Barnes, Peter Joseph (1907–40), republican, was born 6 May 1907 in Banagher, King's County (Offaly), son of Michael Barnes, labourer, and Margaret Barnes (née Loonam), both of Banagher. In 1939, at the age of 32, he gave up his job as a steam-raiser with Offaly county council and went to England to take part in the IRA's anti-partition bombing campaign. He was arrested in London on 25 August 1939 for supplying bombs destined for New Scotland Yard, Westminster Abbey, and the Bank of England. Incriminated by a letter in his possession referring to Coventry, he was held in connection with an explosion that took place there on the day of his arrest, killing five and injuring over fifty people. Subject to the English legal rule of common purpose, he was charged with murder for his involvement in the supply of bomb-making materials, and stood trial with James McCormick (alias Richards) at Birmingham assizes. After a four-day hearing, both men were convicted of murder and sentenced to death (11 December 1939). An appeal was dismissed on 14 January 1940. In Ireland the sentence aroused a great deal of anger and bitterness. There was a storm of public protest, culminating in an appeal meeting at the Mansion House, Dublin. While the churches and local councils pleaded for clemency, Eamon de Valera (qv) intervened on the basis that the executions would damage Anglo–Irish relations and fuel resentment among Irish-Americans. Despite a claim by Tom Barry (qv), former IRA chief of staff, to have proof of their innocence, the executions went ahead. Barnes and McCormick were hanged at Winson Green jail, Birmingham, 7 February 1940, provoking a wave of protests and marches throughout the country. Sports fixtures and social events were postponed and Irish flags were flown at half-mast both at home and, through the intervention of a sympathiser, at the World's Fair in New York.
Barnes married (9 January 1934) Helen (d. 1938), daughter of Patrick Gorman, labourer. He had a fiancée in England, Sarah Keane of Banagher, who worked as a domestic servant in London. While in London he stayed occasionally at her brother's house, Warwick Ave., and at rented accommodation at Westbourne Terrace. Barnes's body was buried in the prison grounds but later reinterred at Mullingar cemetery.