Northern Ireland news

Family tree unearths details of Donegal 'Black and Tan' murder

Mary Harley, pictured with her brother, was shot dead on February 23 1921
Seamus McKinney

DRAMATIC details of a “Black and Tan” murder of a young woman in Co Donegal during the War of Independence have been uncovered by a Scottish man while researching his family tree.

Mary Harley (28) was recuperating from serious ill health in Mountcharles when she was shot dead on February 23 1921 in reprisal for the IRA killing of a police officer.

The daughter of a London Metropolitan Police inspector Ms Harley was also the granddaughter of Glasgow lawyer Joseph McGroary, one founding members of Celtic Football Club.

The story has been unearthed by Scottish market analyst Paul McGuire while researching his own family history.

Mr McGuire said he stumbled on the fascinating story and was "hooked" by the tragedy.

The house where Mary Harley was murdered still stands in the south west Donegal village of Mountcharles.

In a journey which took him from his home in Glasgow to London and eventually to south Donegal, Mr McGuire discovered details of one of the most cold-blooded killings of the time.

London-born Ms Harley entered a convent in 1919 to prepare for the religious life. However, illness forced her to leave and she returned to her mother’s family home at Mountcharles to recuperate.

Mr McGuire said her return to Ireland coincided with the IRA killing of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) member Thomas Satchwell in an attack at Mountcharles on February 22 1921.

The tragic victim was at the home of her uncle Bernard McGroary that night when the Black and Tans arrived in Mountcharles intent on extracting revenge.

The Black and Tans were constables recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary as reinforcements during the War of Independence

“Both Bernard and Mary were upstairs asleep when the raiders entered the house, Mary alerted her uncle and she ran down the stairs to escape. Mary returned to the house to retrieve an altar cloth she had been making for the local church.

“As she escaped, she passed three masked men in the hallway and as she fled through the backyard, they fired at her through stained-glass windows killing her in the process,” Mr McGuire said.

Her body was discovered the following morning still clutching the blood-stained altar cloth. While her uncle and cousin reported the shooting the RIC at Donegal Town denied any involvement, Mr McGuire said.

“Both Gertrude (cousin) and Bernard (uncle) were treated unsympathetically by the police and Black and Tans,” he said.

Mr McGuire said he felt compelled to bring the tragedy to as wide an audience as possible on the centenary of his distant cousin’s murder.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news