Maze and Long Kesh

Following the introduction of internment in August 1971, Long Kesh – a disused WWII airfield near Lisburn, south of Belfast – was used as an internment camp. Long Kesh was also used for sentenced republican and loyalist prisoners from 1972.

The H-Blocks, eight in total, first opened in 1976. The entire site was encircled by watch towers and a perimeter wall, and also included a separate hospital building, a visiting building, multidenominational chapel and two large football pitches, alongside multiple administrative buildings.

The Maze and Long Kesh overview map was supplied to PMA during filming in 2007. This map was used by the prison staff for an overview of the entire site. The map shows both the cages and compounds and the H-blocks, and therefore dates from some time after 1976.

H6 Plan and Elevations

Each H-Block was constructed in the shape of a “H”, with a central administrative area (known as the ‘circle’) and four wings of cells (A, B, C and D wings). Each wing was self-contained and contained 25 cells. Each H-Block was identified by a number e.g. H-Block 2 (or H2).

H6 plan and elevations courtesy Steve Jensen Design. These drawings were prepared on behalf of the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation, following the closure of the prison site.

Staff area

This area contained the Staff Club, the Governors’ lounge and accommodation, staff lockers and staff car park.

The 'Circle'

“One of the bizarre things to me always was that this rectangular space was called ‘circle’”  Educator

The central point of the H-Block, it was actually an oblong space. The terminology of the ‘circle’ comes from Victorian prison design. The ‘circle’ was an administration area, containing the control room of each H-Block.

H-Block

“The whole architecture of the H-blocks, it is not a normal type of architecture, this is an architecture that grew out of the whole horrific conflict situation.” Prison Chaplain

Each H-Block was constructed in the shape of a “H”, with a central administrative area (known as the ‘circle’) and four wings of cells (A, B, C and D wings). Each wing was self-contained and contained 25 cells. Each H-Block was identified by a number e.g. H-Block 2 (or H2).

©PRONI

Compounds / Cages of Long Kesh

 “I still think it was probably one of the most extraordinary contexts that I ever said mass in, or that I ever sort of related to people in any sort of a pastoral way” Prison Chaplain

“the prison authorities referred to them as compounds but we as prisoners referred to them as cages” Prisoner

“basically you were simply left to your own devices.”  Prisoner

“You were unlocked in the morning at 8 o’clock and locked up at night at 9 o’clock and during the day you had free time to do whatever: walk, run, sing, listen, read, education”  Prisoner/ Internee

Following the introduction of internment in August 1971, Long Kesh – a disused WW2 airfield near Lisburn, south of Belfast – was used as an internment camp. Due to prison overcrowding, from December 1972 Long Kesh was also used for sentenced prisoners. The camp was divided into multiple compounds (also known as ‘cages’), each surrounded by razortopped wire fencing and containing multiple makeshift Nissen huts to accommodate the men. In total, 22 compounds/ cages were constructed in Long Kesh. They remained in use until 1988.

Documentation of an attempted escape from a compound within Maze and Long Kesh Prison, 6 November 1974. Taken from an album from the Royal Ulster Constabulary archive collection. Reproduced with the permission of the Deputy Keeper of the Records, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Nissen Hut

“I was no expert on escaping or tunnelling, but every person in the hut was expected to do their duty” Prisoner/Internee

“it is the most unfriendly place on God’s earth, it’s pretty scary I can tell you” Prison Officer

Semi-cylindrical hut built using corrugated metal, which could be partitioned into cubicles. 

Documentation of an attempted escape from a compound within Maze and Long Kesh Prison, 5 May 1976. PRONI Ref: RUC/12/39/1

Kitchens

“I must say it was a happy, busy place, people all seemed to be enjoying what they were doing, it wasn’t like slave labour” Educator

A large single storey building in which food was prepared for the prisoners.

Kitchen Plan. Archive of Steve Jensen Design www.stevejensen.design

Remand Court

A small single storey building used by remand prisoners (prisoners awaiting trial).

Hospital

“This is a part of the Maze that will be in my very bones ‘til the day that I die” Prison Officer

The hospital contained both individual cells and small wards. It also included a recreation room, dental surgery and small operating theatre. This was the location where ten men died during the 1981 hunger strike.

Hospital Plan and Elevations. Archive of Steve Jensen Design www.stevejensen.design

H7

The H-Block from which thirty-eight PIRA prisoners escaped by taking prisoner officers hostage and hijacking a food lorry, on 25 September 1983.

Poster depicting the 1983 escape. PRONI ref: D4629/1/12/7/3

Cell

“People often say ‘jeez, how did you stay for five years in a cell this size?’ and I used to say ‘well, the biggest thing was that I didn’t spend that much time in this cell.’ I would get up sometimes and in my head I would go for a walk on the Black Mountain” Prisoner

Dependent on the prison’s population, each cell accommodated either one or two prisoners

H-Block Exercise Yard

 “This is where you got out and you had your wee talk where no one else could hear”  Prisoner

Used for exercise and outdoor recreation by the prisoners.  Originally, each wing had its own yard, with an ‘air lock’ between adjacent yards. In later years, adjacent yards were combined.

Chapel

 “A minibus would pull up, the bride in her full regalia, her bridesmaids, would step out the back of a minibus, come in and come up and have a wedding in here.” Prison Chaplain

Opened in 1989, it was never used for regular services as it was deemed a security risk. However, weddings did take place here, as well as graduations for prisoners who undertook Open University degrees in the prison.

Chapel Plan. Archive of Steve Jensen Design www.stevejensen.design

Silver City

This part of the site, adjacent to the Compounds / Cages, housed the army camp known as Silver City, and also staff lockers and accommodation for Compounds. The army camp was closed in September 2000.

Gymnasium

“Once a week you’d maybe get out to the gym” Prisoner

“you could have played basketball, 5 a sides, volleyball, stuff like that”  Prisoner

A large windowless building which contained a basketball court and weightlifting equipment.

Gymnasium, 1981. ©PRONI ref: INF/7/A/8/19

VTC

“It wasn’t menial work, it was something that you learned a trade at”

“You’d have walked up here and come up, by the football pitches, and up into the VTC”

Vocational Training Centre.

Courses were offered in motor-vehicle body repair, welding, electrics and joinery. It was possible to gain qualifications through the centre and obtain ‘City and Guilds’ certificates.

The motor mechanics vocational training course , 1981 . ©PRONI ref: INF/7/A/8/21

Football Pitches

 “You’d never stop the men going to their football match. That was when you saw them really happy”  Educator

“The physical instructor would have been, he would have been refereeing the match and done everything by the book”  Prisoner

“Irish games were forbidden”  Prisoner

Two large football pitches were used on a rota system by the prisoners.

Football pitch, 1981. PRONI ref: INF/7/A/8/18

Dining Room

“There must have been over a hundred men, all with long, dirty, greasy hair, long beards – some longer than others –  totally unkempt. All naked to the waist, just wearing the prison, the trousers from the prison uniform. And the noise was just absolutely incredible”  Prisoner

Also known as the ‘canteen’. Also used as a recreation room and for religious services on a Sunday.

Canteen facilities in an H – Block, 1981. ©PRONI ref: INF/7/A/8/12

Control Building

“the Maze was actually pioneering the development of control rooms” Prison Officer

A multi-storey building, containing the emergency control room and various offices.

Control Building Plan. Archive of Steve Jensen Design www.stevejensen.design

Compounds/Cages - Visiting Area

“The highlight of your week would be getting the call for a visit” Prisoner

A prefabricated building which received visitors and checked parcels. Internees and prisoners were allowed one half-hour visit a week.

Ablutions

Area for washing, showering and disposal of overnight waste.

H-Block yard

Located in front of the main entrance to an H-Block, it was accessible to vehicles.

Hangars

Aircraft hangars built for the Royal Air Force (RAF) station at Long Kesh, 1941-1946. Used in 1942 by Short Bros. to assemble and test-fly Stirling bombers. The hangars were later used by prison staff: the hangar on the right was used for prison stores; the hangar on the left was empty until the 1990s, when a mock-up of half a H-Block was built inside for prison staff to conduct riot control manoeuvres. Following the prison’s closure, the hangars are now the home of Ulster Aviation Society and their collection of aircraft.

Official aerial photograph of RAF Long Kesh airfield, 28 July 1942. Image courtesy Ulster Aviation Society.

Visiting Building

 “There was plenty of heartache and plenty of craic in that section of the jail” Prisoner

A red brick, multi-storey building within the prison complex. It replaced portacabin visiting facilities that originally served the H-Blocks when they opened in 1976.

Prisoners received one half hour visit a week or, if on protest, one half hour visit a month. Each prisoner was designated a ‘box’ or partitioned table and chairs for their visit.