The armed Limerick city criminal, on remand for rape, was due to appear before Charleville District Court, which was sitting in Kilmallock, on unrelated charges yesterday morning when he escaped.
He was still at large last night as gardaí stepped up a nationwide hunt for him.
He fled at around 10.40am after pulling a knife on three prison officers escorting him.
The 42-year-old had been brought from Castlerea prison, where he is serving a two-year sentence, to Kilmallock under escort.
Returning from the toilet in the court he pulled a knife, which gardaí suspect was planted for him, and made his escape.
After a failed attempt to hijack a car, he jumped into a jeep which he hot-wired before driving off at speed.
The jeep was found about six miles away at Ballyvolane, Bruff.
He then stole a Renault Laguna, registration number 97 TS 2473.
Inspector Gerry McNamara last night warned the man is dangerous and should not be approached. He is about six feet tall, well built with sandy hair.
Insp McNamara said: “We would regard him as very dangerous and he may be armed with a knife.”
The garda helicopter joined in the search that was widened to other parts of the country last night.
Insp McNamara said they were watching airports and ferry terminals.
He said: “We feel he may try to leave the country.”
The man, who has been on remand in custody charged with rape, was brought to Kilmallock District Court to answer road traffic charges.
Local solicitor Robin Lee, who was in court at the time, said: “The court, which is upstairs in a county council building, was in session and there was some commotion. I did not take much notice. We were told he had pulled a knife.”
Judge Mary O’Halloran was informed a man due to appear had absconded.
Further court proceedings were not interrupted by the drama.
Sergeant Michael Brennan of Kilmallock began an investigation yesterday into the circumstances of the man’s escape. The prison service will be carrying out its own investigation.
There are no holding cells at Kilmallock District Court.