The Curragh
History - Information - Contacts




As published in Leinster Leader 17 September 1921

Sensation at Curragh Camp.

Prisoners escape from Hare Park.

The Signal “All clear”


It is scarcely necessary to say that excitement was at its height in the Curragh Camp and in the adjoining centres on Friday morning when it was known that a great number of the boys who were being interned at the Curragh had succeeded in an attempt to break camp. It was evident that the spirit of the men soared some little bit over the height of the entanglements and in this instance, at all events, the iron bars were not sufficiently moulded to complete the cage which their captors had hoped for. When I was first told of the escapes of some prisoners I was rather inclined to think there was no foundation, but soon it was ascertained at the Curragh Camp that something had occurred very much out of the ordinary, and the military police, as well as the Constabulary, were busy. Reticence was observed to a very great degree and it indeed sensed to be the wish of the military and the government forces generally, not to give any information even of the slightest kind, which would tend to throw any light on the situation which was being so keenly discussed. It was, indeed, with much difficulty that the following facts were gathered from some reliable sources:-

            There are 70 men missing from the Rath internment camp at the Curragh and it is considered that the manner of their escape was effected through the boring of a tunnel at which the men must have been secretly engaged for over a month before the attempt to burst outside in the greenlands of the Curragh and make the final attempt for liberty which was made on Friday morning. The burst for freedom was indeed most successful and all who were concerned got away with the exception, it is said of one young man who got caught in the wire entanglement and who lost an amount of blood. When he found that he would be but hampering the cause of his comrades he with a spirit of self-sacrifice quietly crept back to his hut again where he was found in the early hours of the morning badly wounded in the foot. It is said on the other hand that at that moment when he was entangled in the meshes of the barbed wire that the sentry hearing a noise fired in the direction and the young man who has been recaptured, is said to be rather badly wounded.

            The huts in the Rath Camp in which the men have been interned for such a long time, are raised a few feet from the ground, and in this instance we are informed from a very reliable authority that they are not even a little bit of an improvement from the huts which were placed on the Curragh plain at the early portion of the European war when the Dead March was being heard as a result of the insanitary foundations and surroundings through the streets of Droichead Nua and Kildare evening after evening, while the coffin loads were being brought over to England. At that time reports on such matters were banned and the real truth never caught the ears of the public here or across the Channel.

            All around the Rath Camp there are strong block houses and it would appear to the average person that there was not the remote possibility of escape from the place, which is so strongly barricaded with a remarkable series of barbed wire entanglement, while patrols are always on the move outside as well as in the interior of the camp.

            The escape of the prisoners was through a tunnel from the huts in the grounds of the camp. The huts are raised up on a foundation extending somewhat over the ground, and it would appear that underneath the foundation the men burrowed down some ten or twelve feet, their sole implements being knives and spoons, which they had been using in the ordinary way, while at their meals. With these the men patiently burrowed time after time when they got the opportunity until they had the necessary tunnel prepared out in the open air overhead. The digging must have been under the control of someone experienced, as it is said that the tunnel was planned and carried out in a most scientific manner. It was merely run some eight feet down into the earth while there was the necessary allowance made for the falling of matter, etc. At this point the huts were surrounded by guards. The tunnel having been completed it was but necessary to await the most favourable opportunity to commence the escape, and it is said a concert was being proceeded with in the huts when the boys crawled into the tunnel and afterwards when they felt the Curragh breeze in the open they made a dash for freedom. It is said that there were entirely 1,500 men in the camp, and that of these there were over 60 less when roll was called. On the first section getting out they had to remain in quietness immediately outside until they were joined by their comrades and then they quietly cut the barbed wire at a point already agreed on but during this operation a number of men got rather badly cut about the hands, while their clothing was badly torn. The men on getting into the open distributed themselves, taking different directions, but all got away safely.

            The military and police have been busy in their searches which included the Newbridge and Kildare railway stations, but up to the present there have been no arrests.

            With the Rath Camp, from which the men escaped, and the French Furze camp now in progress of construction there are nearly two miles of a stretch covered round with barbed wire entanglements, while the Hare Park internment camp, about a quarter of a mile distant, contains 400 prisoners. There was a rumour that one elderly man was captured in the neighbourhood of the Curragh during the morning and taken to the Camp, but this was afterwards verified. The men on leaving the camp are said when getting into the open to have first struck over by the Stone Barracks by the main road round by the Y.M.C.A. huts and on to the borders of the Curragh where they distributed themselves. It is stated that a number of the men went in the Hill of Allen, Droichead Nua, Kilcullen and Rathangan direction. Some of them were during the day in the interplace until motors arrived and conveyed them to their destinations. Some of the men were in their bare heads when seen. The majority of the men who escaped are said to be from Dublin, Tullamore, Mayo and Galway district, and it is said that only one of the Kildare men is included amongst the number who escaped, Kildare men been in different huts. The Rath Camp for a considerable time back has been completely cut off from all connection with the main road, and even the roadway passing by to the main military camp at the Curragh has for a long time back been closed up and barred to the public. From a reliable source the writer was informed that on Wednesday night at 12 o’clock it was found that two tunnels having been completed the signal “all clear” was given, and the men went out of the prison huts into the tunnels two at a time. At first, it is said one man got out and returned to make a report that all was right, and then he was followed by another man, both getting safely through the wires into the open. Two by two their comrades went down into the tunnel and getting out passed through the barbed wire on to the open greenlands of the Curragh until 70 men were breathing the air of freedom, and immediately afterwards were striking out for the hilly country in the distance having first broken up into little batches. It is said that a number of men not knowing the lie of the country and rushing in the darkness must have run in somewhat of a circle as dawn found them again back on the verge of the camp. Happily they discovered their mistake in time, and they wearily pursued their way this time striking out for the friendly hills. From this and other incidents of which I have learned it would appear that there was no real alarm given until morning, and, indeed, it is stated by a reliable authority that the actual state of affairs did not penetrate the minds of the military authorities until roll call in the morning. The night was a very foggy one, and this very much facilitated the men in their escape. There was much danger at one moment and a false step would have brought the din of bugles in their ears and the noise of an aroused camp. One of the prisoners afterwards said that at one point there was a crucial moment as out of the fog only four yards away they perceived a sentry standing, and, indeed, only saw him just in time, after which they slightly altered the direction of travel, and in a little time were entirely outside the outskirts of the camp, and the greenlands of the Curragh were soon left far behind.