Life in the Cages/ Compounds of Long Kesh
Following the introduction of internment in August 1971, Long Kesh – a disused World War 2 airfield near Lisburn, south of Belfast – was used as an internment camp. The camp was divided into compounds (also known as ‘cages’), each surrounded by razor-topped wire fencing and containing multiple makeshift Nissen huts to accommodate the internees. The cages/compounds were not only used to hold internees, however. Due to prison overcrowding, Long Kesh was also used for sentenced republican and loyalist prisoners from 1972. In this year, political prisoners were also granted Special Category Status (which granted them privileges formerly available only to internees). 1972 was also witness to the renaming of the site as Maze Prison, although prisoners continued to refer to ‘Long Kesh’.
Following the end of the policy of internment in December 1975, the cages/ compounds continued to be used for prisoners. In fact, despite the opening of the H-Blocks in 1976, they remained in use until 1988, with people who had been sentenced before 1976 finishing their sentence in the cages/ compounds and anyone sentenced after March 1976 going into the H-Blocks.
In total, 22 compounds/ cages were constructed in Long Kesh. Although there were some variations across the compounds/ cages, they generally consisted of four Nissen huts which were designed to accommodate 80 men, with half of one hut serving as a dining/ recreational area. The cages/compounds were segregated along political lines. Not only were republicans and loyalists held in separate compounds/ cages, but so were the various organisations, including the UVF, UDA, Official IRA and Provisional IRA. Free association was permitted within each compound/ cage from 8am until ‘lock-up’ at 9pm.
Learn More Here
Flynn, M. K. (2011).
‘Decision-making and Contested Heritage in Northern Ireland: The Former Maze Prison/Long Kesh’, Irish Political Studies, 26:3, pp.383-401
Murtagh, T. (2018).
The Maze prison: a hidden story of chaos, anarchy and politics Hook, Hampshire: Waterside Press
Devlin, B. (1982).
The prison authorities referred to them as compounds but we as prisoners referred to them as cages
Watch the clip of William. Why do you think he described Long Kesh as a ‘prisoner of war camp’?
We all had designated jobs
The prison officers referred to the ‘compounds’ of Long Kesh whilst prisoners referred to ‘cages’. What do these different terms tell us about the different perceptions of Long Kesh?
You were simply left to your own devices
The canteen hut, it was burned to the ground
Larry and Paddy
The compounds/ cages were segregated along political lines. What do you think were some of the consequences of this segregation?
‘Life in the Cages/ Compounds of Long Kesh’
A short film, produced by PMA in January 2020, which offers new insight into life in the compounds/ cages of Long Kesh.
Running time: 25:19
View Film ⟶
Links to NI Curriculum
CCEA GCSE History: Unit 1; Section B; Option 2: Changing Relations: Northern Ireland and its Neighbours, 1965–1998
Questions based on GCSE CEA history exam papers
Using the clip of Seanna and your contextual knowledge, would you agree that the organisation and segregation within Long Kesh actually strengthened the individual political groupings? Give two reasons.
How useful is the clip of William for an historian studying life in the cages/ compounds of Long Kesh? Explain your answer, using the clip and your contextual knowledge.
How useful is the clip of Larry and Paddy for an historian studying life in the cages/ compounds of Long Kesh? Explain your answer, using the clip and your contextual knowledge.