RA man Séamus Murphy, who has died in 2015 , was the only man to succeed in escaping from Wakefield prison in west Yorkshire on February 12th, 1959, when republicans staged a daring rescue attempt.
“There were five men that had been earmarked for the escape. Two of them were Eoka men [George Skotinos and Nicos Sampson], another two were IRA, myself and Joe Doyle, while there was also a fifth with us, Tony Martin, who had deserted the British army in Cyprus and fought on the side of Eoka before he was arrested,” Séamus Murphy said afterwards.
Murphy had been serving a life sentence for an IRA raid on an arms depot at Arborfield in Berkshire in 1955. The raid, which was part of Operation Harvest, intended to obtain arms to use against the British army in Northern Ireland, had succeeded, and the main party, including Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, escaped. Séamus Murphy had stayed behind to tidy up loose ends and he and Joe Doyle and Donal Murphy were arrested, charged and given life sentences.
Already in Wakefield prison then was Cathal Goulding, IRA chief of staff, along with a future chief of staff, Seán Mac Stiofáin. The Irish quickly made common cause with Greek Cypriot Eoka members, the two groups seeing in each other fellow freedom fighters.
In prison Murphy played chess with Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist jailed for giving atomic secrets to the Russians, while his fellow IRA prisoner Marcus Canning learned Greek from the Cypriots. Another Cypriot prisoner, George Ioannau, translated the writings of James Connolly into Greek.
The IRA had failed in an earlier attempt to get Goulding out, and the Séamus Murphy escape was the work of a splinter group associated with maverick republican Joe Christle, working with Eoka sympathisers living in London.
Outside the prison, republicans Aine and Séamus Grealey acted as decoys by pretending to be a courting couple, while Hughie Farrell and Pat Farrelly threw a rope over the prison wall. In the event only Séamus Murphy made it to freedom. The operation, which involved the rent of flats and the hire of two cars, was paid for by a Cypriot woman, Katerina Pilina, with her £500 wedding dowry.
Murphy hid in a flat in Manchester for three weeks, while a Sunday Press “interview” in Dublin proclaimed his return to Ireland. He eventually made his way home via Glasgow.
Séamus Murphy, Jim to his parents and younger sisters, was a native of Castledermot, Co Kildare, where his mother was the postmistress. His father, a baker, died young. While boarding at Terenure College, Dublin, he joined the IRA.
On his return to Ireland, he had difficulty finding work, eventually working on a baker’s delivery round. He met a young woman, Betty O’Donoghue, also from his home county of Kildare, and they married in 1963. They settled in Bray, Co Wicklow with their son, and Séamus Murphy worked in the nearby Solus light bulb factory.
His days of active service were over, but he remained a member of the republican family, did not embrace Goulding’s move to socialism and opposed the Belfast Agreement.
When Vivas Lividas launched the Greek language edition of his book Cypriot and Irish Prisoners in British jails 1956-59 in 2007, Séamus Murphy visited Cyprus and met many old friends from prison days, including Nicos Sampson, by then a highly controversial, some would say suspect, figure.
There he also got to thank in person Katerina Pilina, who had donated her dowry to get him out of jail.
With many thanks to: Ireland Long Held in Chains Stair agus Cultúr na hÉireann
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