Sean Aloyisious Bourke (1934–1982) was a petty criminal, who became internationally famous when he sprung George Blake, a fellow inmate, from the Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1966. Blake was a notorius spy for the Soviet Union.
Sean Bourke was born in Limerick and in 1947 at the age of 12 years he was sent to Daingean Reformatory for stealing. On his release he went into the building industry and worked as an assistant to a bricklayer. Tiring of that, he emigrated to Britain in 1961 and again found himself in trouble with the law. Incidents involving police happened frequently because of his heavy drinking but when he was caught sending explosives through the post to an English bobby he faced seven years in jail.It is during this time in jail that he became friendly with George Blake, who was serving life, for spying for the Soviet Union which was at the time the devil incarnate.
When Bourke was released from jail he worked on plans to spring George Blake. He smuggled a walkie-talkie into Wormwood Scrubs so he could make contact with Blake about escape plans. While the guards were distracted Blake broke a window, escped out to the yard and then climbed a rope ladder which Bourke had thrown over the prison wall. They then drove to safe hiding place until the police searches died down after which they travelled to East Germany hidden in a van.
Once in Soviet territory it was comparatively easy to get to Moscow where both Bouke and Blake were treated royally, given accommodation and a pension. Bourke did not like the Soviet Union with it bureaucratic institutions and society so after a couple of years he returned to Ireland. George Blake still lives in Moscow and has a dacha in the country.
Return to Ireland
On his return to Ireland, Sean Bourke faced an extradition charge from the United kingdom authorities but the Irish Supreme Court rejected the application on the grounds that the jail-break was a political offence and therefore exempted from extradition law. During this time he wrote an account of the jail-break – The Springing of George Blake which was a best seller. The proceeds from the book were soon spent as alcohol had taken over a lot of his life. He ended up penniless.
Sean Bouke moved to Kilkee in 1981 and lived in a caravan in Percy French Estate. He said he was writing a book as a follow up to his original, titled The Scrubbers. This book would detail his life in Moscow and his conversation with George Blake. He was regularly seen with typewriter on the sea front in Kilkee, in fine weather. At this time his uncle ”Feathery’ Bourke died in Limerick. Feathery was well-know scrap-dealer and miser who lived in apalling conditions in his house in the centre of the city. He had quite a bit of property in the city and when his nephew Sean was on the ‘dry’ he used to help collect the rents. On his death Feathery left everything he owned to Sean. Because of the convoluted nature of the estate and because there are a number of other relations, taking out probate took years and Sean used to complain loudly that his solicitors got more out of it than he did. In 1983 while out on his regular walk around Kilkee he collapsed. Two local doctors attended to him but he was pronounced dead at the scene. The coroners report suggested he died from a heart attack, coronary thrombosis, but the two doctors at the scene disagreed. That would have been the end of the matter but for what subsequently happened.
Cloak and Dagger
On the day after Sean died a local person saw two strangers forcing their way into his caravan. She assumed they were relations.When Sean’s brother came back from Edinburgh for his funeral he went to the caravan and it had been ransacked. It was put down to vandalism. Some years later Oleg Kalugin, an ex-KGB officer, who defected to the United Sates wrote a book of his time in the KGB, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West, and he described methods of poisoning dissidents who were living abroad. In this context he mentioned Sean Bourke. Would the KGB have found out that his new book would have information about the inner circles in Moscow that they would prefer were not divulged.Kilkee Historical Society has tried to re-open the case. Historians in that Society have tried to contact Kalugin but he refuses all contacts. So the matter stands.
The Old Limerick Journal
A Limerick Anthology,
Kilkee Historical Society.
It was announced in Moscow today Saturday 26th Decemeber 2020 that George Blake has died. He was the famous double agent who spied for the Soviet Union and was unmasked in 1961 and sentenced to forty two years in prison. Sean Bourke sprang him from Wormwood Scrubs jail.
The following anecdote was written by Sean Murray
I lived in Kilrush 1985 t0 1987 where I was working as an engineer during the construction of Moneypoint power station. I spent most of my off-work time in Kilkee with my friends in the Kilkee Sub Aqua Club. A great friend was the late great Noel Gleeson, architect and proprietor of the Irish House newsagent and bookshop in O’Curry Street.
Apropos the passing of the spy George Blake today, 26th December, Noel’s wife Maura told me the following story, which Noel later confirmed.
One Sunday around lunchtime Noel was taking a break in the Central Bar, almost next door to the Irish House, leaving Maura to looking the shop. Suddenly, Maura burst in to the Central Bar. “Noel, it’s Sean Bourke, he’s inside in the shop putting books inside his coat !”
Noel quickly left the Central Bar, and quietly walked into the shop, where Sean Bourke was still perusing the books. Noel walked up behind him, stuck his index finger sharply in the small of Sean Bourke’s back, and in his best Russian uttered the words “Proschay Tovarishch ! ”. “Farewell Comrade !”
Sean Bourke jumped in the air with a loud yell and ran out through the door.
He never bothered them again.