1922: The McMahon murders

How a story is framed matters. Who is the aggressor and who is the victim? These things are important. Little lies told over many years result in outcomes and views that can seem excessive to those who’ve noticed the lies along the way.

Context is also important and, as the old saying goes, ‘one man’s extremist is another man’s freedom fighter’.

This piece is from the Yorkshire Post, dated Friday 17 March, 1922.

TERRORISM IN IRELAND, STARK MURDER POLICY. BOMBS AND EVICTIONS IN BELFAST.

A cold-blooded series of murders, bearing every evidence of being the work of I.R.A. extremists, has been committed in Galway, and as three of the men attacked were policemen there can be little doubt that this forms part of the murder campaign to which Sir James Craig alluded in the Ulster Parliament.

The Galway murders showed every sign of careful and deliberate planning, and are made all the worse by the fact that the murdered men were patients hospital.

In Belfast conditions do not improve. Fifteen people were injured, some seriously, by the throwing of three bombs yesterday, and evictions of Protestants under threats have led to counter-evictions of Roman Catholics.

Meanwhile, Mr. de Valera has been telling his followers that the only way to independence is through civil war. The Republicans appear be playing desperate and murderous game.

The Yorkshire Post, Friday 17 March, 1922

Five days after this report and the killings of two special constables just the day before, the McMahon killings took place in retaliation.

Five men, most wearing police uniforms according to survivors, shot eight men in a Catholic household in Belfast, leaving six dead.

Although the Yorkshire Post’s coverage of this massacre was suitably outraged, it made no mention of the killers wearing uniforms nor of any ‘extremists’ being involved. They also failed to highlight that it was civilians targeted.

Instead, they omitted those details, which of course tells a very different story than the truth of the situation.

They did, however, provide a very detailed report of the executions, right down to what the victims were wearing, so it seems more than just an oversight to have missed out what the killers were wearing, as well.

ACCUMULATION OF HORROR IN BELFAST.
APPALLING CRIME.
(FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT.)

Belfast, Friday. (report dated Saturday 25 March 1922)

An awful murder was committed early this morning in Belfast, when the home of Mr. Owen McMahon, a Belfast Roman Catholic publican, was visited by a band of armed men during curfew hours, and seven men, five of whom were Mr. McMahon’s sons, and manager named Edward McKinney, were shot in the most brutal circumstances. Five of the men died from their injuries and two sons, John McMahon and Bernard are not expected recover.

The family were sleeping when they were wakened by a loud knocking at the door of their residence, 3. Kinnaird Terrace, in the Antrim Road district. Mr. Mc.Mahon and his wife descended the stairs in night attire to investigate, they were met by men on the stairs with masks on their faces and revolvers in their hand. The front door had been forced open, and the front sitting room gas lighted preparatory to the ghastly scene which was enacted there a few minutes later. Mr. McMahon was dragged into the sitting room, and his wife, niece, and domestic servants were locked in back room.

The murderers then went upstairs, and awakened the men folk and ordered them downstairs at the point the revolver. Down they came in their shirts by candle light, for the gang had brought with them a 3lb. packet of candles, and some of these, partly burned, were found all over the house.

When the party were gathered in the parlour there was a pause. The leader of the assassins told the terror-stricken victims to avail themselves of the few moments left to pray for their souls. One by one the men were shot, the revolvers were fired in quick succession. Jeremiah, the youngest of the party, lad of 15 years, died immediately. The others lingered in agony for some time, but horror was added to the scene when the shots intended for the youngest victim of all, a boy of 11, missed, and the lad, shrieking with fright, ran round the dining-room table. Two shots were fired at him as he ran, and these ricocheted off its polished surface into the walls. The boy got under the table, and hid under the sofa, being discovered when rescuers entered a pitiable stale of abject terror and agony.

The murderers were not more than five six minutes the house, and having satisfied their blood lust in its most terrible form, they disappeared over the light paling that separates Brute’s farm from Kinnaird Terrace, and were lost in darkness. A few minutes later a patrol of police arrived, and were horrified find the ghastly scene.

The horrible murder, following closely upon the shooting of two special constables the previous day, has shocked the public conscience of the city, and to-night strong and solemn appeals are made in the Press to stop this campaign of murder and assassination These appeals have, to the present, had no effect.

Northern Ireland was still two months way from its first birthday at the time.

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