How 38 IRA Members Pulled Off the UK’s Biggest Prison Escape

At the height of the “unrest” in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, the British government jailed hundreds of Irish Provisional Republican Army (IRA) paramilitaries inside the infamous Maze Prison. Considered the safest penitentiary in Europe, the Labyrinth was supposed to be escape-proof, that is, until 38 IRA prisoners stage the largest escape in history British in September 1983.

Built on a former Royal Air Force base 10 miles outside the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, the maximum security prison consisted of eight capital H-shaped prison blocks. These H-blocks became battlegrounds for IRA prisoners who had led a violent campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland. After the British government stripped convicted paramilitaries of their special status as political prisoners in 1976, IRA inmates wore blankets instead of prison uniforms and refused to shower or empty their chamber pots. The protest culminated in a hunger strike in 1981 in which 10 Republican prisoners, including the head of the IRA at Maze Prison, Bobby Sands, died.

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