The Barnes McComack Memorial was erected in 1963 by The Barnes and McCormack Memorial Committee in association with The National Graves Committee. The monument sculpted by Desmond Broe, Dublin features images of the two men, a female head representing Ireland and symbols of the four provinces. It bears the inscription in both Irish and English: ‘In commemoration of Staff Captain James McCormack and Company Captain Peter Barnes, Irish Republican Army, who for love of country, were executed by the British Government at Winson Green Prison, Birmingham on the 7th February 1940’.
Peter Barnes was born in Banagher in 1907 and he joined Fianna Eireann at 14 years of age and three years later the IRA. He was one of the first to volunteer for active service in England during the campaign in 1939 and appointed Transport Officer operating between Glasgow, Liverpool and London. James McCormack was born in Mullingar, Westmeath in 1910 and he joined the IRA in Tullamore. In early 1939 he also volunteered for active service in England. He served for some time as Operations Officer in London and Birmingham before being posted to Coventry in May 1939. By August 1939 he was appointed Officer Commanding of Coventry.
On 25 August 1939 a bomb exploded outside a shop at the Broadgate centre in Coventry killing five people, it had been concealed in the carrier of a bicycle and prematurely exploded. It is believed it was intended for an electricity generating station outside of the town. Barnes was arrested within hours of the explosion despite being in London on the day of the explosion and three days later McCormack was also detained. While both admitted to constructing bombs, they were not involved in planting it. Their trial was held in December 1939 and throughout the court case McCormack remained silent until he told the court – ‘As a soldier of the Irish Republican Army, I am not afraid to die for I am dying in a just cause’. Barnes did address the court stating – ‘I would like to say as I am going before my God, as I am condemned to death, I am innocent, and later I am sure it will all come out that I had neither hand, act or part in it. That is all I have to say.’
Both were sentenced to death and despite widespread protests by Irish people at home and abroad all pleas for clemency were ignored by the British government. The executions were carried out on the morning of 7 Feb 1940 and public mourning was widely observed in Ireland on the day of the executions.
As early as 1949 a committee was formed in London to press for the return of the bodies, this was finally fulfilled in 1969 – the bodies were removed from the prison yard and flown to Dublin. On arrival at Dublin Airport they were met by family members and an IRA guard of honour. Approximately 15000 people attended their reinternment and the graveside oration was delivered by veteran Belfast republican Jimmy Steele.