by St Patrick's Glen PS Maghera
It is a morning in early May in Ballymulderg Magherafelt, Co. Derry
The year is 1922
On this late spring day, the McKeown brothers,
James, Francis and Thomas are coming home for their tea,
Little knowing that Irish history is about to change their lives.
As James drank tea from his cup
He heard a bicycle skidding to a stop
He saw a splash on the window
And heard a knock on the door.
He looked through the window and saw a figure outside
Dressed in a dark green uniform.
A shiver ran down through his body
As he nervously opened the door
Relief washed over him when the man ripped out his little black book
A few weeks had passed by now
James drank tea from his cup
He heard a lorry skidding to a stop
And the screech of the brakes
He looked through the window and saw men disembark
Armed with loaded guns
Dressed in an unusual uniform, alien to him
They weren’t locals
No need to answer the door this time
It was kicked in around them
Thomas and Francis arrived on the scene
Ordered outside, all three
The men opened fire
Bang, bang, bang
The shots could be heard for miles around
Francis fell first, then Thomas and James
Silence turned to cheers
As the lorry and its tires churned up the mucky lane
No dogs barked, no crows cawed
The gable of the farmhouse had gone from grey to red
There would be no tillage returns in 1923.
Written by pupils at St. Patrick’s Glen PS, Maghera, as part of Poetry as Commemoration workshops led by Frank Galligan in September 2022.
The poem commemorates the shooting by Special Constables of James, Francis, and Thomas McKeown at their home at Ballymulderg, near Magherafelt, in May 1922. James McKeown died from his wounds while his brothers were seriously injured.
Cover image: James McKeown