The 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.

The noise of the bike startled Thomas
As he watched a man in a green uniform cycle down the lane
A feeling of nervousness washed over him
A policeman with his gun and baton
Hung loosely at his side
He propped his bike against the wall
‘Any root crops or turnips?’ he asked
‘Tillage returns’ Thomas remembered with relief.

A few weeks later
Thomas heard the roar of an engine
Coming towards the house at full speed
‘There’s a rush for the tillage returns today’ he thought.
A screech of brakes and doors swinging open

A sea of men surrounded the house
On the top man’s call the rifles were raised
Waiting for the call to fire
Pulled from their homes


The three brothers lined up
The sounds of fireworks rang out
What did they do to deserve this?
Silence filled the land
Soon broke by the cheers from the lorry
The tires churned up the mucky lane
No dogs barked, no crows cawed
The gable and the ground 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.