Newry: A look back in time – The Bessbrook massacre

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Friday, January 24th, 2014
Community, Features

In our new column Newry Times columnist Sean O’Siridean takes a look back through the Newry of old. He takes a step back in time and looks at how history reported on Newry and the surrounding areas through past decades. Today Sean looks at how Bessbrook was reported in the New York Times in 1922.

Today while delving into Newry’s past we look at how the horror of sectarianism and murder has touched the district in such devastating circumstances.

I have added this article to our look back at the history of Newry’s past as one cannot cherry pick the items; in order to move on in our future we must always remember the past. Those who forget that past are damned to make the same mistakes in the future.

Taken from The New York Times article on 18th June 1922, the extract paints a vivid yet horrifying image of how often the sectarian *** for tat murders had taken place along the border counties.

The article refers to an incident in which two Catholic farmers were murdered and had their bodies dumped along the roadside in Lislea by men dressed in Police uniforms.

The lorry that the police men were seen driving has never been traced and the matter never resolved, leading local people to believe that this was a sectarian killing by actual serving members of the RIC.

However, the revenge for this act was severe, heartbreaking and ruthless. Perhaps a sign of the times in which the people lived in that era.

An excerpt from an article related to the incident stated, “The Bessbrook district, largely inhabited by Presbyterians, is believed to have been selected for reprisals for the murder of two Catholic men in Lislea last Wednesday.”

It goes on to state, “The usually quiet countryside lightened up to gunfire and incendiary devices from 3am with houses being torched, all of whom had nothing to do with the Lislea murders.”

Five protestant people lost their lives that night, John Heaslip and son, Thomas Crozier and his wife and James Lockhart. The article goes on to illustrate in the most gruesome terms how each perished.

“Thomas Crozier answered a knock to his door, he was heard to shout ‘Mick! Mick!’ to which one of the men at the door shot him dead.

Crozier’s wife rushed to her husband’s side and said to the gunman, “Willie, I would not expect that of you” to which the gunman replied with a gunshot that struck Mrs Crozier on the arm, inflicting such a wound that she bled to death on the scene.

It goes on to explain how the Lockhart family meet their fate. “The Lockhart’s house and a nearby residence was set ablaze, both families tried to escape but were captured and lined up along the roadway.

“One of the men called on Lockhart and a small boy to come with him, Lockhart hesitated in order to speak to his mother, the gunman shouted ‘You don’t obey’ and shot Lockhart through the heart in the presence of his father, mother and sisters.”

The Heaslip family met a similar end as the article explains, “The Heaslip family were ordered out of the house, the man and his son were took down the road and shot dead, Mrs Heaslip ran to their side grasping her hands, the gunman returned and emptied further shots into the dead bodies.”

Even through such terrible carnage and bloodshed, James Gray, who was mortally wounded and lay suffering from gunshot wounds, showed a tremendous amount of dignity and kindness of spirit that still to this day is quite remarkable.

One of those present at the Gray household explained, “The people to have done this must be very low minded individuals, to which James Gray replied knowing that he lay mortally wounded ‘Don’t say that, maybe they had to do it. I forgive them and I hope God will to.”


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