A policeman calls

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

‘Tillage returns’. 


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