The atmosphere in the hotel is buzzing. Loud rock music plays as a young boxer stands on the stage, flexing his muscles to the crowd. Camera bulbs flash in his direction as men bearing clipboards take notes. The scene is a familiar one to boxing fans everywhere until, in an instant, it is transformed into something unimaginable and terrifying.
On February 5, 2016, around 300 boxing fans were gathered at the Regency Hotel in Dublin, Ireland. The hotel was to be the setting for a World Boxing Organization title fight the following evening, and the crowd had come to watch the official weigh-in.
Jamie Kavanagh, a 25-year-old boxer from Dublin, and Antonio Joao Bento, a 39-year-old from Portugal, were soon to go head-to-head to claim the European Lightweight title. But that match wasn’t destined to go ahead.
As Kavanagh stepped up on the scales, he must have raised a few smiles. Clad in a pair of blue Superman underpants, he braved the Irish cold to allow the officials – and the crowd – to take a good look at his muscular physique. A promising young boxer, he was about to embark on one of the most important matches of his career. If he won, he could become a serious contender for a world title.
Somewhere in the crowd was 33-year-old David Byrne. A Dublin gangster with ties to the Costa del Sol-based Kinahan crime family, he shared their love of boxing and was keen to watch Kavanagh and Bento weigh in before the big fight.
The event progressed as normal, with no indication that anything out of the ordinary was about to occur. But as Kavanagh stepped down from the stage, all hell suddenly broke loose.
Disguised as members of the Garda, Ireland’s police force, three armed men entered the room. At first mistaking them for the real police, onlookers soon panicked as the men began to fire shots into the crowd.
Within moments, the room had descended into chaos. In amateur footage recorded at the scene, people can be seen crashing into overturned chairs and tables as they rush to the exits.
Kavanagh, still just in his underpants, is seen bolting up some stairs to escape the building. As gunshots echo in the background, a young child can be heard crying desperately for their daddy.
As hundreds fled onto the streets, the scene inside was grim. David Byrne lay dead on the floor, while two of his companions were gravely injured.
Authorities have begun to piece together a picture of what happened on that fateful day. And it reveals a complicated web of loyalties and disputes within Ireland’s criminal underworld, stretching back for years.
In September 2015, 34-year-old Gary Hutch fell out with Christy Kinahan, an Irish crime baron based in Spain, over a drug deal gone awry. Hutch was shot and killed next to the swimming pool at an apartment building in the Costa del Sol.
His uncle, Gerry Hutch, vowed revenge. A Dublin gangster nicknamed “the Monk,” Hutch allegedly controls much of the city’s drug trade. It is thought that he masterminded the attack at the Regency Hotel as an act of retribution.
Byrne, who was the target of the attacks, was affiliated with the Kinahan family, who are deeply involved in the boxing world. By ordering his shooting, Hutch dealt the latest blow in an ongoing and bloody feud, according to some.
However, things may not be that clear-cut. In the aftermath of the shooting, a man speaking on behalf of the Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for the attacks.
According to him, the attack was a response to the 2012 murder of Alan Ryan. A Real IRA terrorist group member, Ryan was involved in a feud with Dublin’s criminal gangs when he was shot and killed.
In an interview with the BBC, the alleged spokesman suggested that the shooting would be followed up by more such attacks. “IRA units have been authorized to carry out further operations,” he said, “more drug dealers and criminals will be targeted.”
Whoever was behind the shooting, it looked like a professional operation. As many as six men are thought to have been involved, some of them armed with AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles. Many people present feared that the whole hotel was under siege as part of a terrorist attack.
For the people of Dublin, the incident is just the latest battle in a long and violent war. But as politicians weigh in on the conflict, tensions between different factions of the city’s criminal underbelly continue to grow.
Just three days after the shooting, taxi driver Eddie Hutch Snr was gunned down in his Dublin home. The brother of Gerry Hutch, he was not known to be involved in any violent crime – just another victim of a feud that shows no signs of abating.