THIS week marked 50 years since seven republican prisoners escaped from the navy jail ship, HMS Maidstone, and swam to freedom. 

Martin Taylor, one of many escapees later dubbed ‘The Magnificent Seven’, met with the Andersonstown Information on a brilliant however crisp Friday morning, simply yards from the place the ship was as soon as moored in Belfast Lough. 

The large silos of the close by oil depots provide little shelter from the wind that whips the harbour. Certainly one of our get together remarks that “it is freezing”. Martin assures him that the night time of the escape, with the sleet lashing down, was significantly colder. 

Requested if he would swim within the icy waters of the docks once more, he insists that the plunge is a kind of issues in life that’s solely finished “if essential”. As a republican prisoner, he says, “it was essential”. Confronted with a prolonged interval of incarceration, the precedence for republican prisoners is to flee from captivity, he provides.

The introduction of internment in 1971 meant that each Crumlin Street Gaol and Lengthy Kesh had been unable to deal with the sheer quantity of individuals, nearly all Nationalists, who had been imprisoned consequently. HMS Maidstone, a former conflict ship, was repurposed into a jail, the place Martin Taylor discovered himself incarcerated in December that 12 months. 

The plan to flee the ship was a daring one. Camouflaged in boot polish and insulated from the chilly waters utilizing butter (or maybe margarine), Martin and his comrades had been to noticed by means of a metal bar within the ship’s porthole, and climb down a rope into the piercingly chilly water. They might then swim to the opposite aspect of the harbour the place the IRA can be ready to whisk them to freedom. However issues didn’t end up that approach.

The escape, which was largely masterminded by E Firm of First Battalion the IRA’s Belfast Brigade and Cumann na mBán, was initially to contain 4 prisoners – Martin Taylor, Tucker Kane, Tommy Gorman, and Peter Rogers. Nonetheless, when it was found that Jim Bryson and Tommy Tolan from the Ballymurphy had been additionally planning an escape, they determined to mix their efforts. 

Their plans had been hatched just some months after 9 prisoners escaped from Crumlin Street Gaol when rope ladders had been thrown over the wall. That escape, which was once more engineered by E Firm and Cumann na mBán, noticed Belfast man Seán Convery combat off the screws to make sure others acquired away. When he was later transferred to the Maidstone, it was determined it was “solely becoming” that he additionally break away. 

The issue, as Martin remembers, is that Seán “wasn’t a robust swimmer”. 

“Everyone was informed that should you get into bother (within the water) you are by yourself,” he says.

“Seán agreed and stated ‘I am going to get throughout’.”

Every week or two prematurely of the escape, the Magnificent Seven acclimatised for his or her gruelling swim by taking ice chilly showers. Hacksaws had been smuggled into the jail, and used to noticed many of the approach by means of the bar on the porthole the place the boys would make their exit. On the night time of 17 January, it was only a matter of ending the job. 

The escapees estimated that it could take round “25 minutes to a half an hour” to swim to the opposite aspect of the docks, the place they had been to rendezvous with the IRA. A delay within the nightly jail headcount meant that essential assembly by no means happened.

“It turned out one of many lads was in the bathroom, sitting studying,” Martin defined.

“That put the headcount again perhaps a half an hour or extra. The screws needed to do a recount.

“We would have liked every thing to be working as clockwork and it simply did not occur.”

When issues lastly settled the boys made their approach out the porthole. Coated in black polish and butter, and carrying solely their underwear and socks on their arms, one-by-one they slid down the ship’s gang rope, which simply barely introduced them over the encompassing ring of barbed wire and into the water. 

“Everyone was minimize by the barbed wire,” Martin remembers. “When you get in you see the pier that you simply’re heading for – it is actually like a speck within the distance.”

In addition to the chilly, there was the ever current worry of being nipped by the seals that frequented the world or, worse, caught by the Royal Marines who patrolled the harbour. 

“You had been to swim breast stroke, so that you simply weren’t splashing, however as most of us acquired throughout any type of swimming took over,” Martin provides.

“You are exhausted. It was freezing, and I do know that I used to be solely too glad to do the entrance crawl once I acquired shut.”

Difficulties however, the boys made it to the opposite aspect. Their getaway drivers, fearing the operation had been cancelled, had long-dispersed. Making their option to a close-by carpark, the seven males broke right into a automobile and took no matter provisions they might. 

“One of many lads took an umbrella, I wrapped one of many seat covers spherical me and the opposite lads did the identical to maintain themselves heat,” he says.

They ran in single formation to a bus terminus on Queen’s Street, the place Tommy Gorman managed to get a coat by telling workers he had fallen into the water.

Later, a scuffle with a bus driver ensued and the boys boarded a double-decker bus. Peter Rogers, who was beforehand a bus driver, managed to get issues transferring and sped down the highway in direction of the RUC’s Harbour Police checkpoint. 

“I used to be standing beside Peter, and I stated ‘in the event that they put that barrier throughout undergo it – do not be stopping’. I would not have needed to inform Peter that anyway,” Martin states.

“Simply as we had been approaching they (the RUC) had been working out and beginning to shut the gates on us.

“We went by means of they usually instantly pulled in behind us and adopted us. By this time the British Military had been notified they usually had been on their approach as nicely.”

Having put a little bit of distance between themselves and the RUC, the Magnificent Seven drove to the Market space the place they entered a neighborhood bar.

The individuals of the Market, staunchly republican, gave the Martin and his comrades “coats and keys to a automobile”.

From there, they made it to a protected home in Riverdale and finally throughout the border to freedom. 

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