De Valera's escape from Lincoln Gaol, February 1919

On the night of 18th May 1918, British police and military arrested leading members of Sinn Féin accusing them of engaging in 'treasonable communication with Germany'. The arrests of Eamon De Valera, president of Sinn Féin, Arthur Griffith, founder of Sinn Féin, Darrell Figgis, party secretary, and a number of other elected Sinn Féin TDs was intended to crush this 'German Plot'. De Valera was interned in Lincoln Gaol from where in February 1919 he dramatically escaped, with the help of his friends. 

The handwritten letter below explains how De Valera will escape out the back gate of the jail and how the key needed to do so was posted to him in a cake!   

A transcription of the letter can be found below. 

UCDA P150/615 Papers of Eamon de Valera. Original correspondence between Séan O'Mahony, Fr Kavanagh, Séan McGarry and his wife, Thomasina, about organising the escape and obtaining keys and files by smuggling them into the jail in cakes. Reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership.



The key that Séan has in the picture is the only thing between D & Freedom. The size is exactly as it is (in the picture) It opens the door inside and the big back gate outside on the north side.

Send us one and files in the middle of a cake. Have one outside too and a strong rope with loops to throw over the wall if the key should not be suitable for the gate. Also a motor and a place to go and stay in. London or elsewhere. Have everything examined and made ready beforehand – and wide awake men on the work.Send us the date a good while beforehand in a letter to Séan. "Billie got up on the….th of last month – Is now quite well" We will know from that that everything will be ready the evening of that day in January. Eamon will come through the gate if possible that evening or the evening after. Let a man be waiting. Eamon will have a white book in his hand as a sign. If he is unable to open the gate he will throw a stone over the wall then the man outside can walk 40 yards past to the left looking towards the prison, i.e. with his face towards the prison. Eamon will throw a thin cord over at the new place and the man outside can tie the big rope to it as a ladder. Eamon will get over in that way. It would be better not to make any inquirysearch. DeValera knows the place. 6 o'clock in the evening is the best time. Mind the iron wire? around the garden near the football ground. We will succeed if only we are careful.


Did ye get those pictures at all. Make a key exactly like that in the first picture and as thick as the note in the second one. Send it to us in a cake and a couple of files. The 2 of us Dev. and myself will be ready to escape if the motor and the other things are ready outside. You haven't much time now. Do your best to settle up the matter this month. When you get this letter send a pound to me by wire to the prison and from that I will understand that you got the other letter with the picture also. There is no other way to send us the news as part.

Be careful that the cake is quite strong so that it will not be broken coming. You can put a letter in the cake as well as the implements. If the key suits I will tell you in a letter "your last cake was a treat" If you want any other information send a cake and a letter in it to us at once and we will send you another letter like this.


You will understand now perhaps why I would like to go home.