Monday, 18 March 2013

The McMahon Murders

The murder of the McMahon family in Belfast in 1922 is often highlighted by nationalist and republican writers as an example of sectarian murder.
Owen McMahon lived with his family at 3 Kinnaird Terrace and owned a public house in Ann Street.  He was also a director of Glentoran Football Club.  Early on the morning of 24 March 1922 the door of their house was broken down with a sledge hammer and a number of armed men entered the house.  Five men were shot dead - Owen McMahon, three of his sons, Thomas, Frank and Patrick, and Edward McKinney, a barman who lived with the family - and several others were wounded.
The year 1922 was a terrible year in Belfast with many sectarian murders and other outrages, including the murder of William J Twaddell, an Ulster Unionist MP. 
Vengeance and revenge were the order of the day and in the case of the McMahons, Roman Catholic revenge was swift and sure.  A bomb was thrown into the hame of a Protestant family named Donnelly and this was followed by a hail of gunfire.  Two children were killed and the mother injured.
The reason I have raised his incident is that I came across an interesting angle on the McMahon murders in a book entitled Assassination, which was written in 1961 by Rex Taylor, an English author who was sympathetic to Irish nationalism.  The book is an account of the murder of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson MP, outside his home in London, by two IRA gunmen but in it Taylor wrote a short section about the McMahon murders.
He followed the usual nationalist line and attributed the murders to a secret squad led by District Inspector Nixon but he also added the following, which I have never seen before:
But soon a few astonishing facts came to light, though none of them tended to lessen the degree of Nixon's guilt.  It was found that the late McMahons were the paymasters for the IRA trouble-makers in the North, a fact proved by a leakage from the banks of the necessary funds.  With the deaths of the paymasters there came also, for a time at any rate, a sudden lull in Belfast.
I was surprised by this as I have read quite a number of articles about and references to the McMahons but this is something I have never seen before.
I intend to look through the local papers from 1922 to see what they reported about this but in the meantime I wonder if anyone else has seen any references to this allegation?

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