A look back at the history of IRA prison escapes north and south of the border since the start of the Troubles.

On 25 September 1983 between thirty and forty IRA prisoners escaped from Long Kesh prison in what was the biggest escape in the history of the penal system. However, jailbreaks were nothing new for members of the IRA north and south of the border.

Reporter Charlie Bird takes a look back at the history of IRA jailbreaks since the conflict in Northern Ireland began in 1969. In November 1974, thirty three republican prisoners tunnelled their way out of Long Kesh. During the breakout, one of the prisoners was shot dead by a British army soldier. Within
twenty-four hours of the jailbreak, all thirty three prisoners were back in captivity. 

In January 1972, one of the most daring escapes took place when seven Republican detainees jumped overboard from the HMS Maidstone which was being used as a prison ship anchored in Belfast harbour. Swimming to shore, the men hijacked a bus and days later appeared at a Provisional IRA press conference in Dublin and were recaptured. 

The last big escape to take place in Northern Ireland happened in 1981. Eight remand prisoners fought their way out of Crumlin Road Jail as they were being taken to court. Seven of the escapees, known as the M60 Gang, were tried and convicted in their absence. Eventually, all but one of the prisoners were recaptured south of the border. 

Escapes by Republican prisoners have also taken place in the Republic of Ireland. In October 1973, three leading members of the Provisional IRA were airlifted from Mountjoy Prison courtyard after a helicopter pilot was forced to land in the prison. As a result of this major breach of security, the government announced the transfer of all prisoners convicted of IRA activity to Portlaoise Jail. Since then, the Midland prison has been the scene of a number of violent breakouts.

In July 1974, Gardaí discovered an eighty foot tunnel leaving the jail. A month later, nineteen members of the Provisional IRA blasted their way out. Almost ten years on, at least six of the escapees have yet to be captured. In March 1975, another dramatic escape from Portlaoise occured when members of the Provisional IRA outside the prison used an earthmover to bulldoze through the prison walls. However, this time, the attempt was foiled by Gardaí and troops on duty around the prison. 

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 26 September 1983. The reporter is Charlie Bird.