« Co. Kildare Online Electronic History Journal Home »


Leinster Leader December 4th 2008
Curragh Escape makes dramatic front page news
The first week in December 1958 brought dramatic news for Leinster Leader readers with a front page story headed ‘ 14 internees escape from Curragh Camp’. The internment camp at the Curragh had been reopened to accommodate republican suspects who were said to have been involved in the Border campaign of the mid 1950s – the best-known incident being the failed IRA attack on Brookeborough RIC station on New Year’s Day 1957 in which Sean South of ‘Garryowen’ was killed.
It was somewhat embarrassing for the State that the December breakout was the third escape to have taken place at the Curragh in the same year.
The report relates how shortly before 4pm on the Tuesday (2nd December) over 60 detainees at the Interment Camp attempted to stage a mass break out: 16 of them succeeded in escaping. It was a carefully contrived affair – the internees using home-made smoke bombs to cover their escape. The Army responded with tear gas and shots and it was understood that at least two internees were wounded.
The Leader correspondent had clearly access to good sources in the Curragh as the detail brought forward in his report could only have come from within the secure areas of the camp.  The report relates that the first indication of a breakout came with the exploding of a smoke bomb under one of the sentry boxes. At the time the internees were in the recreation compound and were ostensibly picking teams to play football.. When the smoke appeared they began to shout and made a concentrated rush towards the barbed wire surrounding the compound. A group of about six seized and held the officer in charge of the guard; further smoke bombs were triggered by the internees and soon the interment camp was enveloped in dense smoke.
They say that the first casualty of a war is truth and there was an element of this in the contradictory reports that emerged about the wounding of internees. A Government Information Bureau statement issued to the press later that day stated that two internees had received leg injuries as a result of bursting time-bombs. However the Leader correspondent, again clearly drawing from strong sources within the Camp, reported that an emergency operation had been carried out on an internee at the Curragh Military Hospital and that three other internees had been admitted to the hospital.
The internees who managed to clear the compound ran across the Curragh plains towards the stud-farms between Brownstown and Maddenstown. The Army mobilised all its resources in pursuit – armoured cars, radio cars, jeeps, trucks and motorcycles were deployed. Plain clothes and uniformed Gardai also rushed to the scene. Clamps of gorse on the Curragh were set on fire in an attempt to flush out any internees hiding in the vegetation. Despite all of this effort just two of the escapees were captured on the plain – one a native of Dundalk, the other a prominent republican from Leitrim. Both had sustained cuts and minor injuries in the breakout and the clothing of one was reported to be badly torn.
The Army and Gardai subjected the area bounded by Maddenstown, Brownstown and Suncroft to an intensive search and for a long time believed that they had the escapees pinned down in the tightly cordoned area. However the remaining fourteen escapees had vanished. On the day after the breakout attention shifted towards the Japanese Gardens area at Tully and checkpoints were mounted on bridges and junctions around Kildare town. Two army battalions from Dublin were drafted into the search but the failure to catch more of the escapees strengthened the belief that they had outside help and may have been assisted to make a clean getaway once they got clear of the camp.
This was the third escape of internees from the Curragh in 1958. In May of that year three had got out through a window in the Curragh Military Hospital where they had been patients. Two of them – one from Armagh, the other from Portarlington – were recaptured near Kilcullen; the third man, from Dublin, evaded capture for ten days until he was found at house in Gormanstown, Co. Meath.
The second escape was a more successful operation when two men cut through the wire fence and escaped. They were Rory Brady, Sinn Fein TD for Longford-Westmeath and David O’Connell of Cork. Despite extensive searching, road-blocks, and monitoring of ports by the security forces, they had not been recaptured by the time the third escape reported above had taken place.
Series No. 96

In his regular feature 'Nothing new Under the Sun' Liam Kenny finds that the Leader correspondent had access to good sources in the Curragh Military Camp when reporting on the escape of IRA internees from the Camp in December 1958.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2