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Saturday, 17 January 2015

17 January 1972: In a dramatic escape seven internees on the Maidstone ship in Belfast harbour swam to Freedom on this day. The men were Seamus Convery, Tom Gorman, James Bryson, Thomas Toland, Thomas Kane, Peter Rodgers and Martin Taylor. They had planned their escape well in advance and the internees had saved their butter rations for weeks so that the men would be able to smear their bodies in a protective cover before they took to the icy waters of Belfast Lough. They also applied black boot polish to themselves for further protection. Straight after the delayed afternoon roll call they cut a bar on a porthole, slid down the hawser and swam in single file to the docks about 600 yards away. Meanwhile up above their comrades struck up a ‘Skiffle Group’ to cover any sounds they would make hitting the water. Overheard the British searchlights from the ship swept the darkened surface of the Lough but spotted nothing.

Up to this point everything had gone according to plan but on reaching dry land they realised that they had landed adrift of where their would be rescuers should have been waiting for them. Dripping wet and ice cold and dressed only in shorts and socks they eventually managed to gain control of a bus and by a stroke of fortune one of the group had been a bus driver in Belfast some years before. They made off down into Anderstown and into a local pub where immediately they were offered help. Fully clothed and in a car given to them by one of the clientele they then set off to safe house. Within days they were in Dublin [above] and by their audacious and daring action they gave the IRA a major publicity coup that severely embarrassed the British Government.

All over Belfast there were bonfires that night. The people danced in the streets with joy.

"There are so many people to thank, the IRA on the outside, the people in the safe houses, but the people in that bar in the Markets were great. We could not have done it without them.

"It was a collective effort but the success of the escape was down to each individual. That is where the strength of it lay. It is sad to say that Jim and Toadler later died in a feud with the Sticks and Tucker died in a car accident. The remainder stay in touch and we had a bit of a reunion for this, the 30th anniversary.

"They were tough times but boy, it was a remarkable escape, and worth every minute of anxiety and effort."
Peter Rodgers

An Phoblacht 2002