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De Valera's Escape

Peter De Loughry cuts key that springs Dev

On the 3rd of February 1919, Éamon de Valera along with two other colleagues, Seàn McGarry and Seàn Milroy, made a dramatic escape from Lincoln Prison. It was a key made by a Kilkennyman, Peter De Loughry that allowed the prisoners escape


De Valera needed an escape plan and an opportunity soon arose. The prisoners noticed a door in the exercise yards that lead to the outside; if they could get a key, they could escape. He served as the alter server in the prison’s chapel and this allowed him to make an impression of the Chaplain’s key into a hot bar of soap. It took a number of coded messages for the IRA to realise what the prisoners wanted to do.


They cut a key, baked it into a cake and delivered it to the prisoners. The prison authorities incredibly allowed the delivery of the cake, but the prisoners found the key did not fit the locks. A drawing was sent (disguised in an ornate Celtic design), another cake baked, but again the key did not fit. Either the soap had shrunk when it cooled or the Chaplain’s key was not a master key. The final cake contained a blank key and a set of files; another Irish prisoner, Kilkennyman, Peter De Loughry, who was in prison with them, took apart a prison lock and made a master key.


The escape went to plan and the key worked. De Valera had escaped and embarrassed the British. As De Valera had locked the doors behind him, the British were completely baffled as to how he had escaped. A cover up story was made up by the IRA so as not to expose the power of Michael Collin's intelligence agency.

Kilkenny Key Makes For a Great Escape
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