Peter De Loughry - the Kilkenny patriot and politician

The man who made the key that sprung De Valera from Lincoln Jail

The De Loughrys first came into Kilkenny City from Tullaherin in 1780. Tullaherin lies between Bennettsbridge and Dungarvan, County Kilkenny. Peter de Loughry was born in 1882. He was the 5th child of the family and it was he who took over the management of the large family business which had been established in 1816 by his father Richard.

To give readers some idea of the magnitude and excellence of this establishment, I will give you an advertisement published in an old book on Kilkenny that read as follows: R. De Loughry and Sons of Parliment Street and New Building Lane. Established in 1816. Casting in iron, brass etc of every description made to order. Plough parts a speciality. Also builders, contractors, millers etc will find it to their advantage to consult us when requiring castings of any kind. Our foundry was established in 1816. Engineering in all its branches including motor repairs. Agents for Swift cars, cycle depot and hardware store. Telephone De Loughry’s Kilkenny 43.

Peter De Loughry’s wife was a woman named Winifred Murphy. Winifred was born in the Union House which was in fact a poor house. It stood where the old Central Hospital stood later. Later still this building was taken over by the Kilkenny Products and Engineering firm now defunct.

The reason Winifred Murphy was born in the Union House was that her father, Thomas Murphy, was the Master of the Union. This man’s job of work was similar to that of Mister Bumble’s in Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. But, I hasten to add, that unlike Mister Bumble, Thomas Murphy was a most humane man, as the following story will reveal.

Written into the records of the day to day running of the Union House was the following; “It had come to the notice of myself Thomas Murphy, Master of the Union on the Hebron Road, that three young male inmates were today bitten by a mad dog, that showed signs of rabies.

I have sent for the Union Physician”. Some time later it was diagnosed that the three boys had in fact contracted the terrible disease of rabies. You must remember that in those far off days rabies was a certain killer. There was no cure for it. Not in Ireland, England, Scotland nor Wales. And so it became a foregone conclusion that the three boys would surely die and under the most horrific circumstances as that.

As well as being in true humanitarian, Thomas Murphy, was also a well-read man. Some times earlier he had read in a “News Letter” that a young scientist in Paris, named Louis Pasteur, was founding a special branch of science, which he called “Bacteriology”. High on Mister Pasteur’s research list was a cure for Hydrophobia, otherwise known as rabies.

As Thomas Murphy saw it he had to take the three boys by boat and train to Paris. This he did without delay.

Nothing further was found in the Union House record. But we do known with certainty that the first “vaccination” Louis Pasteur performed on a human being was a boy who had been bitten by a mad-dog. Who can tell? Perhaps it was one of the boys from Union House, Hebron Road, Kilkenny, that has been the world’s first recipient of Louis Pasteur’s “vaccination” against rabies.

Winifred Murphy later married Peter De Loughry. She became Head of the Cumann na mBan in Kilkenny. The poet and freedom fighter Joseph Mary Plunkett was a great friend of Peter and Winifred De Loughry and often stayed at their home in Flood Street, later called Parnell Street.

After the Easter Rising Joseph Mary Plunkett was married in prison, shortly before he was executed. The priest who performed the ceremony was that great Kilkenny patriot priest Father Albert. I’ll tell you all about him at a later date.

Peter De Loughry was a staunch member of the Irish Volunteers and was arrested and imprisoned on numerous occasion. He was an ardent member of Kilkenny Corporation and County Council. He was chairman of Kilkenny City and County Technical Committee and was in jail when first he was elected to the Mayoralty.

Peter De Loughry was the first to be taken hostage by the infamous Black and Tans. At that time he was driven through the streets of Kilkenny while standing in the back of an army lorry, blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back and a rifle aimed at his head.

Following that, he was jailed in Dublin and his home was occupied by the British Forces. Over the years of the “Troubles”, Peter was imprisoned in Mountjoy, Ballykinlar, Frongoch and Wandsworth. He said the latter was worst of all.

History recalls that Peter De Loughry was also imprisoned in Lincoln jail, as was Sean Milroy, Sean McGarry and Eamon De Valera. It was Peter who cut the key that led to their eventual escape. He got the idea for their escape from stories told to him by his mother who was a cousin of the man who had helped the Fenian chief to escape from Richmond Jail. The Fenian Chief of course was our own James Stephens from Blackmill Street, Kilkenny City. The man who helped Stephens was J.J. Breslin, who had infiltrated the prison staff by becoming a prison guard.

But here is what actually happened at Lincoln Jail. As De Valera regularly served Mass in the church jail, it was an easy matter for him to pocket a few candles. He melted these down and took an impress of the Chaplain’s master key. As there were double locks on every door, the master key was a must.

There were two ordinary keys made that didn’t work. De Valera made the first impression and had it smuggled out of prison and sent to Gerard Boland in Dublin. Boland sent back the key in a Christmas cake but it didn’t turn the lock. A second impression was made which was sent to Manchester where craftsmen cut what they thought was a true replica. It too was a fiasco.

At that juncture Peter De Loughry, told Dev to have a bland key sent into the prison with a file, saying: “I’ll cut it myself”. The blank key and the file arrived this time in a birthday cake. Peter who was an expert locksmith easily cut a perfect replica.

Outside waiting at the last gate to freedom were Michael Collins and Harry Boland. As Collins spied Dev, Milroy and McGarry coming towards the door, he inserted another key, which he believed would open the last door to freedom. He attempted to turn the lock, giving the key a powerful twist. It broke in the lock. Collins was raging. I’ve broken the key in the lock - what are we going to do now?

Dev muttered something while inserting the key Peter De Loughry had cut for him. It knocked out the broken part and with one turn the lock clicked open. The five men shook hands and disappeared into the night. Peter De Loughry did not escaped with the others as he had but a few week is left to serve out his sentence.

Some years later a national newspaper ran this story:
The true story of the Escape from Lincoln Jail, reads like a page of sensational fiction. De Valera as an alter server picks up the Chaplain’s master key and in moments has taken the impression of it in the wax of a melted candle.

This impression is cunningly reproduced in a comic drawing and depicts a drunken man fumbling with a latch key at a door, and underneath is written: “I can’t get in.” The other side shows a prisoner trying to fit a big key in a prison gate and underneath this sketch is written: “I can’t get out”. The key on this side is an exact replica of the actual master key.

There is a stringent censorship over the prisoner’s correspondence, which has to pass both ways through London for inspection, but this postcard, regarded by the censors as harmless joke, gets through and eventually reaches Michael Collins in Dublin.

A key made to the required dimensions is baked in a cake and sent to the prisoners, but it doesn’t work. Paddy O’Donaghue, a former civil servant, then in business in Manchester, has a second key made, but his one also fails.

A third key which is a blank is then sent in with a file in yet another cake, and this one is expertly cut by one of the prisoners, Aldermand De Loughry of Kilkenny, who had made an exhaustive study of all the locks in Lincoln Jail. The rest is history.

Eamon De Valera restored the key to Peter De Loughry many years later in Dáil Eireann. Again the newspapers took up the story: Mr De Valera returns the key. Alderman Peter De Loughry TD, CC, PC, Kilkenny has been presented with the key made by himself when he was a prisoner in Lincoln Jail, which enabled three of his fellow prisoners, Eamon De Valera, Sean Milroy and Sean McGarry to unlock the prison gates and gain their freedom.

The key was restored to the artificer, a week ago in the Dáil by Mr De Valera, accompanied by a letter in Irish in which Mr De Valera stated he was returning the key in pursuance of a promise made to Alderman De Loughry some years ago.

Peter De Loughry was chairman of the first Kilkenny Sinn Féin club. He took part in the 1916 rising and was subsequently jailed. He was a member of the first Senate, as was Lady Desart of Kilkenny, in 1918, which was the occasion of his election to Dáil Eireann as TD for Kilkenny.

In 1925, he brought the Black Abbey bell back from the Market House at Dunlavin Estate where it had been used to summon the workers on the Estate.

Alderman Peter De Loughry died at his sister’s residence Mrs Henry Mangan, Richmond Ave, Dublin, on October 24, 1931 aged 52 years.

He voted for the approval of the articles of agreement of 1921 and was a member of the Cumann na nGaelheal, later known as the Fine Gael party.

Richard De Loughry, who was a son of the fabled Peter, was an electrical engineer. He was the first Kilkenny man to volunteer for the Irish Army during The Emergency. He held the rank of ordinance officer with the Southern Command, a position, he held with distinction all through The Emergency.
He relinquished the position in 1948 and returned to Kilkenny to take up the management of the family business in a hardware shop, petrol pumps and electrical components shop at 18 and 19 Parnell Street.

At the time the foundry in New Building Lane was still operating with the famous Leahy brothers, Jeff and Jimmy doing the castings.

Anna Teresa Hennessy became Richard De Loughry’s wife, better known as Ciss, to her friends. Ciss claims with conviction that she comes from one of the oldest native business families in Kilkenny.
Her father, Pat Hennessy, was proprietor of a saddlery and harness shop at Rose Inn Street. Pat had a great singing voice and was a life long member of the Friary Choir. Pat, Ciss’s father had a butchers shop also at Rose Inn Street.

Patricia De Loughry is the daughter of Richard who died a comparatively young man. She is a Gaelic scholar and schoolteacher at St Canice’s Co-Ed on the Granges Road. A foremost member of the Gaelic League, Patricia is totally committed to the restoration of the Irish Ianguage. She lives at Parliament Street with her mother Ciss, in a house that has been the family house for all of two hundred and twenty two years.

Courtesy of the Kilkenny People
December 2002
By Sean Kenny