Exchange building – later to be demolished and replaced by ‘the Gherkin’ building.

Dugdale had, according to O’Driscoll’s book, engineered an explosive using icing sugar and nitrate fertiliser after the Irish government tried to thwart the IRA campaign by banning nitrobenzene, a key component in some bombs.

Rose Dugdale with a gun at the Cabra Historical Society in 2015

Rose Dugdale with a gun at the Cabra Historical Society in 2015

With IRA man Jim Monaghan, Dugdale developed the mix, named Ballycroy 3-4 after the village where it was made, which was used in the largest bomb of the Troubles when 2,500lb of explosives blew up a barracks in Armagh in 1991, killing three soldiers.

And in 1996, a final piece of Dugdale’s handiwork, the Docklands bombing, would kill two more innocent victims.

Since then, she had been regularly feted by her Republican supporters north and south of the border, but now lives quietly in the nursing home, where those who know her say she is in poor health.

Few of her comrades from those days survive and because of Covid restrictions, even fewer are able to visit her as she sees out her days in the home on the banks of the river Liffey.

But she is still revered by senior Republican figures such as Gerry Adams who was photographed at her side during a rally in 2017.

Dugdale’s son Ruairi, 47, who now lives in Regensburg, Germany, declined to speak to MailOnline.

Heiress, Rebel, Vigilante, Bomber by Sean O’Driscoll is out now

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