Civilian William Alexander Macpherson


Civilian William Alexander Macpherson (aged about 44) of Bridge Street, Mallow (Knockpogue near Mallow)

Date of incident: 7 July 1921 (ex-soldier kidnapped and killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 9 July 1921; IT, 9 July 1921; CWN, 16 July 1921; II, 7 Oct. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/153B/14 (TNA); RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, July 1921 (CO 904/116); Diary of Activities for July 1921 Compiled by Headquarters of Cork No. 4 Brigade, (Richard Mulcahy Papers, P7/A/23, UCDA); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); Leo O’Callaghan’s WS 978, 25 (BMH); Joseph P. Morgan’s WS 1097, 18 (BMH); Cornelius O’Regan’s WS 1200, 14 (BMH); Ó Ruairc (2016), 122.


Note: An ex-soldier in the British army, Macpherson was bundled into a pony and trap on 7 July 1921 and taken a short distance outside Mallow. After two days of detention at Gleanndine, he was shifted to Patrick O’Connor’s house at Pendy’s Cross, Dromahane, where he was tried by brigade officers, found guilty, and sentenced to death. ‘He was removed later the same night to a spot about one mile from Mallow on the mountain road, where he was executed by members of the column.’ See Leo O’Callaghan’s WS 978, 25 (BMH). His body was found at Knockpogue with a bullet in the chest (through the heart) and with a label declaring, ‘Convicted spy, spies and informers in Mallow beware, we are on your track, I.R.A.’ Soldiers and police in lorries visited the Knockpogue location and removed the body to Mallow Military Barracks. See II, 7 Oct. 1921.


Macpherson had held the rank of ‘colour sergeant’ with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, with whom he served from 1897 until his discharge in 1916 (Military Service Record).  He then reenlisted with the Royal Engineers in 1916 until his demobilisation in 1919.  Thereafter he had bad health, suffering from an illness contracted while on service in India.  He was unemployed in this period, but still evidently was seeking work in 1921.  A witness during the military inquest into his death identified one of the men in the trap in which he was picked up as David Barrow, Scarra, Dromahane, who was thereby named as at least as an accessory to his killing.  He lived on Bridge Street in Mallow with his wife (a native of the district) and four children. Macpherson had been a target of the IRA since at least mid-June 1921, after one of his transactions in a Mallow shop brought him under suspicion. As Joseph P. Morgan of the Mallow Battalion Flying Column later recorded, ‘While other members of the column moved off towards Millstreet area to take part in the Rathcoole ambush, I was ordered to make arrangements to proceed to Mallow to execute a spy—McPherson [sic], an ex-British army sergeant major—who was supposed to be seen on Mallow Bridge each morning at 7 a.m. I think that his activities as a spy were discovered when he cashed some cheques, made payable to him by the British, in some shop in town (Mallow). I visited Mallow on two mornings, but there was no trace of McPherson, so other arrangements were made at a later date, when he was captured and executed early in July 1921.’ See Joseph P. Morgan’s WS 1097, 18 (BMH).


RIC District Inspector Patrick Wall stated at a subsequent military inquest that Macpherson ‘did not take part in the present rebellion. He was not a member of any political organisation. He was a law abiding and loyal subject.’ See Military Inquests, WO 35/153B/14 (TNA).


The Recorder of Cork, sitting at Mallow in October 1921, awarded £900 in compensation to the victim’s widow, Mrs Margaret Macpherson, and an additional £400 to each of her four children, ‘for the death of her husband, an army pensioner, who was taken away in a trap by three men, and next morning his body was found 2 miles from Mallow, with the label, “Convicted spy, spies and informers in Mallow beware.  We are on your track.  IRA”’.  The body was then taken to Mallow Military Barracks.  See II, 7 Oct. 1921, and Military Inquests, WO 35/153B/14 (TNA). The name of William Alexander Macpherson appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 8 July 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that £2,500 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA).


In 1911 William Macpherson (then aged 34) and his wife Margaret resided with her widowed mother Ellen Lyne (a farmer aged 61) at Lower Lavally (Rahan) near Mallow. At that point the Macphersons had only one child (a infant son aged six months), but three others were born later. Ellen Lyne’s adult son Thomas (aged 40) and his wife Norah probably took the principal role in managing the farm. William Macpherson was an Anglican at his death, but had previously been a Presbyterian.  (We would like to thank David MacPherson for providing additional information, including William Macpherson’s service record.)


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