The Dublin Blackberry Poisoner

In the autumn of 1989 it was feared that a maniac poisoner was at large in Dublin, coating blackberries with the deadly herbicide Paraquat. Anyone, especially children, could be in danger from this lethal toxin as they went blackberrying. The press called him the ‘Paraquat Lunatic’ or the ‘Poison Maniac’ and it led to understandable questions about the kind of world we are living in where even innocent children picking blackberries are in danger of being murdered by a malevolent psychopath.[i]

It started on the 25 November when an unnamed woman saw a man behaving mysteriously by some blackberry bushes. She told the Sunday World:

I was going to feed a couple of calves in the morning when I saw him at the bushes. When I questioned him, I knew he was up to no good and I hit him with my bucket. He dropped the spray and ran off.[ii]

The man was described as in his early twenties with long blond hair. He was wearing faded denim jeans and rode a distinctive green motorbike with yellow mudguards and no numberplates.[iii]

Don’t take chances – Don’t pick blackberries

It’s not clear if the unnamed bucket-wielding woman told the police or if someone she informed contacted them, but they soon closed a mile long stretch of Moyne Road in Balgriffin, north Dublin county. An emergency meeting was called by Dublin’s chief medical officer Dr Brendon O’Donnell to decide what must be done – to cut down all the blackberry bushes in the area or simply burn them. Samples of the berries were taken and sent for analysis.[iv]

Of course, if a ‘Paraquat Lunatic’ is on the loose, it’s reasonable to assume that he may have poisoned other blackberry bushes. This was the conclusion the Gardai came to, issuing a warning to the public: ‘Don’t take chance. Don’t pick blackberries.’[v]

A Sick Mind

The press, the police and the public all speculated as to who the Poison Maniac was, why he had done what he had done and whether he was going to strike again. One police spokesman said:

It’s reasonable to assume he’s from the area and it’s surprising no one has contacted us with any information about his identity.[vi]

This seems a fair point. A long-haired blond man on a green motorbike with yellow mudguards is pretty distinctive and you would think this would have rung some bells for someone.

Another police spokesperson speculated on the poisoner’s motives and sanity:

This has all the hallmarks of a sick mind. There appears to be no definite target. Anyone could have suffered a terrible fate. But the person responsible obviously needs help. Our main worry is that he may strike again.[vii]

The police admitted they were baffled by the crime.

In order to gain an insight into the thinking of the Mad Motorcyclist, the Sunday World asked a forensic psychiatrist to profile the mind of someone who would carry out such a heinous act. Dr Art O’Conner’s reply was honest, if unhelpful and probably not what the tabloid wanted to hear:

As there are not many cases of this kind, it is impossible to profile the mind of the person involved. Anyway, over the years the practice of profiling an offender, which was very popular in the sixties, has been found to be quite ineffective and at times misleading.[viii]

Others viewed the poisoner not as mad but as evil. In an opinion piece for the Derryman journalist and musician Mickey MacConnell lamented the state of his country:

Things have come to a pretty pass in this country when you cannot pick and eat a blackberry out of the hedge without running the risk of being poisoned by some lunatic running amok with Paraquat. I wonder if the man who poisoned the berry bushes at Moyne Road, Baldoyle, in North County Dublin is really a lunatic or just another manifestation of the face of evil that is becoming more and more visible nowadays.[ix]

A Phantom Attacker?

The Dublin Blackberry Poisoner was never caught, nor did he strike again. However, a couple of points make me suspicious about this story. Firstly, when a crime makes little sense and leaves the police baffled as this did, it’s worth considering it in a more sceptical light. After all, poisoning a blackberry bush in order to harm innocent children (who would be the most likely to eat of the fruit) just seems implausible. Secondly, the results of the analysis of the blackberry bush were never published, which is strange. Even if the results came back negative, surely that information  would still be worth releasing. Thirdly, although the description of the young poisoner (jeans and long blond hair) is fairly generic, a green motorbike with yellow mudguards should be easily recognisable, yet the clue led to nothing. And finally, who was the nameless bucket wielding cow girl whose story kicked off the scare?

Although I can’t be sure, after studying many similar cases, this looks to me to have the hallmarks of a hoax, most likely by the anonymous source of the story. Perhaps that’s why the woman refused to be named, fearing that her story had got out of hand.

The Dublin Blackberry Poisoner may in fact be a Phantom Attacker. Often in times of anxiety people imagine or make up stories of malevolent attackers lurking in the shadows waiting to harm innocent people. Examples include the Halifax Slasher (my personal favourite – see my Weird Calderdale for the amazing full story), the Delhi Monkey Man, the Mad Gasser of Mattoon and the recent panic over imaginary needle and drink spiking attacks on young women in nightclubs.

A Bizarre Japanese Serial Killer

However, these Phantom Attacker panics often reflect real anxieties and the Dublin episode is no exception. There were real – and often justified – fears about the use of some chemicals in agriculture, and Paraquat was at the heart of this fear. Perhaps this is understandable as the herbicide was used in suicides and murders, as well as being the weapon of choice of a bizarre Japanese serial killer.

In 1985, an all too real maniac added Paraquat to soft drinks and left them on top of or inside Japanese vending machines. The drink, called Oronamin C, had a buy one get one free offer so many people thought the extra drinks found on the machine or in the slots were part of the promotion. Twelve people died from Paraquat poisoning and many more suffered serious effects. The killings seemed indiscriminate and motiveless. Police had no clue. The poisonings stopped as suddenly as they started and no one was ever caught.[x]

Oronamin C – Poisoned by a mystery Japanese serial killer

However, shocking events like this may have been in people’s minds as the story of the Dublin Blackberry Poisoner spread making it all the more believable.

Witches’ Spit and Devil Piss

Interestingly the Dublin Blackberry poisoning scare also reflected long lost folklore related to the fruit. It used to be widely believed in England and Ireland that blackberries should not be eaten after Michaelmas Day (30 September) – coincidentally, around the time the supposed Dublin poisoning happened. This is because the berries are contaminated by witches or goblins spitting on them after this date, so the belief goes, though why they would do this or how they managed to spit on every blackberry in the British Isles in one day is anyone’s guess. As far as the Devil goes, there’s a clearer motive. Saint Michaelmas Day celebrates Saint Michael who did battle with Lucifer and cast him from heaven, where legend has it he landed in a blackberry bush. Ever since that day, Old Nick curses, spits or pisses on your blackberries after the end of September…[xi]

I’d give them a rinse if I were you…


Paraquat was banned for use in the UK in 2007 due to its danger and a possible link with Parkinson’s Disease. Controversially that hasn’t stopped British companies making the product for export to other countries…[xii]

[i] Mick MacConnel ‘Paraquat lunatic hits blackberries’, Kerryman, 29 September 1989, p.28; Marese McDonagan, ‘Gardai hunt poison maniac’, Evening Herald, 25 November 1989, p.2

[ii] Pauline Cronin, ‘Poison Maniac still at large’, Sunday World, 22 October 1989, p.6

[iii] ‘Hunt for Poison Man’, Evening Herald, 26 September 1989, p.6; Pauline Cronin, ‘Poison Maniac still at large’, Sunday World, 22 October 1989, p.6

[iv] Marese McDonagn ‘Gardai hunt poison maniac’, Evening Herald, 25 September 1989, p.2

[v] ‘Hunt for Poison Man’, Evening Herald, 26 September 1989, p.6

[vi] ‘Hunt for Poison Man’, Evening Herald, 26 September1989, p.6

[vii] ‘Poisoner puzzles Gardai’, Sunday World, 1 October 1989, p.3

[viii] Pauline Cronin, ‘Poison Maniac still at large’, Sunday World, 22 October 1989, p.6

[ix] Mick MacConnell, ‘Paraquat lunatic hits blackberries’, Kerryman, 29 September, 1989 p.28

[x] Martina Petovka, ‘The vending machine murders’, Medium, 24 September 2020, available at:

[xi] Roy Vickery, Garlands Conquers and Mother Die: British and Irish Plant-Lore (Bloomsbury Academic, 2010) p.18


Published by Paul Weatherhead

Author of Weird Calderdale, musician and songwriter

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