Remembering this week Martin McShane 16-years-old, Meenagh Park, Coalisland, Co Tyrone, shot dead near his home by members of the British Army’s Royal Marine Commandos on 14th December 1971.

Remembering this week Martin McShane murdered by the British army 14 December 1971

Martin McShane was the eldest of a family with six children. Members of his family described him as a quiet and industrious boy who despite his years still posessed a childhood innocence that was reflected in his love for make believe games. He played football for Coalisland Fianna minor team and was keenly interested in other sports. He was also a keen fisherman, and would often go fishing in Roughan Lough with his uncle.

On the evening of 14 December 1971, Martin had been playing with five other boys, all aged between eleven and sixteen years, near the youth club in the middle of the Meenagh Park housing estate. The youth club was part of MacRory Park Gaelic Athletic Association. The boys, two of whom were Martin’s brothers, were playing a game they had made up known as ‘jail break’. In the middle of their game Martin decided to go home and get his coat. He was only in his home a matter of seconds before returning to rejoin his friends. Directly after he returned he ran off towards the end of the road on which the youth club was situated and hid behind a gate pillar. It was dark and Martin called on his friends to come and get him. A few seconds after he shouted a number of shots rang out. Adults inside the GAA Club hearing the shots ran out to investigate. The other children pointed out where Martin had been playing and the men ran to the gate pillar. They found Martin lying just inside a field a few yards from MacRory Park. He was dead. He had been shot in the temple, the neck, and the body. Beside the dead youth lay a broken plastic toy gun. Locals quickly established that British soldiers hidden amongst some hedging in the field had shot Martin. After shooting the boy they immediately fled the scene and no Crown forces returned for some forty-five minutes.
It was over 24-hours before a British army spokesman admitted their forces were responsible for the killing. During the day following the shooting the British army’s Press Office released two versions of the incident. In their first statement they claimed a Royal Marine Commando patrol that was in Meenagh Park was fired on by three men who made off in a car. The men were seen by the army patrol throwing a rifle out off the car. The implication of the statement being Martin was shot in crossfire. A second statement later claimed the army patrol was near the Meenagh Park estate when they saw a person acting suspiciously. This person they said was carrying a weapon, and after climbing over a fence was seen to take up a firing position, where upon he was shot. The patrol fired a flare to light up the area and saw a weapon under the body. ‘A crowd gathered round so the patrol did not go near,’ and withdrew. Martin McShane’s father replying to the British army statements said his son had not been armed. ‘All his son thought about’ he said ‘was football and playing. He just thought of sport.
Martin was not in the IRA. He was in nothing. I call it brutal murder.’ An inquest into Martin’s killing was held in April 1972. None of the British soldiers who took part in the killing attended the hearing. A British army legal representative read out all their statements, and each soldier was identified only by letters of the alphabet-‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. In their statements the soldiers claimed they were part of a patrol hiding in a hedge in a field when a figure vaulted over a fence. They said the figure spun round in a crouch position, facing in the direction where they were hiding. They said they then heard a metal click and opened fire. They all admitted they had fired without warning. The British Army’s representative during the hearing tried to connect Martin to a rifle reportedly found on the same night, but two miles from the scene of the killing. A forensic expert called by the British army representative said he had detected lead smears on his hands of the dead youth. Eyewitnesses and relatives disputed the British Army version of the shooting, as well as the forensic expert’s evidence. They pointed out that the fence the dead boy allegedly vaulted over was far to too high for anyone to have done so.
A Royal Ulster Constabulary officer who inspected the scene confirmed the fact. The toy gun seen by civilians who found Martin’s body, and recovered later by the British soldiers when they returned to the scene was revealed to have had no fingerprints on it. Martin’s family denied he had ever owned it. As for the lead traces found on Martin’s hands his relatives said the boy had been working earlier that day with fishing tackle along with his uncle. One of Martin’s young friends told the hearing they played near the youth club and the GAA grounds nearly every night. He said even older lads than Martin joined in the games. He said he had watched Martin going up the road and into a field and shortly afterwards heard a burst of automatic gunfire. This he said was followed by a single shot.
The jury returned an open verdict. Some years after Martin’s killing his family brought a criminal injury case against the British Ministry of Defence for the wrongful killing of their son. In July 1975 the claim was rejected. The judge at the hearing accepting totally the British army version of the shooting, adding that the British soldier who shot Martin McShane was justified in firing, and that his action was not unreasonable.
No British soldiers were ever charged in connection with the killing of Martin McShane.

With many thanks to: PH Pearse Galbally Cappagh for the original posting.

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