Kieran McGovern and the Mallow Shootings of 1921 – Part 2

Title page of Mallow Shootings

An Account of the Mallow Shootings by Barbara Hammond

The shooting had featured in many acrimonious debates in the House of Commons. In one of these, Labour’s “Jimmy” Thomas M.P., General Secretary of the National Union Of Railwaymen, stated in a speech to the House, on 15 February 1921, that

“We are not going to have our members murdered in cold blood without a proper inquiry and will insist that when our men are on duty during the curfew hours they shall not be dragged off and shot like dogs, without charge or trial”.

He then added, ominously, that

“Disturbing questions demanded answers; and those answers, of themselves, may prove to be disturbing and unsettling of Government policy”.

“Jimmy” was clearly on to something! He specifically referred to the preceding shooting dead of Alice and the wounding of her husband, Captain W.H. King, RIC.

Subsequently, on 14 June 1921, “Jimmy” Thomas’s Labour M.P. colleague and ally, John Joseph (“Jack”) Jones, was moved to greet Sir Hamar Greenwood (Chief Secretary for Ireland) as he entered the Common’s chamber with: “Three cheers for the Chief Assassin”. This caused a spontaeous uproar of protests from Government benches which only encouraged Jones (as he was ordered out of the House by the Speaker) to shout

“You are nothing but a damned gang of assassins, the whole damn lot of you”.

What had could have prompted such an un-parliamentary, oath-laden, outburst?

The shootings at Mallow had forced the Government to set up a Military Court of Inquiry into the affair. Reports (mostly censored in Ireland) of the proceedings were carried in every corner of the Empire and across the world. The Inquiry was presided over by Brigadier General H.R. Cumming, DSO. It heard evidence over a number of days during which it became obvious that something very untoward had taken place at the station on the night in question. RIC County Inspector William King and his wife, Alice, (nee King – not related) had been ambushed as they walked past the station wall. A volley of shots rang out and Alice fell, mortally wounded (she died the following morning). When the shots were heard, large numbers of reinforcements arrived from the town (RIC, Black and Tans, and military, along with members of the dreaded Auxiliaries). Mayhem ensued. Two public bars, one on each platform, were pillaged until, as one newspaper prudently reported “they were innocent of beverage”. Indiscriminate gunfire ensued as Crown Forces wreaked revenge. A number of railwaymen were shot dead while others were seriously wounded. All sorts of cock and bull stories were peddled to the Inquiry team – the general trust being that the ambush on Captain King and his wife had been perpetrated by members of a local IRA Flying Column.

From careful reading of the records (however truncated from censorship) it became apparent to me that not all was as it might appear. Indeed, it was also clear that the President of the Inquiry (Brgd. Gen. Cumming) was not at all impressed with Crown witnesses nor their obviously coached and evasive answers. Cumming, stunned at what was being slowly dragged from one Auxiliary witness in particular, judiciously adjourned the Inquiry ¬ostensibly to visit the site of the shootings. However, within days he too was shot dead during an IRA ambush at Clonbanin, Co. Cork, (in what, to me, appeared to be very unusually accurate circumstances). The Official Report on the Mallow Court of Inquiry (Cmd. 1220; HMSO, 1921: Price 1d), signed–off somewhat hastily by a substitute member of the Inquiry team (in lieu of Brgd. Gen. Cumming, then deceased) is a carefully constructed piece of “official-speak” which, if read one way, points unwaveringly at IRA involvement. However, if read challengingly from all perspectives, and contextualizingly, the Report is, to say the least, ambivalent.

Convinced that the Official Report was, in keeping with what many believed at the time, a “white wash”, I began to carefully sift through all available material. I discovered a little known account, published in 1921 by British war correspondent and journalist, J. L. Hammond, which in turn convinced me that he and his wife had been in Mallow at the time of the shooting and one, or both, had in fact, attended the Inquiry. In his article, Hammond, obliquely though searchingly, parsed the Findings of the Official Report; he was careful to preserve his ‘correspondent/journalist’ status as the proceedings had been subject to strictly enforced censorship regulations. Notwithstanding his caution, he too narrowly escaped being shot dead soon afterwards by Auxiliaries in Tralee, Co. Kerry.

However, pondering Hammond’s circumstances, I realised that his wife, Barbara L., was a formidable women in her own right. She, in collaboration with her husband, had been the co-author of The Labourer trilogy (Village, Town and Skilled). Sure enough, further searching elicited the fact that she had indeed attended the Inquiry and had published a pamphlet, having been specifically commissioned by “Jimmy” Thomas to do so. Both Thomas and “Jack” Jones were suspicious that a cover-up had taken place at the Inquiry in Mallow but both were politically spancelled from speaking outside the privilege of the House – as described above.

It was known that such a pamphlet by Barbara Hammond did exist (it had been referenced, spaingly, by a small number of writers) but what of its whereabouts? Months, indeed years, of searching and probing failed to produce a single trace of an extant copy. The more intensive the search the more it appeared to me that there had been something mentioned by Hammond in her document that had been unsettling of the accepted narrative. L(Lucy) Barbara Hammond, member of The Fabian Society, had made no secret that she not only attended every session of the Inquiry but that she had, indeed, written a detailed twentythree-page report on the procedings for “Jimmy” Thomas.

How come no copy of her report seemed to have survived? Seeking an answer to that question stymied my research for years. My pursuit of an answer – an answer that would, most assuredly, eventually come to pass – was reinforced by my discovery (to be dealt with in my forthcoming publication) that even an entire section of a debate in the House of Lords, prompted by the events that had taken place in Mallow and scathingly delivered by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, were not publicly available at the time. Indeed, it was not until 2015, following a Sherlock Holmes-like pursuit (by yours truly) that the glaring “omission” of the entire debate from the digitised Hansard record was finally brought to light. If such a record could, somehow, be “overlooked”, and eventually rumbled, then surely so could Barbara Hammiond’s pamphlet.

The total absence of a copy, anywhere, of the Hammond document led me to conclude that, due to ruthless censorship, all copies had either been purposely withdrawn and/or destroyed soon after publication. I was wholly satisfied that no copy had ever reached the Irish branch of the N.U.R. But where was it?

The “missing bullet”, so to speak, was just that – gone missing without trace.

Until, that is, a casual mention to a colleague in early 2017, about the mysterious vanishing of Barbara Hammond’s report drew an astonishingly innocent response – he had a recollection of having seen a copy of just such a report while undertaking research at the TUC Library based at London Metropolitan University but had not placed any significance on it as it was not relevant to his interest at the time.

A request was sent to the TUC Library which drew the response that, YES, the University did indeed possess such a document. It was to be the 1921 version of what I considered to be an incunabula. Eureka.

(Joint Author of “The Village Labourer”)
Prepared specially for the N.U.R. at the
request of Rt. Hon. J.H. Thomas M.P.
(Price Sixpence)*
Sure enough, the pamphlet proved to be a contemporaneous account of the circumstances that took place on the night in question. It provides some names of police officers and, while analyzing the Official Inquiry Report in detail, states that there were deep suspicions extant in Mallow at the time to the effect that a member (or members) of the Crown Forces was the real culprit who shot Alice King dead. That contemporary conclusion confirms my own firmly held conviction that Captain King had placed an Auxiliary Officer under a disciplinary charge and that the Auxiliary (with an accomplice) had lain in ambush to eliminate Captain King and have the finger of guilt pointed at the IRA. Tragically, in the dark of that drizzly night, with wild shooting at an indistinct target, Alice King was shot dead and her husband wounded.

The report is the final piece of evidence in a complex story, I am now able to conclude my research on the murder of Alice King in January 1921. Someone – perhaps Barbara Hammond or Jimmy Thomas (or, more likely, Jack Jones)– had seen to it that a copy of her report should be preserved so that it would ultimately show up and eventually “beat the insidious system”, albeit sometime in the distant future.

A firm hunch, honed during my years of middle ground endeavours in the region where the foul deed had been perpetrated, that “the truth will always out” has proven its worth – thanks to the TUC LIbrary at London Metropolitan University.

Now, my tentatively named “A SHOT THAT SHOOK AN EMPIRE” is in the final stages of completion, in preparation for submission for publication.

Kieran McGovern,


April 2017.


Getting Going with Oral Labour History Seminar 3 June


Britain at Work (B@W) 1945-95 in association with British Universities’ Industrial Relations (BUIRA) IR History Group and Oral History Society (OHS)

Saturday 3 June 2017 11am-4.45pm

Once again, the Britain at Work (B@W) group is organising an Oral Labour History Day. This year’s theme is about how to get going and continue with oral labour history, with examples from different projects and inspiring presentations from those engaged. The day begins with an opening address To Start You Talking by Alan Dein, oral historian and radio documentary presenter, who will reflect on his personal archive of inspirational storytellers – interviews that often began by just stumbling upon a story out of the blue. Then follow round table introductions on projects in which symposium participants are involved. After lunch, there will be presentations concerning inspiring projects by the trade unions, BECTU and CWU, and by Glasgow University on the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike. The day will end with a Robert Wilkinson from the Walthamstow History Workshop who is an expert at obtaining funding and running projects. All those engaged in or with an interest in oral labour history, and particularly trade unionists, are welcome to participate.

B@W is an initiative to capture the memories of people at work between 1945 and 1995, some of which are to found at the TUC Library Collections held at London Metropolitan University (

University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS
(opposite Madame Tussauds and nearly opposite Baker Street tube)
Room C279 (lunch C287)

For further details or to reserve a place, please email Michael Gold ( or Linda Clarke (

10.30-11.00 Registration
11.00-11.15 Welcome and Introduction: Linda Clarke
11.15-12.00 Keynote: Alan Dein,To start you talking, broadcaster and oral historian (chaired by Linda Clarke)
12.00-13.00 Roundtable: Brief contributions from participants (if they wish), on who they are and their interest in oral labour history (chaired by Michael Gold)
13.00-14.00 Lunch: Room C287
14.00-15.00 Presentations (chaired by Ann Field)
· Mike Dick (BECTU, media and entertainment trade union)
· Norman Candy (CWU – Communication Workers Union)
· Diarmaid Kelliher and Johnnie Crossan (Glasgow University: 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, Kent)
15.00-15.30 Discussion (chaired by Ann Field)
15.30 Break
15.45-16.30 Robert Wilkinson (Walthamstow History Workshop) on Heritage Lottery Foundation – how to apply (chaired by Joanna Bornat), followed by discussion and questions.
16.30-16.45 Closing observations (chaired by Joanna Bornat, Oral History Society)


Kieran McGovern and the Mallow Shootings of 1921 – Part 1

Author Kieran McGovern

Kieran McGovern by the grave of Alice King (copyright the author)

Kieran McGovern, a retired conciliation officer and adjudicator, is our guest blogger this week. His research into the murder of railwaymen in 1921 led him to the TUC Library and a report entitled An Account of the Mallow Shootings (January 31st 1921) published by the National Union of Railwaymen (London). This is part 1.

Most of my work was spent in the Mid-West and South Regions of Ireland, an area of intense military conflict during the Irish War of Independence of 1919-1922. Many desperate deeds took place throughout the area during a time also known as “The Black and Tan War”. Not for nothing was it known as “The Rebel Region” – as the many roadside memorial and graveyard headstones throughout the counties amply testify.

In the course of my work, mention had been made in passing of an episode in which a number of railway workers had been shot dead and others wounded at Mallow Railway Station on 31 January 1921. Trade Unionism and comradeship ran deep throughout the region; “militancy” in industrial relations matters had not fallen too far from the tree of independence, so to speak.

During a previous research project I had encountered a Nora Lloyd,  living in London, and in our correspondence Nora mentioned that her aunt, Alice King, had been shot during the Irish War of Independence. Nora had written a novel, “The Young May Moon” (T. Nelson & Sons; 1935), which was loosely based on the event. Imagine my surprise to discover, after much research, and by pure happen-chance, that the shooting dead of Alice King had taken place at Mallow Station and that it was as a direct consequence of her shooting that the railwaymen, of whom I had heard about previously, had also been shot dead and wounded. Much further research, over a protracted period of time, gave rise to my discovering the unmarked grave of Alice King in Saint Gobnait’s Graveyard, Mallow. Eventually, on the day I visited the graveyard for the first time to find the spot where she lay buried, the caretaker was able to dust-off and search his large Dickensian-like record book and bring me to the precise spot. He told me, quietly and reverently as he pointed to the overgrown rectangle of earth, surrounded as it was by a low granite plinth, that he, and his caretaker-father before him, had often pondered who had been buried in that one single unmarked and unattended grave and why no one ever enquired about it. They knew, nearly personally, something about every other grave in “their” cemetery – but not this one. But now, with my arrival, the mystery of the grave was solved for them as it was for me. The man was genuinely near to tears as he listened to the tale.

With the passage of time Nora had unfortunately passed away and her daughter, Bridget (living in London), had joined me in our common search. Bridget, along with a number of other descendants and relatives across the globe all concluded that a marker stone would have to be erected on what, until then, was thought to be an unmarked grave. In the meantime, having visited Mallow a few times, I had tidied up the grave area and had discovered a crucifix-shaped stone that had fallen and lay virtually invisible and overgrown on the grave; it was a simple headstone that had been erected for Alice over eighty years before.

Acting on behalf of Bridget and in consultation with the diasporadic Patten/King descendants, I had a grave marker made locally and erected. Bridget and her extended group came to Ireland and we all joined in a ceremony at the graveside. It was a moving, yet memorable, occasion. This including local encouragement inspired me to write a book and so I set about the task with enthusiasm, building on material already collected.  On my visits to Mallow I had met many who knew of the event. I read all the relevant Witness Statements (these were written in the 1950’s, by participants, but embargoed until all were deceased) held in the Irish Bureau of Military Archives. I followed up on leads by studying archives at the Irish National Library Manuscript Department, at Kew in London and at many, many other repositories. All available contemporary newspaper reports (Ireland, U.K., USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, S. Africa, France, etc.) were searched in detail. 

Part 2 next week.