On this day October 31, 1973

Three Provisional Irish Republican Army members escaped from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin after a hijacked helicopter landed in the prison’s exercise yard.

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The escape made headlines around the world and was an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave, which was criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil.

A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána was launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, was not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones wrote a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song”, which topped the Irish popular music charts despite being banned by the government.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners were watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 pm the helicopter swung in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially took no action as he believed the helicopter contained the Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan.

After prisoners surrounded the eight prison officers in the yard, fights broke out as the officers realised an escape attempt was in progress. As other prisoners restrained the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan boarded the helicopter. As the helicopter took off, in the confusion one officer shouted “Close the gates, close the fucking gates”.

The helicopter flew north and landed at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees were met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. The escapees were transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier, and transported to safe houses.

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