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Rose Dugdale, Heiress Turned Irish Independence Fighter, Dies at 82

Rose Dugdale, an Oxford-educated Englishwoman who left a life of wealth to become a partisan activist fighting for Irish independence, in a career that included bomb making, hijacking and art theft, died on Monday in Dublin. She was 82.

Her death, in a nursing home, was confirmed by Aengus O Snodaigh, a friend and a member of the Irish Parliament. No cause was given.

Throughout the 1970s, Ms. Dugdale, whose family owned a large share of the insurance company Lloyd’s of London, captivated the British and Irish news media with her exploits. Her story — like that of Patricia Hearst, another heiress-turned-revolutionary who was making news in the United States around the same time — fed a narrative about glamorous, radical youth run amok in the post-’60s era:

Ms. Dugdale rejected her inheritance and liquidated her trust fund to support a variety of social and political causes. She and an accomplice were arrested in 1973 for stealing thousands of dollars in art and silverware from her parents’ home, with plans to sell it and give the proceeds to the Irish Republican Army.

Her father, Eric, appeared as a witness at her trial, and under British law she was allowed to cross-examine him herself — an opportunity she used to make political statements.

“I love you,” she told her father, “but hate everything you stand for.”

The judge was nevertheless lenient with her, handing down just a two-year suspended sentence because, he said, the chances that she would break the law again were “extremely remote.”

He was wrong. Immediately after her trial, she traveled to Ireland, where she and another accomplice, Eddie Gallagher, hijacked a helicopter and pilot to drop makeshift bombs on a base run by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police force in Northern Ireland.

The bombs fell wide and failed to detonate, and Ms. Dugdale and Mr. Gallagher went into hiding to plot their next move.

In April 1974, she and three other assailants burst through the doors of Russborough House, a palatial estate southwest of Dublin owned by Alfred Beit, a wealthy British politician and art collector.

They pistol-whipped Mr. Beit, tied him and his wife up and made off with 19 paintings by Gainsborough, Goya, Vermeer and other artists. Among the haul, valued at a total of 8 million Irish pounds (about $110 million today), was “Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid,” one of only two works by Vermeer in private hands. (The other was in Buckingham Palace.)

Knowing they could not easily sell the well-known works on the black market, Ms. Dugdale and the other thieves demanded a ransom of 500,000 Irish pounds. They also demanded that Dolours and Marian Price, two I.R.A. members imprisoned for a string of car bombings in England, be transferred to a prison in Northern Ireland.

After a nationwide hunt, police tracked down the art, and Ms. Dugdale, at a rural cottage in County Cork. This time she pleaded “proudly and incorruptibly guilty” and received a nine-year sentence. As she emerged from the courthouse, she saluted the crowd with a clenched fist.

After being released from prison in 1980, she returned to Dublin, where she worked as a community organizer to stem the rising number of heroin dealers on the city’s streets.

She also went back to working for the I.R.A., this time as a bomb maker. She and her partner, Jim Monaghan, developed a number of innovative weapons, including a projectile launcher that used two packages of McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits to absorb the recoil and a novel type of explosive used in bombings in Northern Ireland and London, killing six people and injuring more than 100.

Bridget Rose Dugdale was born on March 25, 1941, at Yarty, her family’s 600-acre estate in Devon, in southwest England. Both of her parents came from money: Her father was a major shareholder in Lloyd’s, and her mother, Carol (Timmis) Dugdale, was an heiress.

She grew up shuttling between the family’s rural estate and a sprawling home in London, between riding lessons and society balls. She attended Miss Ironside’s School, a private school for girls that also produced the model and actress Jane Birkin.

When she was 17, Ms. Dugdale joined 1,400 other teenage debutantes in a coming-out ceremony before Queen Elizabeth II. It was the last year that two-centuries-old tradition was performed.

Ms. Dugdale was a reluctant socialite and went along only on the condition that her parents hire a tutor to prepare her for admission to the all-female St. Anne’s College at Oxford University.

She studied politics, philosophy and economics there and counted the Irish writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch among the professors she got to know personally. Years later, when Ms. Dugdale was facing prison time, Ms. Murdoch wrote letters urging leniency.

She was by all accounts a middling student, in part because her growing interest in left-wing politics took most of her time and energy. Among her many exploits, Ms. Dugdale and a friend dressed up as male students and sneaked into a session of the all-male Oxford Union debating society, where they jeered and heckled in low-pitched voices.

After graduating in 1962, she studied philosophy at Mount Holyoke College, in Massachusetts, receiving a master’s degree, then returned to Britain to study economics at the London School of Economics, earning a Ph.D.

Though Ms. Dugdale worked for the British government as an analyst, she was radicalizing quickly. She received a sizable income from a trust fund and gave away most of it to antipoverty programs around her apartment in Tottenham, an impoverished section of northeast London.

She fell in with a self-declared “revolutionary socialist” named Walter Heaton, with whom she carried out the 1973 burglary of her parents’ home. While she received a light punishment, he was sentenced to six years in prison.

Ms. Dugdale’s survivors include Mr. Gallagher, whom she married in 1978 while they were both in prison, though they later became estranged, and their son, Ruairi Gallagher.

After the Good Friday accords mostly brought the violence in Northern Ireland to an end in 1998, Ms. Dugdale stood down as a fighter. But she remained active in Sinn Fein, the pro-independence political party in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Though she was a divisive figure in Britain, she became a sort of legend in Ireland, the recipient of awards and the subject of biographies and documentaries — most recently the feature film “Baltimore” (2023), starring Imogen Poots as Ms. Dugdale. (The film was released this month in the United States, with the title “Rose’s War.”)

“I did what I wanted to do,” she said in a 2011 interview before the Dublin Volunteers Dinner, where she was the primary honoree. “I am proud to have been part of the Republican movement, and I hope that I have played my very small part in the success of the armed struggle.”

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