Trauma And Tragedies Of 'Troubles' From The Past

WHILE the tragedies and trauma of the recent conflict have affected many families in the Newry region, almost as much murder and mayhem occurred during a two-year period in the 1920’s, from 1921 to `23.

Six people were killed by the I.R.A. in the “Altnaveigh Massacre,” four young men were shot dead by security forces at Ballymacdermott; The Egyptian Arch ambush claimed the lives of three republicans; two teenage girls were gunned down by British soldiers at Jonesboro; two brothers were shot dead by “B” Specials at Grinan; two farmers were killed by police at Lislea, while two so-called informers were “executed” by republicans at Camlough.

Meanwhile, a magistrate was gunned down, while leaving Newry Cathedral; a young man was dragged from his bed at Kilmorey Street, his body dumped on the outskirts of the town, while another youth was shot dead on the Rathfriland Road, - in retaliation for the killing of Special Constables in the town. And a Donaghmore teacher was killed during a police road on her home at Shinn.

At Altnaveigh, the I.R.A. placed landmines on approach roads to deter the “Specials” coming to the rescue. Those killed in the gun and incendiary bomb-attack on their cottages were Thomas and Elizabeth Crozier; John Heslip and his 19-year-old son, Robert; Jim Lockhart and Joseph Gray. The survivors, some of whom had been wounded, escaped across the fields in their nightclothes.

A sister of Joseph Gray reported that there had been 13 members of the family at home, when the raiders threw burning torches into the house. On making their escape, gunmen told them to put their hands up. The mother asked why the attack was being carried out. She was told it was “in reprisal for the murder of Catholics in Belfast.”

Joseph Gray was shot and fell to the ground. Dying, he made the appeal: “Don’t call them brutes; perhaps they had to do this. I forgive them, and I hope that God will forgive them. I am going to Jesus.”

Less than a mile away was the scene of another multiple murder. John O’Reilly (25), a teacher at Killeen primary school, and his 21-year old brother, Thomas, - sons of a former R.I.C. sergeant and the principal of a girl’s school, - were taken away by an armed gang, after a search of their home.

The party drove to the McGennity farmhouse at Ballymacdermott, from which 19-year-old Peter was removed, with the excuse that he was being taken “for questioning.” A few minutes later, the McGennity sisters heard a volley of shots. Rushing out, they discovered the bodies of Peter and the O’Reilly brothers lying in a ditch. They had been shot through the head.

The same gang, believed to have been Special Constables, were also involved in a fatal gun-attack on 34-year-old Patrick Quinn from Derrybeg, who was staying at the home of a friend, James McQuaid at Corrinshegoe.

Most daring operation, mounted by the I.R.A., was the gun-and-bomb attack on Camlough police barracks, in co-ordination with the blocking of the Egyptian Arch, to impede military and police. Some houses had been commandeered in the village, while about 200 men launched a gun and bomb attack on the station, blasting off the steel shutters. A rubber tube, attached to a barrel of paraffin oil, was also used to set the building ablaze.

As soldiers and police raced from Newry to the rescue, they faced a barricade of blocked trees at the Egyptian Arch. From the top came a fusillade of revolver and rifle fire, while bombs rained down on the army vehicles. However, military machine-gun fire quelled all opposition.

The republicans killed were Peter Shields from John Martin Street in Newry, who was spirited to Omeath, but died later; John F. O’Hare from Needham Place, who had been wounded and arrested, but died ten months later. William Canning from Ballyaghan was killed at the scene.

Four of the assailants, who had been captured, were sentenced to 15 years’ penal servitude. They were Joseph F. Hughes from Cornmarket; James Keenan of Castle Street; J.J. Laing from Dundalk, and Joseph Mulkean of Mullingar. Patrick Toner of Charlemont Square in Bessbrook, who had also been arrested, was set free.

When John O’Hare died, the remains of Peter Shields were taken back to Newry for a joint funeral. The coffins, draped with the Tricolour, were placed before the High Altar in the Cathedral. About 2,000 volunteers led the cortege, accompanied buy two bands. It was the largest funeral in the frontier town since that of John Mitchel.

There was a sequel when Frank Aiken of Camlough claimed £17,000 in compensation for destruction by fire of several houses, which he owned in the locality. A counsel for the state declared: “Mr Aiken is one of the leading Sinn Feiners in the district, who disappeared after the attack on the barracks.” Other claimants included Michael Cregan, Stephen Boyle. Thomas Judge, Lizzie Kidd and Mrs Mary Doyle.

But one of the most tragic episodes of those `Troubles` was the shooting dead by British solders of two teenage girls, Maggie Moore (13) and Mary Connolly (18) at Edenappa, Jonesboro. Parties of soldiers had regularly searched the house, which was close to the border.

Mrs Moore, whose daughters, Mary and Katie, had been wounded in the shooting, described how she had been looking through the window, and had seen the girls crossing a stile. Seconds later had come the sound of two shots being fired, and then a volley of bullets. She heard her daughter, Bridget, shouting: “Don’t shoot, there’s children coming down the field.”

The mother dashed around the side of the house, and saw the girls lying on the ground. Her daughter, Maggie was lying on her back, badly injured, while Mary was shouting: “My leg’s has been shot off.” Katie was praying and saying; “I’m dying; I feel something in my eye.” When the first shots rang out, the girls had lain on the ground, one shouting; “We are girls; don’t shoot.” A survivor later told the soldiers: “You cowards, you have done a good day’s work.” One of them responded: “We’ll rip you with lead.”

Next Page >

© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008