At about 1.00 am on 24 March, gunmen broke into the home of a middle-class Catholic family who lived at 3 Kinnaird Terrace, near the Antrim Road in North Belfast. Publican Owen McMahon lived there with his wife, six sons, his daughter, and his barman, Edward McKinney. The McMahon family had no connection to any paramilitary violence. Owen McMahon was a supporter and personal friend of Joe Devlin, the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) Member of Parliament, who rejected Irish republican violence. McMahon was a prosperous businessman, who owned several pubs in Belfast and had at one time been chairman of the Northern Vintners’ Association.
The family was roused from its sleep by the sound of the doors being sledge-hammered down. The intruders tied up the women (including a niece and a servant) in a back room. The men were lined up against a wall, told to say their prayers, and shot. Four died on the spot. The father died six hours later in the Mater Hospital, and one of his sons, Bernard, perished a week later of his wounds. The youngest to die was Thomas, 15 years old.
His younger brother, aged 11, managed to hide under a sofa and escaped the massacre. But what was especially horrifying to the imagination of a child was the thought of the terrified boy crouching in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the shots and the death groans of his family, knowing that this would be his fate if found by the killers. Eliza McMahon raised the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home was alerted and phoned the police and an ambulance
So the killing passed into the folklore of Catholic Belfast as an outstanding example of the bestiality of the city’s sectarian hatred with which they had to contend. Fifty years later, the Shankill Road Butcher killings would achieve a similar, ghastly status.
The killers of the McMahons were B-Specials. According to the testimony of John McMahon, who survived the shootings, and who said that though four of the five killers were dressed in the uniform of the Royal Irish Constabulary, “from the appearance I know they are ‘Specials’ not regular RIC. One was in plain clothes.”