October 22

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1966 The British spy George Blake was sprung from Wormwood Scrubs prison by Limerickman Seán Burke.
  • 1935 Sir Edward Carson, Unionist leader, died.
  • 1641 The Rising in Ulster began when Sir Phelim O’Neill took over Charlemont Fort, Co. Armagh.
  • 1811 Franz Liszt, international piano virtuoso, inventor of the master class and prolific composer, born in Raiding, Oedenburg, Hungary.
  • 1966 George Blake, MI6 spy and double agent for the Soviet Union, escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison. His escape, in the fifth year of an unprecedented 42-year sentence, was famously masterminded by Limerickman Seán Bourke who befriended the spy whilst serving a sentence there himself for sending an explosive devise through the post to a police officer. Communicating with Bourke via a walkie-talkie he had managed to smuggle in, Blake, at the appointed time made his way to the perimeter wall, over which he climbed with a rope ladder provided by Bourke. From there he was smuggled to Berlin by two anti-nuclear campaigners where he met his handlers who brought him to Moscow, where Bourke joined him soon afterwards. Blake passed the rest of his life as a guest of the Soviets meeting occasionally with his compatriots Donald Maclean and Kim Philby and passed away in his dacha just two years ago. Bourke’s passing however, remains somewhat of a mystery. Returning to Ireland a few years later, minus his manuscript about the escape which the Soviets retained, he rewrote his account and had a best-seller with The Springing of George Blake (1970). Thereafter his alcohol abuse led to health problems and penury but by January 1982, living in a caravan in Kilkee, Co. Clare, he had sobered up and was writing a book on his life in Moscow and his conversations with Blake. He died suddenly that month and there was no trace of the manuscript or papers relating to it. Some years later an experienced KGB officer who had defected to the United States claimed in his memoirs that he had been poisoned on the orders of the KGB foreign intelligence division.

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