The McMahon Family Murders occurred a century ago today.
Nevertheless, even after 100 years, many of the British state files relating to the massacre remain sealed. Many believe that the reason for this is that the murders of the six were carried out by a police gang, and that the state knew it.
Even though 100 years have passed, the murders of the McMahon family are remembered to this day, especially in that part of North Belfast. I know because I was reared behind the house of horror and have written about it.
We can also look to our recent conflict and court cases in the system presently to draw grave comparisons with such targeted attacks on families and well-known people by alleged state counter-gangs. Paper Trail has just recently written on similar here.
I recorded my personal memories of being told about the McMahon Family Murders in my first book, The McGurk's Bar Bombing, and reproduce that passage below for the day that's in it.
I then include links to two excellent, detailed accounts of the murders written from different perspectives and legacy archives.
From My Book
My paternal grandmother, Eileen Arthurs, often recounted an infamous reprisal executed by the [police] Specials in revenge for the killing of two of their number by the IRA in Belfast – the massacre of the McMahon family and one of their workers on 24th March 1922.
The atrocity has a particular resonance for me as we lived behind the house of horror which was in Kinnaird Terrace. It is in a row of what were (if not are) the most beautiful Victorian houses.
At that time they would have faced Bruce’s Demesne offering lush, park views within the bustling city. Facing the house when I played outside it was the green fortification of Girdwood Barracks which at least retained a feel for the past in the etymology of its name.
It always seemed that there was a terrible sadness that hung about this house – number 3 – although nanny’s storytelling obviously played a part in its palpability.
The police death-squad sledge-hammered their way into the family home in the early hours of the morning and rounded up its frightened occupants
The women were left upstairs whilst all the males, including an 11-year-old boy, were herded into the downstairs parlour.
Under the glow of candlelight they were told to say their prayers.
Mrs. McMahon ran down and pleaded for their lives but to no avail. Mr. McMahon, four of his sons, including a fifteen-year-old, and an employee, Edward McKinney, were cut down.
Four died at the scene and Mr. McMahon died painfully later that morning. His son Bernard clung to life for just over a week before succumbing to his wounds.
Another son, John, was lucky to survive the carnage whilst 11-year-old Thomas had bolted, shots fired after him, to escape and hide under a big sofa.
This was a targeted attack on an affluent, highly regarded, Catholic family who considered local MP, Joe Devlin, a personal friend. They are buried in Milltown Cemetery where we laid our loved ones to rest in the wake of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre. Even though John had identified the killers as local Specials and the names were well known in the area, no policeman was ever brought to book for the crime.
Two Detailed Accounts
(1) The McMahon Family Murders by Joe Baker and the Belfast History Project - make sure you download the full account at the end of this linked page.
(2) Enemy of the State: D.I. Nixon and the Belfast Troubles by Clifford Peeples which features in our first publication, Paper-Trailers - you can download and read for free.
Trope: Essays and Articles
by Ciarán MacAirt.
These essays and articles represent a personal journey, and find him trudging from the killing fields of World War 1 to the back streets of Belfast where death squads prowled.
All of the profits from the sale of this book are donated directly to the charity, Paper Trail, to help fund its work with victims and survivors of the conflict in Ireland and Britain.