Cover image for The Irish game : a true story of crime and art
The Irish game : a true story of crime and art
Hart, Matthew, 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker & Co., 2004.
Physical Description:
xii, 220 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
N8795.3.I8 H37 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In the annals of art theft, no case has matched--for sheer criminal panache--the heist at Ireland's Russborough House in 1986.

The Irish police knew right away that the mastermind was a Dublin gangster named Martin Cahill. Yet the great plunder --including a Gainsborough, a Goya, two Rubenses, and a Vermeer-- remained at large for years. Cahill taunted the police with a string of other crimes, but in the end it was the paintings that brought him low. The challenge of disposing of such famous works forced him to reach outside his familiar world into the international arena, and when he did, his pursuers were waiting.

The movie-perfect sting that broke Cahill uncovered an astonishing maze of banking and drug-dealing connections that redefined the way police view art theft. As if that were not enough, the recovery of the Vermeer--by then worth $200 million--led to a remarkable discovery about the way Vermeer achieved his photographic perspective.

The Irish Game places the great theft in Ireland's long sad history of violence and follows the thread that led, as a direct result of Cahill's desperate adventures with the Russborough art, to his assassination by the IRA. With the storytelling skill of a novelist and the instincts of a detective, Matthew Hart follows the twists and turns of this celebrated case, linking it with two other world-famous thefts--of Vermeer's "The Concert" and other famous paintings at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" at the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo. Sharply observed, fully explored, The Irish Game is a masterpiece in the literature of true crime.

Author Notes

Matthew Hart is a writer and journalist and the author of Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession. His work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Granta, and the Financial Post, among other publications. He lives in London, England

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

British journalist Hart, author of Diamond: A Journey into the Heart of an Obsession 0 (2001), continues his investigation into criminal covetousness in a set of brisk and fascinating accounts of international art heists, including the 1994 snatching of Edvard Munch's The Scream0 . He primarily focuses on two brazen assaults on Russborough, an isolated Irish estate with an improbably stupendous art collection, which included Vermeer's Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid0 . The first occurred in 1974, orchestrated not by an archcriminal but by an inept, IRA-supporting British heiress. A dozen years later, a true outlaw, Martin Cahill, made off with the Russborough masterpieces and sent the authorities on a maddening quest. Hart vividly portrays colorful characters on both sides of the law, and vigorously chronicles complex investigations and two stunning discoveries pertaining to the so-called Irish Vermeer in a lively chronicle that arouses both wry admiration for the sheer gall of art thieves and outrage at the thought of irreplaceable art treasures in the hands of thugs, many seeking nothing more than collateral for drug deals. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this engaging account of how stolen paintings have become collateral in the international drug trade, starting with the 1974 theft of a priceless Vermeer from an Irish estate, British author Hart (Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession) offers a convincing revisionist view of the closest thing the book has to a protagonist, legendary Irish thug Martin Cahill (aka "The General"). The case that the "slovenly, loyal, suspicious, immovable" Cahill was no mastermind, however, tends to render the narrative more prosaic than dramatic, as does the argument that most heists, including the sensational 1990 robbery from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the 1994 theft of Edvard Munch's The Scream, involved more chutzpah and embarrassing security lapses than Topkapi-like planning. The author's primary strength lies in his character portraits-he describes one upper-class art thief as rooting around "in the issues of the day like someone picking through a bin for a hat that would fit." The dedicated Irish police who tracked these criminals and attempted numerous stings to recover the paintings deserve credit for their heroism, but they aren't particularly memorable. Still, Hart sheds light on a little-known area of modern crime that should be of interest to many general readers. Agent, Michael Carlisle. National author tour. (May 14) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Central to Hart's story is the hapless Protestant Ascendancy mansion at Russborough, Ireland, and a painting by Vermeer. Filled with fine art by its owners, since donated to the Irish National Gallery, the collection was robbed repeatedly, once by the heiress to the fortune and most famously by Irish gangster Martin Cahill. Journalist Hart (Diamond: A Journal to the Heart of an Obsession) has woven together a little gem of a story that includes a breakthrough in understanding the Vermeer, attributable to its being robbed. Cahill created a new category of art thief; in addition to those stealing for private collectors and for ransom, he added those using classic paintings as collateral among thieves. Scotland Yard is portrayed in the early 1990s at its peak in cracking art thefts. And then there's the IRA. Though the narrative bogs down occasionally, ultimately it all pulls together. Strongly recommended for art history and criminal justice collections and for anyone who loves a good crime yarn. Robert Moore, Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging, North Billerica, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

The Setupp. xi
1 Russboroughp. 1
2 La Pasionarap. 7
3 Under the Overpaintp. 26
4 The Generalp. 39
5 Stalking Cahillp. 56
6 The Tango Squadp. 78
7 Mrs. Gardner's Housep. 99
8 Liam's Gamep. 123
9 In Vermeerp. 147
10 The Screamp. 165
11 The Irish Gamep. 186
Acknowledgmentsp. 197
Notesp. 199
Indexp. 207