On Tuesday 22nd August 1939 James McCormick (alias James Richards), the leader of the I.R.A. unit operating in Coventry, and another unknown I.R.A. man visited the shop of the Halford Cycle Company in Smithford Street, where McCormick purchased a Halford ‘Karriwell’ – a tradesman type cycle built for Halford by the Birmingham Bicycle Company which had a carrier basket to the front of the handlebar
s. He gave a false name and address – Mr Norman, 56 Grayswood Avenue, Allesley Old Road, Coventry – and paid a deposit of £5 – pledging to pay the remaining 19s 6d on collection, which would be either Friday or Saturday. On the morning of Thursday 24th August 1939 another unknown I.R.A. man began constructing the bomb at 25 Clara Street, Stoke, Coventry. The house was being rented from Loveitt & Sons by Joseph Hewitt who lived there with his wife Mary, their baby child Brigid Mary and his mother-in-law, Brigid O’Hara. After marrying his wife at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, in August 1935, Hewitt came to Coventry in 1936 to find work. His wife and mother-in-law soon followed. Their baby was born in Coventry in 1938. They moved to Clara Street from Meadow Street, Spon End in June 1939. James McCormick lodged with them. It was effectively a ‘safe-house’ for the I.R.A. where McCormick had constructed a concrete storage pit under the stairs a few weeks earlier to store explosives, but the Hewitt’s were not part of the organisation. That evening, at around 7:00 pm, a Transport Officer in the I.R.A. called Peter Barnes arrived at the house from London. He had travelled by train and brought with him potassium chlorate to be used as the explosive in the device. Barnes’ role in the I.R.A. was to ferry explosives from their main ammunition dumps in Liverpool and Glasgow to their operatives across the country. He left later in the evening and returned to London. The unknown bomb maker completed his task the following morning. It was a 5lb device with an alarm clock used as the timer. The bicycle was collected from Halford’s by McCormick at 12:30 pm and left in the back lane (known as a jetty) at the rear of the house around 1:10 pm. By this stage the bomb had been parcelled up in a box that was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. The bomb maker placed it in the carrier basket and began his journey into town. Sometime between 1:30 and 1:45 pm the bicycle with its deadly cargo was left standing against the kerb outside Astley’s shop where it was to shortly explode with devastating consequences. On Ash Wednesday 7 February 1940, Company Captain Peter Barnes from Banagher, County Offaly, and Staff Captain James McCormick of Mullingar were hanged at Winson Green Prison, Birmingham, for an offence they did not commit and which they had no intention of committing. They were unjustly put to death and the question of their guilt or innocence was irrelevant, as long as British ‘justice’ had sufficient evidence to save its face and give it a pretext for judicial murder. From the moment of Peter Barnes’ arrest until the moment he was hung by the British authorities, he always protested his innocence but his efforts were in vain. 

On the night before his death, Peter wrote a letter to his brother saying, “if some news does not come in the next few hours all is over. The priest is not long gone out, so I am reconciled to what God thinks best. There will be a Mass said for each of us that morning before we go to our death. Thank God, I have nothing to be afraid of. I am an innocent man and as I have said before, it will be known yet that I am. The only thing that worries me now is the thought of my poor father and mother, but I know God will comfort them. I will write my last few lines to mother tomorrow (Tuesday). I will know more by then… Say a prayer for me. God be with you.” 

On the same night, James wrote to his sister in Mullingar (both his parents were dead). “This is my farewell letter, as I have been just told that I have to die in the morning. I knew that I would have to die, so the news did not come as a great shock to me, but thank God that I am prepared, as I know I am dying for a just cause. I shall walk out tomorrow morning smiling, as I shall be thinking of God and of the good men who went before me for the same cause.” 

On Ash Wednesday, the morning of their execution, Mass was said in both of the prisoners’ cells. Fr Collins and Fr Farrell began the first Mass at 7:30am and the second at 8am; both men had been to confession earlier and then received Holy Communion during the Mass. 

At 8:50am the two men received the last blessing, the Apostolic Benediction, which is given to people at the hour of death. Minutes later, they walked together to the scaffold, where they were hung by four executioners. Later that day, their bodies were buried inside the prison and plain crosses, marked only with their initials, were placed over their graves. 

Peter Barnes was aged 32 years of age and James McCormick was only 29. 

Their bodies were eventually brought home and reinterred in Mullingar in 1969. 

if anyone feels that this is inaccurate in any way let me know as the first discription was scourced from a historic coventry site

POSTED ON BEHALF OF :  Magilligan Ex Pows


  1. Andy says:

    Sometime between 1:30 and 1:45 pm the bicycle with its deadly cargo was left standing against the kerb outside Astley’s shop where it was to shortly explode with devastating consequences.

    What were the consequences?

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