CHRISTMAS DAY SHOOTING TRAGEDY IN EDEN
ROBERT LAMONT DEAD, WILLIAM MULHOLLAND CHARGED
On Christmas Day 1912, in Eden, near Portglenone, a struggle took place as to which member of a party would carry a gun.
The weapon, which was loaded, went off, blowing away the side of the head of one of the party — a youth of eighteen years of age, named Robert Lamont. He died instantly.
An inquest was held by Dr. McIvor, coroner, the next evening (i.e. Thursday 26th December), when evidence was given by Dr. G. M. Thompson, Bellaghy, Dr. Spence and several of the persons at the shooting match, and a verdict of accidental death was returned.
Appended is a report of the evidence at the inquest and magisterial investigations.
On 26th December, Dr. McIvor, the coroner for South Derry, held an inquest at Mr. Isaac Workman’s, in Eden, on the remains of Robert Lamont, who was fatally shot on Christmas day.
EVIDENCE OF ISAAC WORKMAN
Isaac Workman, farmer and publican, deposed that the deceased was in his employment, and was eighteen years of age.
On Christmas day, the witness saw him about 12-45 p.m. when he was in witness’ house, in the company of Alexander Chambers and William James Mulholland. William Mulholland was the son of Ellen Mulholland nee Stewart.
The former was carrying a gun when they left the house.
Shortly afterwards, the witness heard that Lamont was shot. William James Black brought the word, and the witness ran out and saw Lamont’s body in the field, about 100 yards from the door. Chambers and Mulholland, with some other boys, were at the gates below where the body was lying.
The other boys in their company were the two brothers, William and Samuel Porter.
Others were also present, but witness did not remember who they were.
When they arrived at his house, in the middle the day, the deceased was carrying the gun. They remained about ten minutes at the house, and deceased was practically sober, so far as the witness could see.
There was to be a shooting match that day some distance from his house.
EVIDENCE OF JAMES STEWART
James Stewart, a labourer, in the employment of Samuel Little, deposed that about one o’clock on Xmas day he was at the end of the lane leading to the house of Isaac Workman. He saw the two Porters there, as well as Chambers and Mulholland, and the deceased.
Alexander Chambers was carrying a gun. Chambers, Mulholland and the witness came over the lane towards Workman’s house. Deceased overtook them about the middle of lane. When he over-took them, the deceased pulled the gun from Chambers and there was a struggle, and deceased got possession of the gun.
Chambers, Mulholland and the witness came into the house. The witness did not remember seeing the deceased coming into the house, but he might have gone in.
Witness and his party stopped about ten minutes in Workman’s house. Before coming into the house Chambers took the gun forcibly from the deceased. When leaving, Chambers had possession of the gun. The deceased joined them up the lane.
The deceased, Chambers and Mulholland went into the field from the lane. To the witness’s knowledge nobody else went into the field. Immediately they went into the field they were fooling with each other, and the three of them were in grips in the field. Witness had the gun at that time. He got the gun when they were going into the field. Chambers handed it to the witness. Witness reached the gun to young Alexander Crockett and witness could not say whom gave it. The three were still straggling in the field, and after a while the witness heard a shot and saw the deceased fall.
The witness believed that William James Mulholland had his hand on some part of the deceased body when the gun went off. When Lamont fell Chambers was there also, but not so close to the deceased as Mulholland.
At the time the shot went off, the witness saw the gun fall between Mulholland and the deceased, but did not see whose hand it was in when it went off. He saw Crockett lying in the field with the gun after witness gave it to him.
EVIDENCE OF WILLIAM JAMES BLACK
William James Black, a farmer from Eden, swore that about one o’clock on Xmas day he was leaving Isaac Workman’s house along with William Chambers, and then some distance up the lane, he heard a shot and saw the deceased drop to the ground. William James Mulholland was then standing beside the deceased.
The witness was in the laneway near Workman’s public-house, near which he heard there was to be a shooting competition. He heard a shot ring out and saw a man drop, and the only other man he saw was the accused, who was “pace off” the man who fell. He saw the gun lying on the ground, but had not seen it in either Lamont’s or Mulholland’s hands, nor did he see either of them hold each other. He (the witness) had had two small drinks, which he had got in Isaac Workman’s public house, in the company of Chambers.
EVIDENCE OF ALEXANDER CROCKETT
Alexander Crockett, of Drumnacannon, a lad of ten years of age, said he was in the lane near Mr. Workman’s before dinner-time, and saw a party coming up from Workman’s house towards the lane. Alexander Chambers was carrying a gun. Mulholland and deceased were in the party. They went into the field beside the lane. James Stewart gave witness the gun that Chambers was previously carrying.
When they went into the field, they commenced to fight. Witness went into the field with the gun and Robert Lamont, the deceased, ran over and took it from him. Mulholland and Chambers then began to fight with deceased to take the gun from him and the gun went off. Witness saw the deceased fall. Wm. J. Mulholland and the deceased were in holds when the gun went off, but witness could not say in whose hands the gun was when it went off, but it was between the two of them. Alexander Chambers was just beside them, but he was doing nothing.
EVIDENCE OF WILLIAM PORTER
William Porter, of Drumnacannon, swore that about one o’clock he saw the deceased, Mulholland and Chambers, going into a field, and saw the gun with James Stewart. He saw Alexander Crockett carrying the gun into the field, but did not see who took it from him. He heard a shot in the field and saw the deceased lying on the ground, but did not know who was in the field with him at the time of the accident.
James Stewart gave evidence similar to the deposition made by him at the inquest, and added that Lamont pulled the gun from Crockett. To Mr Brown — Lamont had a good deal of drink taken. Chambers had refused to give Lamont the gun, and he (Lamont) snapped the gun from Chambers, and took it afterwards from young Crockett the same way.
Lamont was fooling all day, and when he had the gun “capered” with it.
He had the gun in many a shape, but the witness could not say whether he cocked the gun at Mulholland, but he presented it “about generally,” but not at any particular person.
EVIDENCE OF ALEX CROCKETT
Alex Crockett also gave similar evidence to that sworn by him at the inquest some days previously. He stated that when he carried the gun into the field Lamont took it from him and ran into the field. Lamont pointed the gun at different people. He pointed it at William James Mulholland, the accused, who caught the gun. Witness heard the shot go off. Mulholland hadn’t hold of the gun when the shot went off, but had hold of Lamont by the arm when the shot went off, and Lamont and the gun fell. Alex Chambers was near Lamont and Mulholland when the gun went off, but (Chambers) had neither hold of the gun, Lamont, nor Mulholland. Chambers was about ten yards off when the shot went off.
Looking across at at Mr Brown — Alex Crockett said that it was Lamont who had hold of the gun when it went off. The gun was aslant when it went off.
EVIDENCE OF ALEX CHAMBERS
Alex Chambers deposed that the deceased man (Lamont) came behind him and pulled a gun from under the witness’ arm. Wm. James Mulholland was behind. Lamont ran up the lane, and witness and James Stewart went into Workman’s and had a drink. The witness couldn’t say who paid for the drink.
Witness heard the report of a shot a little after he came out of Workman’s, and running up saw Lamont lying on the ground, and William James Mulholland was standing near him. Earlier in the day, when in the field, Lamont was “capering” and made to “fence” with witness in fun, but neither of them had the gun then. The witness did not see the gun after Lamont took it from him, and be did not authorise Mulholland to take the gun from Lamont.
After the accident, he saw the gun lying on the ground, but he did not lift it. To Mr. Brown — He heard a young man named Brownlow caution Lamont about the way he (Lamont) was fooling with the gun that day. Witness had refused several times that day to give Lamont the gun, as Lamont had drink taken, and witness did not want to let the gun out of bis own charge.
All the parties were the best of friends, and there was no ill-feeling. Isaac Workman swore that about half an hour previous to hearing that was Robert Lamont was shot, the young man had been in his house. Lamont was practically sober. Lamont had been his servant man. To Mr. Brown — Witness had given Lamont half a pint of whiskey that day as a Christmas box, and he took it away with him. Lamont, bad no strong drink served to him on Xmas day in his (witness’) house.
Dr. Thompson, Bellaghy, deposed to the result of the post mortem examination. Looking over at Mr. Brown, Dr. Thompson reflected that the gun must have exploded when the weapon was in a slanting position upwards.
Sergeant Sweeny deposed that acting on information, he visited the scene of the tragedy and found Lamont’s body lying in the field, and the gun lying on the left hand side of the body, the muzzle pointing away from the body.
In the barrel of the gun there was a discharged cartridge. The top part of the head, from the left ear, was practically blown off. Witness reported the facts to the coroner. After the inquest concluded, Sergeant Sweeny arrested William James Mulholland, on the capital charge and cautioned him. The accused had made a deposition at the inquest, but made no statement when arrested.
Sergeant Sweeny looking at Mr Brown said that young Crockett told the same story to the witness before the inquest, at the inquest, and at the Court that day. Crockett was a most intelligent and truthful boy.
Sweeny, in speaking to the Chairman, said that the gun (produced) was a cheap weapon but appeared to be in good condition.
Fooling With Firearms
Mr. Brown then addressed the Court, for the defence, and stated that he had witnesses to prove that Lamont had been most reckless in his conduct that day, and had been foolhardy in handling the gun. They all regretted the tragic occurrence, but he submitted that there was no evidence to substantiate a case of manslaughter against his client, who was a respectable young man, the son of a decent widow, both of whom regretted the sad occurrence. He asked that informations be refused. Evidence for the defence would be produced if necessary.
The Head Constable formally applied that the accused be returned for trial to the assizes. The accused had no authority to take the gun from Lamont. Mr. Brown—Not even if Lamont pointed the gun at him There is no evidence of motive. Their Worships unanimously refused informations.
EVIDENCE OF DR THOMPSON OF BELLAGHY
Dr. Thompson, the Justice of the Peace for Bellaghy, deposed that he made a post mortem examination on the deceased, in conjunction with Dr. Spence, and found a gun-shot wound above the left ear, producing an aperture through the bone several inches in diameter. The cerebral hemispheres and parietal bone, with the scalps covering it, were blown away, all the bones comprising the vault of the skull shattered.
The range of the shot must have been very close, within a few inches. The wound could have been produced while deceased was struggling with another for the gun. Death must have boon instantaneous. Dr. Spence corroborated.
CONCLUSIONS OF THE JURY
The jury, of which Mr. James O’Neill was foreman, found that:— Robert Lamont came to his death on the 25th December, 1912, in a field belonging to Isaac Workman, in Eden, from a gunshot wound, causing severe injuries to the brain and causing instantaneous death, produced accidentally while the said gun was in the hands of the deceased and William James Mulholland, who were struggling for the possession of it.
Head-Constable Daly, Magherafelt. and Sergeant Sweeny, Innisrush watched the proceedings on behalf of the Crown.
Late on Thursday night, William James Mulholland was arrested by Sergeant Sweeny, of Innisrush, and brought to the R.I.C. barracks before Mr. William George Courtenay, J.P.
Mr. J. C. Duncan was in attendance.
Head-Constable Daly, Magherafelt, appeared for the prosecution.
Sergeant Sweeny made a deposition stating that he had arrested the prisoner on a charge of murder, and he asked for a remand to enable him to prosecute and complete his inquiries.
The charge was then reduced to one of manslaughter, and Mulholland was remanded on bail — himself on £100 and two sureties of £50 each, till Petty Sessions at Innisrush on New Year’s Day.
Subsequently, on Wednesday, 1st January, 1913, before Mr. W. G. Courtenay, J.P. (chairman): Messrs. Henry Agnew, J.P.; T. P. Henry. J.P., and Mr. J. Henry, J.P., in Innisrush Courthouse, William James Mulholland surrendered to his bail, and was charged on remand of the manslaughter of Robert Lamont, in Eden, on Christmas Day.
Sources for this article: Mid-Ulster Mail, Northern Whig, Belfast News Letter, Ballymoney Free Press.
I cannot find any further newspaper coverage of the incident.
Presumably the manslaughter charge was subsequently squashed at local level (i.e. Innisrush/Portglenone) and did not proceed to the higher regional courts at Magherafelt/Londonderry.
It is worth remembering that a proven murder case, at this time, could have resulted in the killer being hung. Some four years previously, in 1908, John Berryman from nearby Garvagh was executed for killing his brother and sister-in-law in a fit of rage.
In the Eden case, alcohol and tomfoolery while in possession of a loaded gun, resulted in 18 year old Robert Lamont’s tragic, but accidental, death.
William James Mulholland, evidently a free man, appears in the local media in the autumn of 1913. At Ballymena, he won a prize of 20 shillings for top quality grass-seed. His fellow prize winner was another Portglenone man, John Madden. Source: Belfast News-Letter, Friday 12th September 1913
QUESTION – Does anyone know where the public house of Isaac Workman was located?
In the 1911 census records, I see an Isaac T Workman (34 years old in 1911) married to a Norris J. Workman (31 years old). At that point they had been married four years, and they had a three year old daughter (Lena) and a two year old son (James). They were Reformed Presbyterians and lived in “house 3 in Drumoolish”
Note – Alexander Crockett who from the evidence above, we see was a ten year old witness to the tragedy. This is probably the same Alex Crockett that dad and myself gave a lift to, many nights home from the bowls in Tamlaght O’Crilly, to his house (which was up the lane behind Robert Agnew’s house). That would have been in the late 1970s and very early 1980s.