The murder of Francis M’glone. Who remembers the poor sods?

19 Jul

I was invited to a fascinating day-long seminar last week on commemoration, memory, symbolism and the Northern Ireland conflict. We had excellent presentations from an inter-disciplinary array of academic experts. The presentations and discussion got me thinking about who we remember after conflict – and who we forget as well. The big names are remembered – the political and militant leaders, and the high profile murder cases. But the ‘poor sods’ are forgotten: the digger driver or coalman shot on their way to work; the British soldier from a sink estate in Doncaster; the young man in the wrong place at the wrong time. While much mourned in their family and locality, in all probability they are forgotten by most. And given that Northern Ireland has had many cycles of violence, earlier victims are often crowded out by the more recent ones.

By coincidence, a few days before the seminar, I chanced upon a newspaper from 1 March 1884 in my study (apparently kept in the family because it contained a nice poem about a shamrock). The newspaper was an Irish-American publication that contained news snippets from Ireland. Buried in this news round-up was the following under the heading ‘County Tyrone’:

“An inquest was held in Dungannon on Saturday, upon the body of the young man, Francis Maglone, a Roman Catholic who died on Saturday from the effects, it was alleged, of injuries received at the hands of a crowd of persons on Saturday night, February 11, as already reported. The jury returned an open verdict.”

The story is of interest to me because I am from Dungannon. I spent a few fruitless hours Googling the story and attempting to find out the details. Then through an appeal to historians on Facebook, I began to make headway. Through the digital archive of the Morning News, a nineteenth century Belfast-based paper, I was able to piece together a few more details of Francis M’glone’s death (it is spelt this way more commonly).

Francis was 24, was in employment and lived with his mother and father (a labourer) in Corrainey (between Dungannon and Coalisland). He had gone to Dungannon in February 1884 with a friend (named O’Neill) to collect his wages, and they had a drink in a pub. They then had a drink in another pub next door. On leaving that pub they were approached by a stranger who asked them to have a drink with them. That done, they then set out for home with the stranger tagging along. The stranger did not give his name but said he was from Coagh and would walk some of the way with them. On walking along Northland Row – a pretty Georgian Terrace opposite the Royal School Dungannon and near the Catholic Church – the stranger seemed to have given a signal to a group of six or seven men who threw stones at Francis and his friend. Francis was hit on the head and knocked unconscious. His friend ran away. Francis was found about an hour later and brought home. He was put to bed and never fully came around. He died two days later from an injury to the head.

A man named William Beatty was charged in connection with the case but the case was thrown out. A local nationalist MP raised a question in the House of Commons about the case, asking about the sectarian make up of the magistrates involved in the inquest. But apart from that, there seems to be very little on record.

One newspaper account says ‘No cause is known, except that it may be party affair’. Whether that means that it is sectarian or an intra-group attack I do not know. Certainly there was much sectarian violence at that time. A campaign for Catholic emancipation known as ‘The Land League’ was gaining much support, and the Protestant Orange Order was reacting with demonstrations. Sectarian brawls and riots were common throughout what is now Northern Ireland. Moreover, newspaper accounts of the time make clear that the policing and judicial systems were stacked in favour of Protestants, and those Catholics loyal to the Crown.

What is interesting about the Francis M’glone case, and so many others like it, is that he was forgotten. There is no memorial on the spot of his murder, no annual procession in his name, no songs in his honour. Instead, there are snippets in newspapers that have long ceased to be published and not much else. It got me thinking about the shortness of human memories. About fifty people died in sectarian rioting in Belfast in the mid 1880s. Another four hundred died in the 1920s. Yet, the names of those involved (Catholics and Protestants) are mostly (if not entirely) forgotten.

Who remembers the poor sods?


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