Northern Ireland news

Post partition conflict in south Derry recalled in new book

James McKeown was shot dead by suspected B-Specials in May 1922
Connla Young

The history of conflict in south Derry in the years after partition has been explored in a new book.

Details of a sectarian murders carried out by the B-Specials are contained in the book written by a descendent of three Catholic brothers believed to have been shot by the organisation in 1922.

Set up in 1920, the B-Specials were part of the Ulster Special Constabulary and almost exclusively Protestant.

‘Deep Roots in County Derry: A History of the McKeown Family of Ballymulderg' has been penned by Co Monaghan man Noel McKeown.

Previously little-known details relating to the bitter post-partition conflict in south Derry are detailed in one book.

In May 1922 three members of McKeown family were shot at their home at Ballymulderg, which is in the Loup, near Magherafelt, resulting in the death of one of the men, James McKeown.

Two other brothers Francis, the author's grandfather and Thomas, although seriously wounded, survived the attack.

At the time another brother Henry was a senior figure in the IRAs 2nd Northern Division.

Some believe he may have been the intended target of the attack, which was carried out days after republicans shot and killed three B-Specials close to Ballyronan, which is nearby.

Henry, who was preparing for an IRA meeting in Dundalk, read of the attack on his family home in the Irish Independent newspaper.

During this period a series of attacks were carried out by the B-Specials across south Derry and further afield as the IRA launched a campaign directed at the new Stormont regime in the north.

A member of the B-Specials, William Brown, was later tried and acquitted of the murder of James McKeown.

It has been reported that after the trial Brown was carried “shoulder high” through the streets of Magherafelt by supporters.

In the book former Derry GAA legend Jim McKeever recounts how his mother Annie, who was a neighbour of the McKeown's, helped a local doctor attend to the wounded after the attack.

Other descendants of the McKeown brothers include former Sinn Féin minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, whose grandfather was Thomas McKeown.

Tragedy struck the family for a second time in July 1972 when Francis' son Frankie was shot dead by the British army in Belfast in controversial circumstances.

Days after the Ballymulderg murder members of the B-Specials took four Catholic men, John Higgins and his son Francis along with Henry and James McGeehan from their homes in Desertmartin and shot them dead.

The book will be launched at the Loup GAA club, Co Derry, on Saturday at 8pm.

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