It was Armistice Day 1918 when an IRA prisoner in Cork County Gaol made a brazen escape to freedom. His name was Donnchada McNeilus, a native of Donegal.
Donnchada McNeilus was born in Malinbeg, Glencolumbkille but, he found himself at the other end of the country during Ireland's fight for freedom.
When McNeilus qualified as an electrical engineer he found employment at the Haulbowline dockyard in Cork. It was in "The Rebel County" that he became a militant nationalist, joining the Irish Volunteers and the Gaelic League. He was an avid cyclist and was Captain of the Cork Volunteers cycling company. Due to his engineering skills, he also proved to be a vital member of the volunteers, fixing and manufacturing arms and ammunition.
On the morning of Nov 4, 1918, five RIC men burst in the door of his lodgings on Leitrim Street in Cork city. MacNeilus resisted arrest and as he grappled with Head Constable John Clarke a gun he had in his hand went off and a bullet hit the constable under his right eye.
Head Constable Clarke was sent to the hospital while McNeilus was sent to Cork County Gaol to await his fate. If the constable died, McNeilus was sure to hang and because of this, his comrades in the Cork Volunteers decided to break him out of jail.
At 3:25 pm, Nov 11, 1918, two volunteers approached the gate of the gaol and requested to visit McNeilus. They were granted permission and the two volunteers were brought into the visitor's waiting room. Five minutes later, two more volunteers arrived and asked to visit another prisoner, and they too were granted permission. Minutes later, two more volunteers arrived at the gaol gate, disguised as clergymen, and they were granted permission to visit a prisoner.
Outside the gaol, other volunteers had cut wires connecting the gaol to a nearby barracks while inside the gaol, the first two volunteers were brought into the visiting room where McNeilus was waiting with a single prison guard.
After a few minutes of idle chit-chat, the two volunteers suddenly took sandbags from their coat pockets and clobbered the unsuspecting guard over the head before taking his keys and guiding McNeilus out of the gaol.
In the waiting room, the other volunteers had overpowered and tied up the other prison guards and along with McNeilus they briskly walked towards the exit, locking every door and gate behind them just to make sure nobody else got out or in!
As the escape party exited the main gate and emerged out onto the street at Gaol Cross, just off Western Road, they split up and ran in different directions. McNeilus spotted a bicycle resting by the wall so, he hopped up on it and cycled like hell!<
McNeilus headed for the outskirts of the city to a safe house. The escape was a massive success, McNeilus was never caught and went on to take an active part in the War of Independence in County Cork.
McNeilus died at Rosses Point, Sligo, on Dec 15, 1954. In 1962 a monument in his honor was unveiled near the church where he was baptized in Glencolumbkille and among those in attendance were some of his comrades from Cork who helped McNeilus escape on Armistice Day 1918.
And by the way, Head Constable Clarke survived!
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