Internees in Northern Ireland, 1939–45
The greater part of Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority remained unreconciled, and sections of it were indifferent or unsympathetic to the British war effort. The trial of three men and two women charged with involvement in the Coventry explosion of 25 August 1939, played out through the autumn into the execution of James McCormick and Peter Barnes on 7 February 1940. In October 1939, some seventy internees were being held in Belfast Prison, of whom at least sixty should be held for the duration. There was a risk in holding the men in Belfast – not only for their own safe custody, but because they increased the threat to the prison itself and were very disruptive. Belfast had to function as a multi-purpose prison, holding several categories of inmates, each with their own regime and routine. Propinquity provided extra opportunities for the internees to bait the administration.