There isn’t a bar stool in existence on the islands of either Ireland or Britain which hasn’t heard a theory as to where Shergar wound up after he was taken from Ballymany Stud on a foggy evening in February 1983.
“We’ve come for Shergar,” they said. “We want £2m for him.”
That’s what ‘they’ said on the night. But who were ‘they’? And what happened after ‘they’ took him?
Nowadays with 24 news and Twitter, it’s unlikely such daft conspiracy theories would have flourished as they did, but back in 1983, a medium sized crowd in a medium sized pub was what passed for social media.
Of all the conspiracy theories that floated through the ether in the weeks and months following his disappearance, there are a small number which persisted, notwithstanding how far fetched they were. So, feel free to momentarily suspend your disbelief for the following of paragraphs.
The first story concerns the late dictator of Libya, Colnel Gadaffi. It goes that the IRA kidnapped the horse for him in return for weapons. Gadaffi wanted the horse to serve as as symbol to the world that he alone would lead the Islamic people - rather than those people who claimed to be related to the prophet Mohammed, such as the Aga Khan.
The second theory moves to America’s deep south. The New Orleans mafia took Shergar because of a deal with a French man called Jean Michel Gambet that went sour. The story is that he borrowed money from the mafia to buy Shergar, except that the deal collapsed. Gambet and the money disappeared, until the Frenchman turned up dead in a car in Kentucky. So, left with a a dead Frenchman and no money, the mafia took Shergar.
Yeah, we know.
Another theory which, given the superstitious-out-of-the-side-of-your-mouth pub whispers of horse racing you could see coming a mile off, is that Shergar is still alive and well today and, at the age of 35, siring Derby winners to his heart’s content. Bless him.
And then there was the horse skull that turned up in Kerry which somebody somewhere believed was Shergar’s. Science, in the form of DNA testing, got in a the way of a good story, and alas, Shergar’s skull remains at large.
And then there was the most bizarre of all. Shergar was brought to the Waterford coast, where he swam to a boat some distance off the coast. From there he was brought to Saudi Arabia to improve the bloodlines of their blood stock.
One theme which has been reasonably consistent throughout all of the stories is that the Provisional IRA was somehow involved. It was the time of high profile activities by them, such the Tied Herrema and Don Tidey kidnappings.
In 2007, on the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of Shergar the Sunday Telegraph claimed to have uncovered the true story.
They quoted Sean O’Callaghan, a former IRA member turned police agent, who wrote in his book ‘Informer’ said that Shergar was taken by the IRA.
The story goes that Shergar became aggressive, hurt his leg and, having no experience handling a highly strung animal, the gang shot him.
This apparently occurred only hours after he was taken - even though the IRA continued ransom negotiations after he was dead.
“He went demented in the horsebox and badly injured his leg.
“They had to kill him because they couldn’t call a vet – they had the most recognisable horse in the world on their hands. It was a total cock-up from start to finish,” O’Callaghan wrote.
This was disputed by those familiar with the horse, saying he had a very gentle temperament.
Furthermore, other IRA figures told the Sunday Telegraph a different story.
According to these unnamed sources who are, according to the Tory newspaper, ‘impeccable’ negotiations for a ransom had begun and then stalled with the Aga Khan’s people.
The IRA had mistakenly believed that the Aga Khan was in fact the sole owner of the horse. He wasn’t.
He was one of 32, although he was the majority owner.
It soon became apparent to the IRA’s Army Council, which sources have said approved the operation, that Shergar wasn’t going to raise any funds for them and they ordered that he be released.
At that point, so the story goes, the head of the IRA gang which took him was under surveillance (as were all leading republican figures) and the decision was taken to simply shoot and bury him.
The Sunday Telegraph concludes that Shergar is buried in a mountainside grave in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.
In fact Leitrim, being near the border, is another common theme running through several of the Shergar theories.
But the newspaper also quoted Walter Swinburn, Shergar’s jockey, as saying that he will never know what happened to Shergar.
“It’s been 25 years now and I must have heard a million and one theories about what happened to him.
“I don’t think anyone will ever find out what really happened to Shergar.
“I just pray he didn’t suffer too much. But you can’t even be sure of that.”
- Conor McHugh