The Irish Game
A True Story of Crime and Art
By Matthew Hart
(Walker & Company, Hardcover, 9780802714268, 224pp.)
Publication Date: May 1, 2004
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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.
A skilled writer and journalist, Matthew Hart is also an editor of the New York trade magazine Rapaport Diamond Report. His articles on diamonds have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly and The Financial Post. He has written for newspapers, television, and film. His books include three novels and two previous works of nonfiction, including the story of the greatest gold discovery in the western hemisphere. He lives in Toronto.