Northern Ireland news

Shawshank star Morgan Freeman narrates documentary detailing IRA's 'Great Escape' from the Maze

Morgan Freeman pictured during a visit to Belfast's Short Strand in 2017

THE MASS breakout of IRA prisoners from what was then Europe's most secure prison features in a new documentary narrated by Shawshank Redemption star Morgan Freeman.

The September 1983 plot that saw 38 republican prisoners escape from the Maze prison near Lisburn is among a number of jailbreaks detailed in the History Channel's 'Great Escapes' series, which is currently airing in the US.

'Belfast Breakout' includes interviews with escapees Gerry Kelly and Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane, who recall the bid for freedom that saw one prison officer die and another 20 injured.

Introducing the episode from inside one of the surviving H-Blocks at the Co Antrim prison site, Hollywood legend Freeman (84), who visited Belfast in 2017, describes the maximum security jail as a “hell hole”.

“This is not some Victorian dungeon, this is 1980s Northern Ireland, it's a prison built next to a British military base — it's name: the Maze," he tells viewers.

In a trailer for the episode, Mr McFarlane tells how he and other prisoners befriended guards beforehand, which enabled them to gain access to the crucial control room of H Block 7.

“We did this for weeks and weeks until the padlock was off and the door was open,” he explains.

The plan would see the prisoners use guns smuggled into the jail to overpower the officers and then take control of a delivery lorry in which the concealed inmates were smuggled out of the main gate of the jail.

Mr Kelly recalls how the late republican leader Bobby Storey produced a gun and told the prison officers to "Get on the ground".

“They looked up and laughed at him and thought it was a joke in the middle of the most secure prison in Europe,” says the MLA for North Belfast.

Prison officer James Ferris died of a heart attack during the escape, which was dramatised in the 2017 film Maze, while colleague John Adams was shot in the head but survived.

Half of the men who tried to escape were captured over the following two days, while Kelly and McFarlane were eventually recaptured in Amsterdam in January 1986.

Other famous escape attempts featured in the series include the escape by Allied prisoners from a German POW camp in 1943 and an attempt to break out of the infamous Alcatraz prison.

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