Dr Grigg kept the 70 strong audience captivated with the story of Eamon de Valera’s daring flight to freedom in 1919. De Valera was probably the most influential modern Irish statesman; he became Prime Minister and President of Ireland and served almost continually from 1932 to 1973.
De Valera was incarcerated in Lincoln prison with other Sinn Fein prisoners during the First World War, after the British authorities (wrongly) suspected his involvement in a German plot. His Sinn Fein colleagues outside prison, led by Michael Collins, helped to plan an escape, smuggling multiple keys into the prison via a variety of cakes.
At approximately 7.40pm on 3 February 1919, de Valera, Sean Milroy and a third man, Sean McGarry, opened the prison doors and escaped. They walked from the prison to the Adam and Eve pub, where they took a taxi to Worksop and then made their way back to Ireland.
During the talk Dr Kent also explained the connection with conscientious objector Fenner Brockway, who was in solitary confinement in Lincoln prison when the escape took place. The Sinn Fein prisoners helped him by smuggling a letter to his wife and providing him with newspapers to read. Brockway later credited these actions with saving his sanity. Brockway returned to Lincoln with Eamon de Valera in 1950, to speak out against the partition of Ireland – and they also found time to visit the prison and the scene of this dramatic escape.
Present at the talk was Eamon O Cuiv TD – Eamon de Valera’s grandson – and himself a senior member of Fianna Fail, the political party his grandfather founded in 1926. For the hundredth anniversary of the escape Eamon O Cuiv retraced his grandfather’s footsteps and visited Lincoln Prison himself to remember this historic event.
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Photo credit: Gerry Molumby.