#OTD in 1973 – Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape: The IRA use a hijacked helicopter to free three of their members from the exercise yard of Mountjoy Prison, Dublin.

Early that day, an IRA member had hijacked an Alouette II helicopter and forced the pilot to land at the D Wing of Mountjoy Prison where they picked up the three IRA prisoners: Séamus Twomey, Chief of Staff, JB O’Hagan, Quartermaster, and Kevin Mallon, activist. Irish prison guards were not armed.

The helicopter had been hired by an American two days previously for what was believed to be a photographic session in Stradbally, Co Laois. Having landed at Stradbally, the helicopter was immediately surrounded by a number of armed men. The American, Mr. Leonard, was asked to get out of the helicopter and one of the armed men took his place. The pilot was then forced to fly to Mountjoy to pick up the three men and then on to Baldoyle racecourse, where the three prisoners and the fourth man got into a car and headed in the direction of Howth, Co Dublin.

It was a brilliantly audacious escapade by the IRA and generated intense embarrassment for the Fianna Fáil government but incredible PR for the IRA, which made headline news around the world. The escape resulted in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison.

The Wolfe Tones had a unique ability to capture republican emotions in song, wrote a mighty humorous song about the escape, which was immediately banned by the government yet still topped the Irish popular music charts after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

Photo: An Aérospatiale Alouette II, the type of helicopter used in the escape

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