Eamon De Valera: That Time When he Escaped from an English Jail


Eamon De Valera actually escaped from an English jail. Here is the tale, according to Rob Buchanan.

On 3rd February 1919, the Godfather of Irish politics Eamon De Valera, assisted by Michael Collins, made a daring escape from Lincoln Prison in Lincolnshire England. It seems a bizarre cartoonish cliché considering the deadly risk involved. But the mission was accomplished using a copied key smuggled in a cake!

Incarcerated alongside the Long Fellow Dev were Seán McGarry and Seán Milroy. They were falsely accused of conspiring with the Germans against the British Empire. This was also part of a general roundup of any and all Sinn Fein members.

The imprisonment of three important party members and the leader crippled the ambitions of Irish independence. The Big Fella Collins was tasked with initiating a jailbreak from a foreign enemy soil whilst keeping himself and his allies out of English clutches. Cue montage of innovation and frustration whilst the greatest minds of Eire. They tried several different, fruitless schemes. The eventual masterplan involved 4 parts.

Eamon de Valera

Eamo escapes. Credit

Eamon De Valera: The Escape

Step 1. Dev used his position as a Catholic mass celebrant in the jail to make a mould of the Chaplin’s key using candle wax. This proved easier said than done, the first two didn’t fit but the third time was a charm. This mould was smuggled out to the Big Fella.

Step 2. A cake, substantial enough to conceal a large prison key but not too large to attract suspicion, was baked and delivered to Dev in Lincoln Prison. Sadly history does not see fit to record the flavour!

Step 3. At approximately 7:40 pm on 3rd February 1919 the Long Fellow, McGarry and Milroy liberate themselves from their cells using the key. They cheekily relock them which bought them valuable time concealing their absence. The fugitives then covertly made their way to the prison exercise yard, dodging the staffing spotlights to the tune of the Mission Impossible theme (probably). Awaiting them were The Big Fella, Harry Boland and Frank Kelly.

Step 4. Under cover of darkness, vaulting the back walls, back alleys and back gardens of Lincolnshire like lockdown party-goers escaping a Garda raid, they reached the Adam and Eve Pub. Here a taxi spirited them away to a safe house in Manchester.

Eamon De Valera: The Return

In 1950 Dev returned to the scene of the crime 31 years later, no longer an escapee but as Taoiseach. Treated as a head of State he was given a tour of the prison and over a formal dinner, explained to governor how he had escaped his “hospitality” back in 1919. And the rest is history.


About the author

Rob Buchanan was one of the winners of 2015 Poetry Ireland Introductions series. His debut poetry collection “The Cost of Living” sold out. He has won national and international awards for his writing, and has been published in a number of poetry journals and magazines including The Stinging Fly, Flare, Live Encounters and Pendemic. Rob was a winner of the Young Ireland Award in Glasgow for his lectures on the Dangers of Democracy. He has written popular current affairs columns for, and been published, in DublinLive, The Outmost, Eile, An Phoblacht , Rukkle, Headspace and The Journal. Rob lives in Dublin and is working on his first novel and a Dublin history anthology.



Leave A Reply