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.


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