It was 56 years ago on my 12th birthday 26th December 1960
at about 5 pm in the afternoon it was dark,wet and cold,
like most days in the month of December .
We as a family, as was the case with most families where all over the place, some where at the races in Leopardstown race course outside Dublin, others where out with friends as happens on St Stephens day, so the only people at home that afternoon was my mother Margaret and my father John as well as my sister Rita and myself it was a birthday celebration I have never forgotten.
As I am the youngest of the family Rita had me spoiled and we had a unspoken but a special bond which was carried through our lives .
On this occasion Rita had bought me a special birthday / Christmas present which she presented to me on this day it was a real lambs wool red jumper which I wore with pride as we shared songs while she played the piano and I sang rebel songs out of a song book that was in the house as well as teaching me Tom Williams who was executed in Belfast jail in 1942 and Sean South of Garryown who was killed on the Brookbourgh barracks raid by the IRA on the local RUC station along with Fergal O’Hanlon in 1956, these where songs that I continued to sing on a regular basis in school or at any chance I got !!!
It was during this lesson that I heard a knock on the front door and as we had a inner glass door and a small hall leading to a bigger hall off which was the parlour and the kitchen / living room and scullery and at the end off the hall was the stairs I was the first to answer the knock , as I opened up the door I was met by this guy who was only half dressed and certainly not dressed for the weather of that night he only wore a grandfather shirt a pair of grey trousers and a pair of gutties now referred to as slippers.
The first thing he asked me was my father at home and the first thing I thought was that he was some kind of beggar so I told him to wait until I got him, but as soon as my father saw him he knew he was an escaped prisoner from the jail and all hell broke loose but in a positive way as if he was expected,!! as my father asked was anyone else with him , he then proceeded to say that my brother John was with him but he thought he fell back into the prison yard he confirmed that he was Danny Donnelly from Omagh, as this discussion was going on Rita was up stairs getting warm closes and shoes ready in preparation that he would be moved to a safe house, while it was decided what to do next about John.
As my mother and Rita were getting Danny ready to move to the safe house my father and I went up the Crumlin Road in search of my brother John in case he was hurt and lying somewhere we spent a good hour looking , little did we know that John had indeed fallen back into the prison yard and had broken his wrist and sprained his ankle , he lay there for at least an hour before the jail sirens went off which gave us time to ensure that Danny Donnelly was safe and before as John knew it would be, our house would be raided by the RUC and the B ‘Specials that extra time was vital to the success of the escape and even though we knew John did not make it we still had to make sure that Danny Donnelly did make it.
After my father and I returned to our home Danny was gone and the only people who knew to where,was Rita and my mother
As I was very young and in fear that the RUC and the B’Specials would inflict violence it was suggested that I be moved to my sisters house on the Antrim Road where I would be safe, So off I was shipped and was not to return to my home for a week as my mother and father where in every respect under house arrest for that time
During this time all out relatives where arrested and questioned including my late brother in law Art Gibson who never in his life been spoken to by the RUC never mind being arrested as he was returning from the races in Dublin with my brother Billy who had just got out of interment they where stopped at a RUC checkpoint in Banbridge and taken into custody , Art could not get over what happened then as they removed his shoe laces and his belt many a laugh was had by Art and Margaret at this story !!
It was only after John was released in 1964 that the full story about the escape finely came out and the details of how Danny got away from Belfast.
Danny had been moved to a safe house from where he was again moved to a furniture removal companies yard where there was number of lorries parked and it would be at least a week before that yard was to open again but most important off all all the lorries had blankets and articles that would keep him warm on those cold nights and days, the likely hood of this yard being searched was very small as the person who owned the company and the yard was a leading member of the unionist party and a MP in Stormont “the home of the unionist government” named Morgan !!! there was always a weary smile on my mothers and fathers face as the RUC came raiding our home after this event
In order to complete his escape out of Belfast and as every member of the RUC and the B’Specials where looking for him he was going to need a good disguise which would put him beyond suspicion so we got him a British red cross and civil defence uniform which saw him make his way to the border and safety .
I paid a visit to Crumlin Road jail last year , and I picked up a book on the escapes from there but this escape was written out off this book as if it never took place, during the conversion with one of the guides he informed me that they never knew when or how they got the files into A wing which enabled John and Danny to saw the bars !! except to say that every Saturday we would send a mixed salad of fresh food to the prisoners on A wing
After John was found injured in the front A wing yard he was led to the basement of D wing which was the punishment block he was to remain there for the remainder of his sentence which was 4 years, locked up for 23 hrs per day but no matter how hard they tried to criminalise or abuse him John never broke or allowed them to and remained true to his republican values until the day he died
John has passed on since September 2007 but his memory and his legacy as a Irish republican of principle lives on
Rest in peace john