The partition of Ireland in the early 1920’s was a dreadful time in Belfast for both sections of the community. There were many horrific murders resulting from the thousands of gun and bomb attacks throughout the city but mainly in North and East Belfast. People were also burned to death in their homes and there are even incidents where people were doused in petrol in the street and set alight. Most were Catholic and these victims were mainly buried in Milltown, their headstones today being a constant reminder of those dreadful times. There were also many state killings organised by special units of the Royal Irish Constabulary called Cromwell Clubs. Most of these were carried out to be as horrific as possible and one of the most infamous case is the brutal slaughter of the McMahon family near the New Lodge area in North Belfast.
Thursday 23rd of March 1922 was just the same as any other day of the week for the people of Belfast, depressingly cold and wet. However for many people in the city there were other more worrying events than the weather taking place all around them. As a whole the country of Ireland was split into two with the creation of the new Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State which later became the Republic of Ireland. In Belfast much of the fighting was still continuing in what could only be described as a civil war and this had been going on now for over two years, with over 300 people killed. The latest deaths had been on this date when members of the ‘Anti -Treaty’ I.R.A. shot dead two members of the A-Specials and a woman named Margaret Smith died of injuries she received during a Loyalist bomb attack on a group of children playing in Weaver Street on February 14th. She was the fifth to die as a result of this attack and the first adult, all the others being children.
For Owen McMahon and his family the day was just like any other with it beginning by Mr. McMahon and his manager Edward McKinney (who lived with him) opening up his public house in Ann Street. Later in the day they would have closed the Capstan Bar and then made their way to their Kinnaird Terrace home. Kinnaird Terrace is two separate rows of large Victorian houses in the Thorndale Avenue area of north Belfast. When Mr. McMahon and Mr. McKinney got home there is no doubt that they would have at one point talked about the days sporting events due to the fact that they were a sporting family and Mr. McMahon was one of the directors of Glentoran Football Club in east Belfast. The troubles were never far away and as the family were Catholic then they would have been outraged at the latest attack made by Loyalists on St. Matthews chapel in the Short Strand area and the shooting dead of a man in the nearby New Lodge Road area. The remaining members of the family who were still awake sat and had tea in the front parlour before extinguishing the gas lanterns and retiring to bed, completely unaware that in just over an hours time the name of the McMahon family was to be recorded in the history books relating to early twentieth century Irish history after an attack that became one of the most ruthless crimes ever committed in Ireland.
At approximately 1.00 am on the morning of Friday the 24th two members of a special R.I.C. unit approached a watchman who was guarding a work site at Carlisle Circus and ordered him to hand over a sledgehammer. This he did and the two men then took the tool and made their way up the Crumlin Road and along Clifton Park Avenue into the grounds of a large house which was known locally as ‘Bruce’s Demesne’ and met up with around three others.
The home of Owen McMahon and his family was at the other end of this demesne and it was to here that the R.I.C. men made their way. On reaching Kinnaird Terrace they paused for a moment before making their way across the gravelled road to the front door of the McMahon home and there one of them produced the sledge hammer and proceeded to smash in the front door . One of the glass panels of the four panelled door smashed and they then put their hands in and unfastened the locks. After doing so they then smashed in a second hallway door. The time was 1.20am. At the same time one of the murderers went to the door of a private nursing home which was next door and banged on the door. At this stage the rest of the gang had burst through the second door of the McMahon home and he rejoined them. Approximately five minutes later they ran from the house before disappearing into the darkness of the demesne.
The following is a full account of what happened next as it appeared in that day’s Belfast Telegraph newspaper:-
HELLISH BELFAST DEED
FIVE MURDERED IN ONE HOME TWO OTHER VICTIMS DYING MOTHER’S AWFUL ORDEAL
The most terrible assassination that has yet stained the name of Belfast took place in the early hours of this morning when four men and a boy were sent to face their Maker in the dark hour which preceded a cold spring dawn. The scene of the murders was Kinnaird Terrace, a row of spacious dwelling houses, which face the large area of country aspect in the heart of Belfast known as Bruce’s Farm. Here in No.3 lived Mr. Owen McMahon, a well known city publican, and his family of six sons, his wife and niece and domestics, including his manager, a man named Edward McKinney. Mr. McMahon is the proprietor of the Capstan, Ann Street, and is one of six brothers owning licensed houses in the city. In the early hours of the morning – to be exact, at 1.20 – five assassins crept up to the house, murdered five of the occupants, two other being badly wounded.
The dead are:
- Owen McMahon (father) (50)
Thomas McMahon (15)
- Frank McMahon (24)
- Patrick McMahon (22)his sons;
- Edward McKinney (25). a barman.
The wounded are two of Mr. McMahon’s sons:
MET BY MASKED FACES
John McMahon (21),
Bernard McMahon (26).
The family were in bed and the house in darkness when a thunderous sound was heard in the hallway and at the street door. “It’s a bomb”, said Mrs. McMahon to her husband, whom she awoke. Both got up and came downstairs. On the way they were met by masked faces, which peered at them from the stair below. In the hands of the intruders they saw large revolvers. The gas had been lighted in the sitting room below, and the door of the room lay open. What happened when the murderers sighted Mr. and Mrs. McMahon on the stairs can only be reconstructed from the evidences left this morning. The husband lies dead in the Mater Hospital and poor Mrs. McMahon is unconscious mercifully, of all that happened, she is being in a stupor in Mrs. Purdy’s next door. The murderers seem to have collected the women folk – Mrs. McMahon, her niece and daughter – and put them into a back room on the first floor. They then proceeded upstairs and awakened the men folk, and ordered them downstairs at the point of a revolver. Down they came in their shirts by candle light, for the gang had brought with them a three pound packet of candles, and some of those partly burned were found all over the house. When the lot were gathered in the parlour there was a pause.
FEW MINUTES TO PRAY
The leader of the assassins told the terror-stricken victims to avail themselves of the few moments left to pray for their souls. The imagination may conjure up the scene, for the pools of blood in the room tell silently the position of the slain, whilst bullet marks indicate where the assassins fired from. Near the window, beside the fire, stood Mr. McMahon, one of his sons, and the barman. On the other side was another son , and on the chair near the door was was the third. Just as the men prayed, and whilst the wife and mother begged in the name of all sacred in the hall for the lives of her loved ones, the revolvers spoke rapidly and deadly, and one by one the victims fell, and blood began to stain the floor and cover it like a carpet Thomas, the youngest of the injured, was only fifteen years and he succumbed immediately. The others lingered on and weltered in their life blood, but horror was added to the scene when the shots intended for the youngest victim of all, a boy of eleven years, missed, and the lad, shrieking with fright, ran round the diningroom table. Two shots were fired at him as he ran, and these riccochetted off its polished surface into the walls. The boy got under the table and hid under the sofa, being discovered when rescuers entered, as will be told later.
VANISHED IN THE DARKNESS
In all the murderers were not more than five or six minutes in the house, and having satisfied blood lust in its most terrible form they disappeared over the light paling that separates Bruce’s farm from Kinnaird Terrace and were lost in the darkness. Whilst the murders were being carried out the tragic doings were heard by three separate sets of people. The front door had been smashed in as if with a sledge hammer, and the glass panels broken, and this awakened the neighbours on both sides – Mrs. McMurtry, matron of the Kinnaird Nursing Home, and her staff of nurses, who live on one side of the doomed home, and Mrs. Purdy and her family, who live on the other. The story of the tragedy as known to both families is told in interviews given elsewhere. The third party to hear the noise was a patrol of police who were on the Antrim Road. They heard the shooting – one volley after another – and, drawing their revolvers, they hurried to investigate. Coming up Kinnaird Street they went into Thorndale Avenue but all was quiet there. Having examined the street, they went by Kinnaird Terrace, where they discovered the secret of the reports they heard.
THE MURDER VICTIMS LYING IN THE MATER HOSPITAL MORGUE. IN THE CENTRE IS THE BODY OF OWEN MC MAHON SURROUNDED BY HIS TWO SONS FRANK AND PATRICK. ON THE EXTREME LEFT OF THE PICTURE IS GEARLD MC MAHON WHO WAS THE YOUNGEST OF THE VICTIMS AND ON THE RIGHT IS MR. MC MAHON’S BAR MANAGER EDWARD MC KINNEY
HORRIFYING SPECTACLE here they were seen by a doctor, and put to bed. Naturally all three are collapsed and quiet unable to give any account of what occurred, the facts above being gained from them before the full horror of the scene had affected their minds, and brought unconsciousness. A VERITABLE BLOODBATH A “Telegraph” representative visited the scene this morning and saw the horrors left by the murderers in all their freshness. The house smelt of fresh blood – it seemed scarcely cold as it spread in large pools and small rivers all over the shamble room. The front door lay open as the murderers had left it. Police were in charge, but there was no curious crowd – the thing was too horrid or the neighbourhood too quiet for the sensation monger to have gathered in force. Over the fields facing the house police could be seen in knots of twos and threes searching for traces of the murderers. The front door is panelled at the top with two plates of opaque glass. One of these was smashed in and the latch – a multiple lever of old pattern – lifted. The visitors then apparently found that the door held by the box lock lower down, and they abandoned the attempt to enter through the panel, and brought a sledge to bear. The mark of one tremendous blow which sunk into the wood near the “big” lock shows how the door was crashed in and the staples of both latch and main lock wrenched from their places. This gave the gang entrance to the porch, and here they were faced by a hall door fastened with locked mortise lock and bolted with a brass bolt. The hammer was again used here, but the mortise lock held, and the large glass panel forming the upper portion of the door was crashed in and completely removed even to the little pieces which the lathes would hold. The murderers apparently climbed through the open space or opened the lock from the back and got into the hall. Here, hanging on the hallstand, were the hats and coats of the men who were murdered, and on the hallstand table is a packet of No.8 candles, which had been torn open and a dozen or so candles taken out. A couple unused lay beside the packet, and the others were found in the parlour or sitting room and in various parts of the house, these being slightly burned and affording an indication of the shortness of the stay of the murderers.
The door of No.3 Kinnaird Terrace lay open. The porch was full of broken glass. On a chair in the hall sat a young man in his shirt gasping his life out. The sitting room gas was burning brightly, and the room was an indescribable scene. Men lay dead and dying in bunches. Mr. McMahon, senior, was writhing in agony on the floor. Of the women folk there was no sign, they being in the back room at the time the police came. Knocking up the neighbours the patrol had ambulances sent for, and the dead and dying were removed to the Mater Hospital. The ambulance corps, accustomed by now to bloody scenes, worked quietly and expeditiously, and the Mater Hospital staff, doctors and nurses alike, worked nobly to alleviate the sufferings of those still alive. Carried in dead were Thomas McMahon (15 years), Patrick (22 years), Frank (24 years), and the barman, a Donegall man, aged 25 years. Mr. McMahon, senior, lived on in agony until this morning when at seven o’clock he died. It is not true that one of the ambulance men fainted. All retained their calm, and even Mr. Hamill, manager for Mrs. Purdy, who lives with her, and who was the first civilian on the scene, and who accompanied the ambulance, kept up until all was over, when he collapsed a nervous wreck. Meanwhile, Mrs. Purdy and her family took Mrs. McMahon, her niece, and daughter into her house,
SCENE LIKE A SLAUGHTER HOUSE
The sitting room door lay open, and here a scene like a slaughter house stall with furniture arranged in it to make a living room of it presented itself to the gaze. On either side of the fireplace lay large pools of blood – thick, heavy, coagulated stuff, that turned one sick with horror. In places it was rubbed and disturbed as if someone had rolled in it; in others it lay spread level and shining dark red, and in others it was clotted in lumps as if someone had lacerated a fresh bullock’s liver and strewn it about. The largest pool was next the window, a considerable space on the opposite side was blood covered, and near the door on the left hand side going in and beneath a chair was the smallest blood spill. Here the walls are perforated with bullet marks, which tore their way through the skirting. The mirror of the side board is smashed in one place, with radiating shivers from all over the whole surface. On the sideboard is a marble clock frame with the body removed as if for repairs – indeed it is remarkable that every clock found in the house is out of order. The dining room table shows two tears made by bullets as they glanced off it on the edge nearest the window. These bullets are supposed to have been fired at the eleven years old boy who escaped. On the table are the remains of the supper taken by some of the victims – a jug of milk, butter, sugar, tea cups, bread, oatcake etc., whilst on the fireplace was an eiderdown quilt and a woman’s jacket. In the room was found the empty shell of a Webley revolver cartridge of service pattern.
DRIED BLOODSTAINED HANDS
Below the table, just where the bullet marks are, is a single blood blot about the size of a five shilling piece. On the floor near the largest blood pool lay a barmans white apron, perfectly clean as to the edges, but soaked in blood in the centre as if someone had dried bloodstained hands or face on it. On the sideboard and beside the dismantled clock already spoken of was an empty five naggin whiskey bottle, smelling strongly and freshly of whiskey. Beside it was a half pint bottle without label or cork, but also pungent with the new fumes of whisky. From this scene of blood, terror, and desolation the “Telegraph” man went to the kitchen and back part of the ground floor of the house. The pantry, reached first, contained nothing unusual, there being the usual furnishings of delph, etc., undisturbed. A sharp turn in a little narrow passage gave into the kitchen, the door of which opens on a window into the yard, and which is the only natural light the apartment possesses. Here on a couch lay a tiger cat asleep. On the floor were a couple of pairs of men’s boots, and on a table a bowl of oatmeal porridge, and a jug of milk, apparently intended as the supper of some inmate of the house. The cat looked up sleepily as the visitor entered and turned to sleep again. Up the stairs, down which a few hours before frightened men and boys had come to their deaths, the first room to be entered was a back bedroom. Here a bed disturbed as if someone left it hurriedly – on a chair at one side an alarm clock ticked away loudly. The alarm clock had gone off, but at what time could not be told without experiment, for the alarm hand was missing. On the other side on another chair was a pair of men’s garters, and a book from the school library called “The Dumb Princess.” On the other dressing table was a woman’s summer hat apparently discarded by someone years ago. On the same landing is a drawing room and bathroom, both undisturbed and showing no sign of tragedy save utter emptiness and the loneliness that prevails over the human dwelling when death comes in so terrible a form.
BED AS SHELTER was a soft blue collar and silk knitted tie just as they had been left off when the victim retired. In neither of the bedrooms yet described could be seen any bedclothes, but in the front bedroom, on the next landing the bedclothes lay in a heap on the floor as if the murderers had found the occupants sleeping and had dragged them away. Two pillows dented showed that the bed had held two sleepers. In still another room was a mahogany bed with old fashioned over curtains at the top. In this room a set of false teeth lay on a table, and scattered around were articles of clothing. The attics were also occupied, there being beds in each, and probably these were for the servants, of whom two, a cook and housemaid, were kept. The housemaid had left a few days before and had not been replaced, whilst the cook was also absent at the time of the tragedy, she being in hospital with the flu. In the back bedroom leaning against the bed was a newly enamelled bicycle done at home in the ’all black’ style, and evidently left there to dry by the owner, who now lies dead, one of the victims of the most dreadful midnight assassination that has yet been chronicled of the bloody times through which Ulster is at present passing. “SHOOTING GOING ON – GET UP” Mr. Arthur Hamill, manager for Mrs. Purdy who lives next door to the McMahon’s was, as already stated, the first civilian on the scene, and how he described in graphic sentences how he discovered the tragedy, and how he acted when the first shock of the dreadful occurrence had passed away. Mr. Hamill lives with his employer, and long years of acquaintanceship and service have made him practically one of the family. He retired to bed about the usual time and slept soundly until as near as he can place it a quarter past one o’clock, when he was awakened by Miss Purdy, Mrs. Purdy’s daughter, who knocked at his door and called, “Do you hear the shooting ?” He said “No,” and she replied “There is shooting going on; get up.” He replied, knowing that the jail wall bounded portion of the fields outside, “It may be the police firing at the jail,” but Miss Purdy was not to be reassured, and she still cried for him to get up. The terror stricken voice of the girl as she battered at the door caused Mr. Hamill to spring from bed, and as he put on his trousers he heard bang after bang as if the shooting was in the very house with him, and then long and terrible screams of agony, which almost froze the blood in his veins. Coming out of his bedroom in his bare feet he met Mrs. Purdy and Miss Purdy on the stairs.
In still another bedroom the bed has been pulled out from the wall and there are signs of struggle. Probably the victim had jumped out of bed and got behind it or under it when the noises first came, and had been dragged forth to his death. On the bedpost hung the brown suit of a schoolboy, with a little green tie. On the floor were black stockings, very much worn and boots. In the pockets of the suit were found a spinning top, known to the school boy of Belfast as a “peery,” a school rubber, a handkerchief, and the string used for kite flying wound on a piece of wood notched to retain it. In Franks room there were signs also of a defence having been put up. On the floor beside the bed were his black leggings, grey socks with suspenders, and boots. His clothes hung also on the bed, and there was additional clothing on the doorback. On the fireplace
LOUD KNOCKING AT DOORplanation she said that her room is away from the main body of the house. She also stated that having been through the war, she is not easily disturbed by noises in the night.
Both were in terror as he made his way down stairs in the darkness. Entering the dining room on the ground floor he peeped through the blind and saw brilliant light streaming from the McMahon’s dining room window. As he looked a loud knock came to the door of the house in which he was, and the womenfolk screamed aloud at the sound. Almost distracted, Mr. Purdy called “who’s there,” and the reply came “police on duty.” Reassured he opened the door, and found there a patrol of police who had just come from the Antrim Road. With the patrol Mr. Hamill went to the house of horror to find the state of affairs already described, only in their pristine freshness In the hall sitting on a chair in the light shed through the dining room door he saw young John McMahon in his shirt and with blood gushing from his body in streams. Mr. Hamill made to go to his assistance, but the glass spattered all around cut his feet and he had to return to the house for shoes. Having donned them he went to the assistance of young McMahon whom he thought at that time was the only victim. “When I got in I saw Mrs. McMahon. I threw her my dressing-gown to put around John,” and went on and looked into the dining room. “ROOM OF DEAD AND DYING.” “It seemed full of men dead and dying. Streams of blood were everywhere, and Mr. McMahon, sen., was rolling about the floor. The sight dazed me and I have been shaking since. It’s terrible.” As he spoke, Mr. Hamill put his hand over his eyes as if to shut out the sight and remained almost sobbing for a moment or two. His deep emotion was pardonable under the terrible circumstances. Mr. Hamill then told of the coming of the ambulance and of helping to take the victims to the Mater. He was full of praise for the hospital staff. The nurses and doctors were wonderful, he said – marvellous. They worked swiftly and did all they could for the comfort and succour of the living. Mr. Hamill gave the lie to the story that an ambulance man fainted. “They acted splendidly,” he said, “ But I must confess I was glad of the tot of stimulant a doctor kindly gave all hands when the rescue work was done.” Speaking of the victims he regretfully referred to Mr. McMahon and his sons. Quiet, decent neighbours, one and all, they were, he said.
After the first onslaught on the home of the McMahon’s, the murderers turned their attentions to the Nursing Home – for what reason is not known – and an imperative summons on the front door was immediately answered by one of the nurses, who asked what was wanted. There was no response, but the crunching of the gravel on the footpath told of the hurried departure of whoever had been knocking. There was renewed battering at Mr. McMahon’s door, and the further crash of breaking glass. This was followed by loud screams for help, and a woman’s voice was heard shouting “Matron, send for the police.” Mrs. McMurtry immediately informed Glenravel Street Barracks. She did not hear any shooting, but one of the nurses conveyed to her the intelligence that a volley of shots had been discharged during the time she was speaking on the telephone. There was a repetition of the awful heart rendering screams, and again the same woman’s voice – Mrs. McMurtry thinks it was Mrs. McMahon’s – this time loudly calling “Matron ring to the hospitals and get ambulances.” Almost immediately one of the nurses told her of running men, departing after their foul deeds had been committed.
SCREAMS AND FRENZIED APPEALS.
Mrs. McMurtry, the matron of the Kinnaird Private Nursing Home, which is next door to where the ghastly murders were committed, told what she knew of the awful affair to a “Telegraph” representative.
It was quarter past one this morning when we were awakened by one of the nurses tapping at the bedroom door, with the information that something had happened in the terrace. The nurses had been awakened by a terrible battering on the door of Mr. McMahon’s house, and so great was the uproar that it was at first thought that a bomb had been thrown and exploded in the street. The matron did not hear any of this, and in ex
Mrs. McMurtry again got on the telephone and called for the ambulance, and thoughtfully rang up the hospital and asked the staff there to prepare beds for the wounded.
The matron added that the street lamp, which is just opposite Mrs. McMahon’s house, was burning brightly all the time. Asked if she knew what direction the murderers had gone the narrator replied in the negative, and said that until the arrival of the police no one went outside the Nursing Home.
The police were on the scene in a few minutes, and it was then that the occupants of the Kinnaird Nursing Home learned of the atrocities that had been perpetrated almost under their very eyes. Mrs. McMurtry concluded her narrative with a tribute to the splendid conduct of the patients of the Home, who although terribly alarmed with the thoughts of what could be happening, kept quite cool and collected throughout.
McMAHON FAMILY AND BELFAST
Mr. Owen McMahon, the murdered head of the household, was well known in Belfast sporting circles. Like his five brothers, he came to Belfast, and engaged in the licensed business while a young man. He was a member of a County Down farming family, and in his younger days was an athlete of much note. As president of the now dormant Ivy Cycling Club, he took a great interest in its affairs and presented a championship cup for a twenty mile road race. He was also a director of the Glentoran Football Club. Like himself, his sons took part in sport of the day, and were generally recognised as quiet and inoffensive young men. Mr. Owen McMahon owned the “Capstan Bar” in Ann Street, which a few months ago he had remodelled on up-todate lines, and a full account of the improvements appeared in the “Telegraph” of the current date. He took little part in modern politics, being a Nationalist of the old school and a staunch supporter of Mr. Joseph Devlin, M.P.
Of his five brothers, Bernard formerly owned “The Great Eastern,” Ballymacarrett, which was burned down during the disturbances two years back. Tom, another brother, has the controlling interest of the “International” at the corner of Donegall Street and York Street. Patrick owns “The Century” at the junction of Garfield Street and North Street, while Daniel holds a house at Dee Street, Newtonards Road, and John a hostelry at Henry Street. Tom, in addition to the “International,” also controls a house at Whitewell, Antrim Road, he having a few months ago given up the “Glengormley Arms,” a favourite end-ofthe- tramline Sunday evening resort.
Irish News, Saturday 25th March 1922
The following report on the funerals of the McMahon family appeared in the Irish News on Monday, 27th of March 1922.
Funeral of the McMahon family
The funerals of the late Mr. Owen McMahon and his three sons Frank, Patrick and Gerald, who were brutally murdered in their home, No.3 Kinnaird Terrace, Antrim Road, on Friday morning took place yesterday afternoon to Milltown Cemetery, amidst scenes of mourning unprecedented in the history of the city.
The remains were removed on Saturday evening from the Mater Hospital to St. Patrick’s Church, where the four coffins were placed side by side in the Sacred Heart Chapel. During the evening the church was visited by hundreds of mourners, who passed the remains and kneeling before the Altar offered up fervent prayers for the souls of the deceased. Affecting scenes were witnessed, many persons, mainly women and children and children, breaking down and weeping. The church was thronged at all masses yesterday, when the fervent prayers of the congregation were offered up for the victims.
Addressing the congregation at the 7 and 8 o’clock Masses, Rev. Bernard Laverty, Adm., paid touching and eloquent tributes to the deceased, who had, he said, led exemplary Christian lives. The world, he continued, stood aghast at the terrible tragedy that had been enacted in their midst. The late Mr. McMahon and his boys were inoffensive citizens who had taken no part in politics, and they had been done to death merely because they were Catholics. Many shocking crimes had been perpetrated by the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries in other parts of Ireland, but they had not been guilty of anything approaching this in its unspeakable barbarity. He referred to the terror at present prevailing in the city, and said the Catholic people were on trail. He exhorted them to pray for peace, to practise patience and forbearance, and not to give offence and in God’s good time all would be well.
The funerals took place at two o’clock. Long prior to that hour people began to assemble in the vicinity, and at the appointed hour there was a huge crowd which practically filled the upper portion of Donegall Street. The scene as the four coffins were borne from the church and placed in as many hearses was deeply affecting. The first hearse contained the remains of the father, and the others of the three sons in order of age. While the remains were being removed the crowd stood in absolute silence, the menfolk with heads uncovered, while many of the women and girls gave way to tears as the mournful procession moved off on the journey to Milltown Cemetery. It was indeed a pitiful spectacle, made all the more tragic in the brilliant sunshine of a glorious spring day when nature was at her best.
THOUSANDS ALONG THE ROUTE
The route was via Royal Avenue, Castle Street, and Falls Road. At first the mourners marched in processional order four deep, but this was only possible along the city’s leading thoroughfares and up Castle Street. Thereafter the road was thronged with thousands of people of all ages and stations of life. They stood in respectful silence and saluted the remains as they passed, after which most of them, including the women and children, joined in the cortege until in a very short time it had assumed very large proportions. Such was the order all the way until, by the time the first hearse had reached the cemetery gates, the gathering was immense. Certainly not less than 10,000 people participated in the mournful proceedings; and it is no exaggeration to say that never before has such a public tribute to the dead been witnessed in Belfast.
Though trouble was not anticipated, the military authorities took ample precautions to ensure that no untoward incident should mar the melancholy occasion. An armoured car, manned by two gunners, moved slowly ahead of the hearses, while pickets were posted at all the danger points along the Falls Road. While the cortege was composed in the main of the working people of the Falls Road and other Catholic districts of the city, it included many hundreds of business and personal friends of the late Owen McMahon, and companions of the dead boys.
BISHOP AND CLERGY
His Lordship the most Rev. Dr. MacRory, Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, walked all the way in the cortege, as also did many clergy. Amongst the priests present were: – Venerable Archdeacon Convory, St. Paul’s; Very Rev. Canon Crolly, St. Matthew’s; Rev. H. L. Murray, Adm., St. Mary’s; Rev. J. Hassan, St. Mary’s; Rev. R. McCrudden, St. Mary’s; Rev. B. Laverty, Adm., St. Patrick’s; Rev. J. P. Napier, St. Patrick’s; Rev. P. J. O’ Kelly, St. Patrick’s; Rev. P. Black, St. Patrick’s; Rev. Father Cleary. There were several other clergy present, including a number of Missioners who are conducting Retreats in the city churches; but so dense was the throng that their names could not be obtained. Amongst the laity were Messrs. Joseph Devlin, M.P. (for many years a close personal friend of the late Mr. McMahon), and C. J. France, a prominent American, who has been directing the White Cross relief work in Ireland for many months past, and has been responsible for the alleviation of much suffering in Belfast.
SCENE IN THE CEMETERY
The scene in Milltown Cemetery was one which can never be forgotten by those who participated in it. Large crowds of women and children who had already arrived lined the paths and the surrounding area as the cortege entered, and soon there was a vast crowd around the grave which was to receive the mortal remains of the four victims. As the four coffins were removed from the hearses and carried to their last resting place a great silence fell over the throng. Then in a few minutes the silence was broken by the inspiring strains of “Faith of our Fathers,” which was sung by a large section of the crowd, who also joined in a truly devotional rendering of the Hymn to the Blessed Virgin and of the Hymn to the Sacred Heart as the remains were being lowered into the grave in the order in which they had been borne to the cemetery.
THE CHIEF MOURNERS
By the graveside stood the bereaved widow and mother, who had been assisted from the hospital to pay the last good – bye on earth to those she loved so dearly. By her side was her daughter, Lily, and not the least pathetic figure of all was her little eleven year old son, Michael, who had so narrowly escaped the fate of his poor father and brothers. The lad had walked all the way with his uncles and other relatives behind the remain to the cemetery. He bore up wonderfully almost to the very end, but the strain proved almost too much for him, and he had to be assisted away by kind friends. The chief mourners, in addition to these included the five brothers of the father, namely, John, Patrick, Daniel, Thomas and Bernard McMahon; Francis Downey and John Ryan (brothers-in-law), Rev. Daniel Fegan, Edward, John and Daniel Fegan, Daniel, Michael, John and Peter McConnville, Michael Lennon and John Fitzpatrick (cousins); William Leonard, and James Flanigan, and Charles Murnin (relatives.)
His Lordship the Bishop officiated at the graveside, being assisted by Father Laverty, Adm. Beautiful wreaths were sent by Mrs. McMahon and family, the five brothers, and many personal and business friends. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. Hugh O’Kane and Co., Ltd.
THE Co. DONEGAL VICTIM
The funeral took place at Buncrana yesterday of Mr. Edward McKinney, Mr. McMahon’s manager, who was shot dead with Mr. McMahon and his sons. Horror and indignation was expressed on every side at the dreadful crime, and there was a remarkable attendance of mourners from the town and countryside – R. I. P.
THE FIFTH VICTIM
On the 2nd of April 1922 the eldest of Mr. McMahon’s sons, Bernard, died as a result of his injuries received during the attack. He had been removed from the Mater Hospital and detained in St. John’s private hospital on the Crumlin Road.
WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE
In the years that followed the McMahon family murders it has been stated time and time again that the attack was carried out by members of the B-Specials and that it was an act of retaliation after the I.R.A. killings of two ‘Specials’ in May Street the day before. The assumption that it was B-Specials arose after John McMahon (who survived the attack) gave the following statement from his bed in the Mater Hospital. District Inspector Nixon and County Inspector Harrison, head of the Belfast Detective Division, were the men who were given a free hand in organising the Belfast R.I.C. and ‘Specials’ in north and west Belfast into ‘counter-insurgency units’ and it was they who had organised and carried out numerous murders against Catholics in many areas.
“This morning about one o’ clock I heard the hall door being smashed in. Five men rushed up the stairs and ordered my brothers and myself and Edward McKinney out on the landing. Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the R.I.C. but from the appearance I know they are ‘Specials’ not regular R.I.C. One was in plain clothes. They ordered us downstairs. When we got down they lined us up in the room below, my father, my four brothers, Edward McKinney and myself, against the wall. The leader said, “You boys say your prayers,’ and at the same time he and the others fired volley after volley at us. I think I lay on the floor for half an hour before the ambulance came. Three or four regular R.I.C. came too.“
There is no doubt that some members of the B-Specials were present at the McMahon killings but it must be remembered that the ‘Specials’ were in fact mere ‘helpers’ to those who were involved in the planning and carrying out of such attacks and who were all members, and in most cases high ranking members, of the R.I.C.
After the McMahon murders affidavits (written declarations on oath) were obtained by the Free State Government testifying to Nixon and Harrison. These were made by Roman Catholic members of the R.I.C who were shocked and outraged at these planned murders being carried out against their fellow co-religionists.
The statements were gathered by numerous Catholic clergy who gave them to Mr. P. O’Drisell who in turn delivered them to Michael Collins who was Commander-in-Chief of the National Army. Collins himself also had many informers within the R.I.C. and also within the Northern Ireland Government and all the information he received from these sources was very similar to the information within the statements.
In Belfast his main informant within the R.I.C. was Sergeant Matt MacCartny and Constable Furlong and it was Furlong who gave him a very detailed statement informing him of all those who were involved in the murder of the McMahon family.
The following is a list of names of those involved with Nixon and Harrison in the murders of innocent Roman Catholics. The names appear in the affidavits and in the intelligence reports which were supplied to Michael Collins and which were later put together in a detailed Ministry of Defence report. The names were as follows;
County Inspector Harrison.
All this group, with the exception of Harrison and Nixon, was just one of the so called ‘Cromwell Clubs’ which were established in Belfast. These clubs were initially set up by the Unionist Party and was just one of the many groups springing up in Protestant areas such as the ‘Tigers’ and the ‘Loyalist Association.’ These gangs organised themselves into so called defence units and attacked Catholics when the opportunity arose. It was these ‘defence units’ that forced thousands of Catholics from their places of work the most notable being the Belfast ship yard Harland & Wolff. When the Unionist Party set up the ‘Cromwell Club’ its chief organiser was Sergeant William McCartney of Musgrave R.I.C. Barrack and their purpose was to carry out acts of retaliation whenever members of the R.I.C. and ‘Specials’ were shot by the I.R.A., however there are historians who believe that the purpose of the ‘Cromwell Clubs’ (and the name alone would support this) was to drive all the Catholics out of the new ‘Ulster’ state. There are also cases where theses units actually shot dead R.I.C. constables themselves to ensure that they would be ordered out. The constables they shot were usually Catholic and one such case of this happening is the event which occurred in the Carrick Hill area of Belfast – the Arnon Street Massacre
District Inspector Nixon.
Head Constable Giff.
Head Constable Puckenham.