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A still from one of the videos with the car thieves posing on top of stolen vehicles, concealing their faces with emojis. TikTok

Cars being stolen in Cork so joyrides can be filmed for social media

History is repeating itself with cars being stolen in Cork, which has already seen its share of fatalities.

IN A SUBURB on the southside of Cork city, there is a group of teenage boys and girls who have formed a gang dedicated to stealing Asian car imports and documenting their crimes on social media.

The group, mostly aged from 14 to 16, spend time in the middle of the night and in the early morning stealing cars: Cork gardaí say there has been a significant increase in vehicle thefts all in the space of the last year and a half. 

The Journal spoke to sources who are aware of garda operations in Cork city and people who know the children involved. They paint a picture of a group of young people who have a hero worship of car thieves and who use the thefts as content to post to social media. 

The scourge of joyriding was a regular feature in newspapers and Dáil debates in the 1980s and 1990s. Track back and there are several deaths of both drivers and innocent pedestrians and motorists struck by stolen vehicles – almost always a flurry of activity every 10 years as a new generation arrives on the scene and forgets the trauma of past incidents. 

In October 1998, Ian Ward (20) from Knocknaheeny and Christopher Kearney (18) from Hollyhill were killed when the stolen Honda Civic they were travelling in crashed into a pillar on Cork’s Carrigrohane Straight.

In March 1997, two innocent boys – Trevor O’Connell (17) and Stephen Kirby (17) – were killed as they walked to get a bag of chips at a local chipper near their homes in Fairhill. A stolen car went out of control and crashed into them.

In April of that year, in the same community, an 11-year-old boy, Christopher O’Flynn, died when the stolen car he was a passenger in crashed. The driver of that car was 16 years old when it collided with fencing near the Apple plant in Hollyhill.  

The Irish Times reported that in 1995 an 18-year-old teen was killed in a stolen car. 

There was also a rash of incidents in the 1980s, not just in Cork but across the country and particularly in Dublin.

The European Union in 1996 made immobilisers a legal requirement on new cars but it is understood that second-hand and import cars from Asia do not have to meet this requirement today. 

This generation then not only has a new motivation – gratification on social media – but an easier method of obtaining the vehicles. 

Patrolling gardaí are calling for task forces to be established to try to stop history from repeating itself. Many of the children involved would be known to be vulnerable in some ways, including being in State care, under supervision or having previously spent detention periods in Oberstown. 


The teenagers post large amounts of videos to social media, particularly TikTok, documenting the thefts of the cars. Some have even posted from their hospital beds after being involved in crashes. 

The TikTok videos show kids breaking into the vehicles in housing estates, driving in fields and on country roads, and triumphantly standing on top of battered cars. 

On the most popular account, which has been taken down in recent days, there were hundreds of likes and comments under the videos, there are also dozens of bookmarks or saved videos by users.

Comments are for the most part fire and laughing face emojis and they are in large numbers. When one account is taken down, another pops up – the pattern in locating the various accounts is centred around specific hashtags. 

On 30 June, a page claiming to be attached to the gang posted a video on one of their TikTok accounts depicting a group driving stolen cars in convoy with the caption “five yokes in one night” along with the makes of the cars they had stolen – all were either Toyota or Mazda. Sixty-one accounts saved the video and there were more than 300 likes and more than 440 reshares. 

Other videos show the tools of the trade: a vice-grip wrench holding the barrel of a car’s key start mechanism – many videos carrying the caption “active” and smiling emojis. 

Their use of “active” denotes that they are out on that particular night stealing cars.  

The new aspect of social media sharing of the actions comes as car theft is on the rise nationally, with over 4,000 vehicles reported stolen in 2022 alone, a 52% increase on the previous year. It represents a 17% increase on 2019 – the last pre-pandemic year for figures.

Sources have said there is no evidence that the cars are being stolen to order or to be involved in burglaries.  

Fatal crash 

Just a few hours after the video of the five cars was posted several weeks ago, the life of one teenager ended instantly on a stretch of motorway to the north of Cork city.

On 1 July, a stolen car carrying a number of teenagers was involved in a short pursuit with at least one garda car near Mitchelstown. The teenage driver drove the vehicle the wrong way onto the M8 motorway and the gardaí called off the chase.

That stolen vehicle collided with an innocent motorist.

Johnny Foley, 16, from Spur Hill near Togher in Cork died almost instantly. It is understood that he was not the driver of the stolen car. Other teens who were in the car have life-changing injuries with doctors noting that at least one of them is likely to be paralysed for the rest of his life. 

One emergency services source said the scene was like “a war zone” with unconscious bodies and screaming victims when they arrived. The woman in the car that was hit by the stolen vehicle was also taken to hospital with devastating injuries. 

The tone of the videos on TikTok changed the next morning. The boasting video was deleted and replaced with a mawkish dance version of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young with an image of the RTE report of the crash.  

The caption read: “Just yesterday we posted a TikTok bragging about five cars in one night and how we were ‘keeping it lit’ well little did we know one of these five cars would have us all feeling the way we are today after losing a very good friend of ours and another with critical damage….”.

The post continues to tell those injured to get well soon. “Johnny you will be dearly missed our brother this goes to everyone robbed cars are not worth all the pain and trouble they come with so dont (sic) jump on the bandwagon to act cool…”.

The account then posted a video with images of Johnny Foley, which included pictures of the dead boy with a number of what are understood to be stolen cars. 

The account shortly after returned to normal service with videos of joyriding again. The latest video posted on Sunday showed a rear view through the back window of a car as they are pursued by the blue lights of a garda patrol car along a country road. The camera shifts focus to the driver with 120kms per hour speed on the dash.

A campaign has also started across TikTok to criticise the gang.

Asian Market

The Journal revealed in January that gardaí had seen a massive spike in the theft of cars imported from the Asian market. 

The reason was simple: the car thieves had found the cheap Asian imports did not have immobiliser devices. 

An immobiliser prevents a car being driven without the required key to start it. This allows car thieves to break in and start the vehicle with filed down keys or so-called hotwiring methods.

There has also been a number of car thieves who have figured out that some of the vehicles can be started without a key as the key fob which is with the owner inside the house is still communicating with the electronic starter button in the car. It is only a matter of breaking into the vehicle.

Since the early 2000s, the activities of car thieves had been stymied because of the introduction of the immobiliser device. 

The other option for car thieves were burglaries in which they would raid houses to find the keys of the vehicle.

But that has changed with the low-cost importation of Asian market cars – they do not come with the immobiliser and now car thieves have seen this as a huge opportunity. 

North and south

The stealing of cars in Cork is not just centred around the southside – a garda source has warned that a group of 15 car thieves are operating in the northside suburbs as well. 

The modus operandi of their crimes are identical, as are the reasons for doing it: to generate likes on social media. 

The fact that the northside of Cork city has suffered multiple deaths through joyriding has not stopped the craze.  

ireland-county-cork-cork-city-st-annes-church-elevated-view-dusk Cork city. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Gardaí in Cork have been campaigning internally to start specialist patrols and other initiatives but sources have said that those operations are stymied by a lack of overtime and low numbers on stretched regular policing units.

Gardaí call stolen cars UTs – this is slang from Section 112 of the Road Traffic Act, the offence of unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle. 

Sources said a senior garda, involved in the investigation of serious crime in Ballincollig, had made an appeal for a task force to be established for six months across the area but it has not been greenlit. 

The garda plan at the moment is to leave the investigations to already stretched gardaí dealing with countless other incidents. 

Sources said that when operations were put in place to place surveillance on stolen cars, arrests were made quickly. 

One exasperated source said: “These young fellas involved in UTs aren’t sophisticated criminals but at the moment it is being dealt with in a way that they are just running ragged. 

“There are cars being recovered and then stolen again – no one is willing to admit that the problem needs a major input of resources. The last time there were big plans to deal with it was because there was a lot of people killed – that’s the way it’ll go here too.”