Hundreds at Gerry Kelly book launch in Derry

Gerry Kelly MLA signs a copy of 'The Escape' for Sarah McSheffrey on Wednesday night. (DER4613PG062)
Gerry Kelly MLA signs a copy of 'The Escape' for Sarah McSheffrey on Wednesday night. (DER4613PG062)

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly was in Derry last night to launch his new book on the mass escape of republican prisoners from Long Kesh in 1983.

The book gives a frank account of the escape, the biggest prison break-out in Europe since the Second World War.

Mr Kelly and 37 other IRA prisoners seized control of a wing of the infamous H-Blocks, with some prisoners dressed as prison guards.

The escape did not go to plan however and the prisoners had to make their way across fields. A number were recaptured almost immediately while others managed to remain at large for several days.

Mr Kelly was among the escapees who avoided arrest for the longest period before being discovered in Amsterdam.

Hundreds attended the book launch which was held in Sinn Féin’s Rath Mor constituency office.

The senior Sinn Féin politician said he wanted to write the book, his first, to mark the 30th anniversary of the escape.

“The escape could not have happened without the hunger strike, After the loss of ten comrades and friends, republicans did what we have always done and looked at the situation to see who we could move forward,” he explained,

Mr Kelly said the escape was a major propaganda coup for the republican movement. “It was great to get out but it was for a purpose. It was part of the wider Smash H-Block campaign,” he said.

The North Belfast MLA paid tribute to fellow escapee Ciaran Fleming from the Top of the Hill area of Derry who was later killed while attempting to cross a river while being pursued by the SAS.