From the book Lost Lives by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton, David McVea
24 November 1988
Phelim McNally, Tyrone
Civilian, Catholic, 28, married, 5 children
He was in the kitchen of his brother’s house at Derrychrin Road, near Coagh, when shots were fired through the window. Phelim McNally was from Moortown, near Coagh, and his wife gave birth to their sixth child the following morning. His brother Francis, a Sinn Fein councillor in Cookstown, was also in the house but was not injured. He told the inquest he believed he was the intended target. Phelim McNally, a traditional music enthusiast, he said, had been playing an accordion in the kitchen at around 10.20pm when there was a slight knock on the kitchen door.
Francis McNally said he asked who was there but received no reply. He saw a figure walking past the kitchen window, so he switched off the kitchen light. Going to a front bedroom he saw a car parked with its headlights facing the front door. Just as he made out that the driver was wearing a balaclava he heard two bursts of automatic fire and glass smashing. He found his brother lying on the kitchen floor.
Francis McNally claimed he had received numerous death threats from members of the UDR and RUC. Another brother, Lawrence McNally, who was a member of the IRA, was subsequently killed by the SAS. In April 1990 a detective-inspector told the inquest that the rifle and revolver used to shoot Phelim McNally were also used to kill Liam Ryan and Michael Devlin.
A Remembrance (written on the 20th anniversary of Phelim’s death)
Phelim McNally was born on 11 February 1960. He was the tenth child of Terence and Sarah McNally of Annaghmore. Sarah was the former Sarah Conway of Clunto-quin, and she and Terry would eventually have thirteen children – Patsy, Kevin, Bernie, Henry, Lawrence, Brigid, Malachy, Catherine, Francie, Phelim, Eileen, Peter, and Adrian.
At that time (almost fifty years ago) life in the townland of Annaghmore, or Annavore as it was more often called, was pretty much the same for most of its families. The man of the house did a bit of fishing on Lough Neagh and laboured and harvested for local farmers. The mother kept the house and raised the children. There was no electricity in any of the homes, water was carried from wells in buckets, every household grew their own potatoes and vegetables. Visits to shops were mainly for things like lamp oil and tea and sugar. Most families did not have a car. Bicycles were commonplace, but people generally walked when they had to go to somewhere in the locality – chapel or school or to work, or for a visit at night to a neighbour’s home – the céilí. Life may have been hard, may have been a struggle at times, but people got by.
That was how life was when Phelim was born. However, great changes were underway in rural society. In a few short years even places like Annavore were transformed – piped water, mains electricity, television, nearly every house with its own car. Most people welcomed the introduction of services and commodities that made life easier, and life changed – not drastically, but the change was evident and recognisable.
And so it was in this changing world that Phelim and his brothers and sisters grew up. In August 1965, aged 5½, he started school – Moortown Primary School – which had been recently renovated and extended, and which now provided school dinners for its pupils. Six years later, in September 1971, Phelim and most of his Moortown classmates took the bus to Cookstown Intermediate, as that secondary school was known in those years. And while Phelim was not an unwilling pupil in either school, he would have preferred, not to be sitting all day at a desk, but to be gallivanting, roaming through the fields and mosses around his home, a stick in his hand and a dog at his heel.
That was where Phelim’s heart really lay; in the country. From his childhood days he had been enraptured by every aspect of the countryside around his home, and there he had his first adventures. The slow-moving waters of the local stream, known simply as the Main Drain, ran close to the McNally home. Upstream led to Gallagh Bridge and Annavore Moss, downstream to Annavore Cottages and on to Lough Neagh. Annavore Moss, the local bog, was a magical place for Phelim. Here the McNallys had their turf bank. In the summer the turf, whether cut or thrown out as mud, was saved and then brought home by donkey and cart.
Life went on, of course, and after Phelim left school, he worked for a time with his brother Kevin, who was a plastering contractor. Later he worked in other jobs, including several years in Macrete’s, near Toome, and a spell of net-fishing on Lough Neagh with Gerard Patrick ‘GP’ McLernon. Life was not all work: Phelim enjoyed socialising with his friends, and almost before anyone knew he was married to Pauline Diamond from Toome. The young couple began their married life in a caravan in Kinturk. One winter morning, with a white frost on the ground, Phelim’s brother, Kevin, collected him for work.
‘It couldn’t have been too warm in that caravan last night,’ remarked Kevin.
‘I’ll tell you how cold it was,’ replied Phelim, ‘when you dropped me off yesterday evening, I met the last mouse at the door, leaving. It was foundered. Even that mouse knew it wasn’t as cold outside as it was in the caravan!’
Nevertheless the family lived in the caravan for a while longer, but later they managed to obtain a cottage in Tobin Park, the housing estate close to Lavery’s Corner. It was in Tobin Park, Moortown, that Phelim and Pauline reared their young family – Kevin, Davina, Phelim, Lawrence, Edel – in the mid 1980s. It was a good place for the family, living as they were in the midst of close relatives and good friends. There was always a buzz on the cottage street, and the children attended the Playgroup in the nearby Gaelic Centre, and St Peter’s Primary School, which was only a stone’s throw away.
Phelim maintained his outdoor pursuits – fishing on the Lough with GP; a day’s hunting or shooting with his springer dogs and gun, often in the company of Martin McVey or Martin Hagan. Phelim, who was generally quiet, had a droll sense of humour and he could keep people entertained for hours on end with his rather far-fetched tales. Martin Hagan recalled one particular story which Phelim recounted at the fireside of an old man who lived beside Lough Beg, where the Moortown men had been duck-shooting.
‘Did you get ever a duck?’ asked their host.
‘I did not,’ responded Phelim, ‘and it was the fault of that dog of mine.’
‘And how did that come?’ inquired the old man.
‘This is why,’ replied Phelim, ‘that dog of mine is so eager to take to the water when she hears a shot, even a mile away, that I have to keep her tied to my wrist. Well, I was just about to bring down a couple of teal, when we heard a shot, away down the shore. She took off like a train, lifted me clean out of the wellingtons, and towed me away down the shore. I had to spend the rest of the evening looking for the wellingtons.’
Phelim was also drawn to the local amateur boxing scene, and he spent many happy hours in Kinturk Hall, as assistant to trainer Pat Joe ‘Benny’ Quinn, who passed on his hard-won experience and expertise to the novices. Kinturk Hall was also the focal point for another of Phelim’s interests: music. The McNallys were a musical family, and music was always an important part of Phelim’s life. He joined Kinturk Band around 1980, playing the accordion, taking part in the marching days and sharing in the band’s many successes in competition. Then, in 1988, he and some of his friends decided to form a folk group. A loose federation of budding musicians and critics would meet most nights in Annavore, in GP McLernon’s purpose-built céilí house, which had all the necessary amenities, including an open fire. The gathering included Anthony Huwdie, Paddy Maguire, Brendan Kelly, Gerry Muldoon, Pat Joe Quinn, Martin Kelly, and many another one who enjoyed the craic in a good céilí house. It may be true that there was more banter than music at these hooleys, but the endeavours of this laid-back bunch made for a highly enjoyable topic of conversation in the local community. After a session in GP’s, the word would be out the next day – ‘That crew were at it ding-dust last night again. The next thing you know they’ll be taking bookings!’ The name the boys chose for themselves – The Bog Men – showed that they weren’t taking themselves too seriously, but they did indeed get a booking, and they made their public debut at a charity function in the Old Cross Lounge Bar.
This was the life and innocent hobbies of Phelim McNally as the autumn of 1988 turned to winter, and people began to think about Christmas, which was only a few short weeks away.
THE IRISH NEWS
Saturday 26 November 1988
A Tyrone widow will tomorrow bury her murdered husband, two days after giving birth to the child he never saw. Mrs Pauline McNally (28) gave birth two months prematurely to her sixth child, a 4lb 3oz baby boy, four hours after her husband Phelim was shot dead in a sectarian attack at the home of his brother Francis, a Sinn Fein councillor.
When he left her bedside in Ballymena hospital on Thursday night, Pauline had promised to phone him to tell him how she was, so that he could be present at the birth. Three hours later he lay dead on a kitchen floor and she went into labour knowing nothing of the tragedy.
The McNally home at Derrychrin Road is up an unobtrusive country road, the sort of house you would never find unless you knew exactly where you were going. Francis McNally claims his brother’s killers had staked out the house and knew what they were after. He says that UDR patrols called at his home twice on Thursday and walked around. His wife Annie, who was alone in the house at the time, said: “They shouted in through the window at me – ‘Who lives here?’ I them saw them walking off through the fields towards the Mossbank Road.”
The car used in the murder was hijacked by three armed and masked men at Mossbank Road around 10.00pm. It was found yesterday at Ballinderry Bridge Road, Coagh, beside an Orange Hall.
Mr Francis McNally said he had received numerous death threats from UDR soldiers when stopped at checkpoints in the area. “When we moved into this house about nine months ago a couple of them came up in uniform one day and jeered at me – ‘Enjoy the house. You won’t be too long in it.’”
The victim stopped off at his brother’s house shortly after 10.00pm on his way back from visiting his wife in Ballymena. Francis McNally recounted: “He wasn’t here twenty minutes when I heard a light knock at the back door. I shouted – ‘Who’s there?’ but there was no reply. I saw the figure of a man going past the window and I became suspicious. I put out the kitchen light and went into the bedroom to look out of the window. I saw a man sitting in a car wearing a balaclava. Then I knew it was a murder bid. But there was no time to think. I heard two sustained bursts of automatic gunfire. I knew what I was going to find when I went back, because Phelim had stayed in the kitchen when I had put out the light. I went to the kitchen door and heard his last sigh. He was dead. We have no phone so I ran out and phoned an ambulance and the police. The ambulance was here in a matter of minutes but the police took three hours to come.”
THE MID-ULSTER OBSERVER
Thursday 1 December 1988
Phelim McNally, one of a family of thirteen, was described by friends as fun-loving, with a pleasant outgoing personality which attracted people. His great interest was music. He was a member of Kinturk Accordion Band and had recently formed a folk group, The Bog Men, which made its debut in a local lounge a short time prior to his death. Phelim’s wife is the former Miss Pauline Diamond from Toomebridge. Their children are – Kevin (8), Davina (6), Phelim (5), Lawrence (3), Edel (17 months), and newly-born Christopher, born just hours after his father’s killing.
Phelim was a son of Mrs Sarah McNally and the late Mr Terence McNally. Surviving brothers are Patsy, Kevin, Henry, Lawrence, Malachy, Francis, Peter, and Adrian. Sisters are Mrs Bernie Teague of St Colman’s Park, Moortown, Mrs Brigid Fanthorpe of Coalisland, Mrs Catherine Coney and Mrs Eileen McKeown, both of Tobin Park, Moortown.
The remains were removed on Friday evening from the Mid-Ulster Hospital, Magherafelt, following a post-mortem examination, to deceased’s home in Tobin Park, Moortown. Dozens of cars followed the cortege and, in the ensuing period until the funeral on Sunday, hundreds of people called on the young widow to offer their sympathy.
Sunday’s funeral at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Moortown, a short distance from deceased’s home, was delayed for over an hour to await the arrival from America of Phelim’s brother, Patsy. The coffin was carried from the house to the church by members of the McNally family. Young musicians from Kinturk Accordion Band, of which Phelim had been a member for eight years, formed a guard of honour and the young man’s band sash was placed on the casket.
Several thousand people converged on the church where children from the local St Peter’s Primary School, which young Kevin and Davina McNally attend, added their own tribute. Mrs Pauline McNally, supported by relatives, led the mourners.
Rt Rev Monsignor Francis Dean MacLarnon, PP, VG, Dungannon, representing Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, presided at the concelebrated Mass. In an address, he told mourners that feelings of revenge must not interfere with God’s will, and called for prayers for a spirit of forgiveness. On behalf of the Cardinal and clergy of the Archdiocese of Armagh he offered deepest sympathy to Mrs McNally and her family and expressed his horror and condemnation at the foul murder.
Concelebrants of the Mass, Rev Brendan McHugh, PP, Ardboe, and Rev Patrick Mackle, CC, Moortown, both appealed for an end to the killings in the North of Ireland. Fr McHugh paid tribute to Mr McNally as a well-respected young man, full of caring and love for his wife and children: “He was full of the vigour of life. He was innocent and good, completely inoffensive and without guile. Everyone in the community would attest to this.” Fr McHugh spoke of Mr McNally’s abiding interest in music, and of how he was slain while showing his brother Francis how the beauty of the melody, The Dawning of the Day, could be enhanced on the accordion.
The music of the Mass was a tribute to the young man’s own musical talents. Twins Aislin and Shauna McIvor played an appropriate traditional selection on tin whistles, while the church choir, with Mr Tommy McCullagh as organist, led the singing.
In the drizzly mist of an autumnal Sunday afternoon, Phelim McNally was laid to rest in the cemetery adjacent to the church. The dozens of floral tributes included wreaths from the widow and children.