Maghera was some seven miles from our farm.

Fallagloon townland is on the western side of Maghera.  It starts about a mile from the village, and is known as being the longest townland in Ireland. It straddles the Glenshane Pass. The Irish name for Fallagloon is Fáladh Luán. 

In very old newspaper articles, the name was often spelled with an ‘H’ i.e. Fallaghloon.

It was in the midst of this sleepy townland that a shocking murder took place in May 1888.

At ten o’clock on the morning of Wednesday 9th of May, a young man named James Bradley hurriedly made his way into Maghera, to contact the police.  He was very upset and told the police that his 30 year old brother, Francis Bradley, whilst working in a field near their house, an hour earlier, had been shot dead.

The month of May 1888 had been a very dry month and Wednesday 9th would see no rain either. Local farmers would have been worried for the crops in the fields. On the morning of the murder, there was no great warmth, overnight it was 0.6C (33F) and although the victim would never see it, the temperature would peak at 12.5C (nearly 54F).

Sergeant Neely, along with Acting-Sergeant Burns, and Constables Lindsay and Fallon, quickly made their way to the scene of the murder.

The four policemen found Francis Bradley lying dead, in a field belonging to his uncle, Patrick Bradley.  A spade that Francis had been working with, was lying beside the corpse.

Fallagloon Maghera murder

Fallagloon townland lies to the west of Maghera

The doctor in Maghera, Dr. William McCowan, had been summoned and arrived at the scene shortly after the police.  On examining the body, he found that the victim was completely riddled with slugs and shot.  He summised that Francis Bradley had died pretty much instantly.

Sergeant Neely immediately arrested the deceased’s uncle, Patrick Bradley, and searched his house.  A loaded gun was found. It appeared to have been recently fired.

Some Background to the Murder

Some few years previously Patrick Bradley felt, that because of his advanced age, he was unable to labour the land himself. 

Thus, he gave this small farm of land over to his nephews, and their heirs.  But on the understanding that he could live in the farmhouse with these nephews, and that he could continue to labour, for his own benefit, two or three fields of the farm.

The field in which young Francis Bradley was murdered, was one of these fields.

But the plans did not work out.  The old man and his nephews could agree on nothing and, as they say around these parts, ‘fought the bit out.’   In 1886, two years before the murder, the old man had to get out of their house and go to live with other friends in the area.

But old Patrick Bradley still continued to labour the handful of fields that he had reserved for himself.

But a falling-out occurred with his nephew, Francis Bradley, as to whether the field in which the latter man was found murdered in, was part of that original agreement.  The murdered nephew ignored the issue and persisted in labouring the field in question. This was to be his downfall.

The uncle objected strongly to what was going on. 

The nephews were several times summoned to the local petty sessions court for assaulting their uncle. Indeed, on one occasion they were placed on bail, for assaulting their uncle, over this very same field.

Nephew Threatens Uncle’s Life

At Maghera’s monthly Court of Petty Sessions, on Saturday 30th April 1887, before Major Clark, J.P. (presiding); Messrs, Robert W. Forrester, J.P.; Thomas S. Ash, J.P.; and Garret Nagle, R.M., Patrick Bradley, of Fallagloon, summoned Francis Bradley, of the same place, for threatening to take his life and for breaking and damaging his dwelling house. The nephew didn’t show up at the initial hearing, claiming that he was ill.

By mid 1887, about twelve months before the killing, the uncle obtained a legal ruling against Francis Bradley and his brothers, for trespass upon this field.  

But in an indication of the type of people involved, the court was unable to get a bailiff courageous enough to venture out to the farmhouse to execute it.

The murdered man and his brothers, paid no heed to the Court order against them.  They persisted in labouring the field. Their uncle, Patrick Bradley, was incensed by their attitude. 

Early 1888, the Uncle Buys a Gun

In early 1888, Patrick Bradley bought a gun.  He let his nephews know that the first time he saw any of  them interfering with his property be would shoot them.

The nephews, as they had done previously, mocked the old man, and disregarded the warning. It was to be a serious error of judgement.

That awful morning, neighbours said they heard a gun-shot and a groan.  They afterwards reported seeing the uncle walking out of the field, carrying the gun, seemingly unconcerned or flustered, making his way back to his own house.

When Patrick Bradley was arrested, he denied the charge.

The Court Case

Two months later, in mid July 1888, the case was in front of a court.

Patrick Bradley was indicted for the wilful murder of his nephew, Francis Bradley. 

The charge entered in the book against the accused was as follows: 

you, Patrick Bradley, on the 9th May, 1888, at Fallagloon, in the county of Londonderry, did feloniously, willfully, and with malice aforethought, kill and murder one Francis Bradley.

The old man pleaded, not guilty.

John Richardson, Q.C., and G. V. Hart were counsel for the Crown, and were instructed by Mr. Thomas Fitzgerald, Crown Solicitor. Mr. Gaussen, instructed by Mr. Brown, of Magherafelt, defended the prisoner.

The following locals were sworn in as the jury to try the case:— James Hempton, Alexander Wilson, John Diamond, Thomas Sheppard, John Leech, Andrew Sheppard, William Orr, William Ferguson, Robs. Dixon, junior, John McCloskey, Henry Porter, and William James Scott.

Mr. Richardson, Q.C., quickly outlined the facts of the case, namely the previous legal dispute over this field, as well as the deceased having been prosecuted for assaulting his uncle and threatening his life, the previous year.

James Bradley lived with his two brothers – Mick Bradley, and the deceased Francis Bradley.  While under oath, at an earlier hearing, James had said:

I reside at Fallagloon. I was setting potatoes on the morning of the occurrence, and heard a report. I saw (my uncle) Patrick Bradley about ten minutes after this. In consequence of what I heard, I went to a moss where my brother was working. I found him lying dead on his right side. I saw a spade lying near him. This was about 9 o’clock in the morning. I went for a sergeant of the police. I went into the house where my uncle, the prisoner, lived, before I went to the sergeant. I did not see him in the house.  I heard the accused threaten to take Francis Bradley’s life.

James Bradley would also subsequently say that on the morning in question, he was up at 6am and left the house 30 minutes later.   His brother Francis was sitting at the fire, smoking.  Around 8am James saw his uncle coming close to his own house.  He then saw his brother lying on his side in the field, with a spade beside him. That was about nine o’clock.

James would also go on to say that he thought his uncle was about 79 years of age.  He also admitted that he himself had, in the past, been prosecuted for assaulting his uncle and threatening his life. He had been bound over to keep the peace, but that was for merely cutting grass.

Importantly, James Bradley did admit that there was a dispute about the field, in which the killing took place.  The old man’s house was pulled down and his deceased brother had been often summoned before the magistrates. The uncle was given a license to carry a gun for his own protection.  James Bradley closed his evidence by admitting that his brother Francis, and his uncle Patrick, were both “eccentric.”

Patrick Bradley, James Johnston, William Johnston, Sergeant Neely, Constables Lindsey and Chambers also gave evidence about the day in question.

Neighbour John Esler took the stand and was sworn in.  He said:

I was in my own field on the 9th of May. I heard the shot of a gun, and I saw the deceased falling. He was facing me. I saw the prisoner at the time. He was not far off. He went into a loaning (a lane) out of my sight.  I saw the appearance (on him) of something like a weapon, a gun.

I saw him ten or fifteen minutes later, in my field, going home.   He had then, still a gun with him. The prisoner did not appear to avoid me.

James Johnston and myself went over to the deceased, but he was then dead, and the spade was lying beside him.

Thomas Johnston lived with his family at house 21 in Fallaghloon, Tullykeron. Their farm was near the Bradley farm.

Thomas was in his 41st year. His three sons who were also witnesses that day, were William Johnston, who was in his 19th year; Thomas Johnston was in his 16th year; and James Johnston who was in his 8th year.

Thomas Johnston took the stand and said that he had heard the shot and saw old Patrick Bradley walking into a lane, leading homewards, with a gun in his hand.

James Johnston then was called to give evidence.  He said he found the body of Francis Bradley.  It was riddled with shot and was lying beside the deceased’s own spade.

William Johnston also gave evidence.  He confirmed that the man he saw walking away from the field carrying a gun, was Patrick Bradley.

Michael Bradley, a brother of the dead man, deposed that the deceased had left the house about seven o’clock that morning.  He was carrying a spade. The prisoner i.e. his uncle, had lived with the witness and his brothers, for 16 and a half years.  The uncle had then moved in and lived with cousins of the witness.  Michael concluded his testimony by saying that he had spent an hour the previous day with his deceased brother in that same field.

Shot While Stooping, Victim Fell Forward Onto His Face

Dr. William McGowan then told the court:

I found the body lying in the field.

The mouth and nose were covered with earth, as if he had fallen forward on his face.

His front was riddled with shot, from the bead to the thighs.

He died of injury to the heart and larger vessels of the lungs, which were riddled.

The left lung was completely torn up by the shot. The heart was also penetrated by shot. I extracted twenty-one pellets from his body. The shot had entered in an oblong way the upper part of his body, and more directly in the thighs.

This shows the deceased must have been in a stooping position, so much so that the upper part of the body would have been almost horizontal. He must have been very much stooped, as if digging.

The local coroner, Mr McIvor, at an inquest on the day after the murder, established that the victim had lived for about ten minutes.

maghera francis bradley murder 1888

Maghera, Francis Bradley’s death record 1888

Sergeant Neely, of Maghera, then was sworn in.  He deposed that on receiving information from James Bradley that morning,  he and two of his constables went to Patrick Bradley’s house. As they approached they the old man going out towards the lane. When he saw the police he returned to the house, The sergeant arrested and charged him with murdering his nephew.  Patrick Bradley denied the charge.

In the field, the sergeant found the body of the deceased.

The policeman said the victim was lying on his back, with his right arm stretched out, and his left arm bent up. There were twenty-five shot-marks in the dead man’s hat which was lying beside the body.

The shirt, trousers, and vest of the deceased were fairly riddled.  In the body there were about 100 wounds such as hail would produce. The heaviest portion of the charge seemed to have struck the deceased in the left breast. The deceased had been putting potatoes in this field, and he had dug about four or five yards of the drill.

In a copse, about 33 yards away, there were marks as if a person had spent a long time there, which he could have done unobserved.

A piece of paper which the sergeant found near the deceased, corresponded with a piece which he found in the prisoner’s pocket.  And the  hail corresponded with some which he found in the prisoner’s house, and a gun which he also found there, seemed to have been recently discharged.

The police sergeant went on to say, that on charging the prisoner with the murder, Patrick Bradley denied the charge, and said, “Whatever was done, they done it themselves, and they are trying to dirty me.”

The prisoner took a great round-about home when leaving the field after the affair.

A juror, in bringing the policeman’s evidence to a close, then asked Sergeant Neely, “Do you believe that the man was shot from this place of concealment, where the ground was tramped as you have described?   The sergeant responded:  “I do not. It must have been nearer. At thirty-three yards distance, which this was, the charge of the gun would not have killed.”

Constable Chambers then went on to relay a very pertinent conversation that he had with the prisoner.

Patrick Bradley told the policeman: 

I’d think no more of shooting him, than I do of a whiff of tobacco smoke out of my mouth. I never would have put him down if he had kept away from the meadow. I didn’t do it wilful, for if I did I would have been murdered on the ground myself. He thought he would live as content as a Jxx, if he got the meadow.

The policeman continued: “I was going on escort with him to Derry Gaol. When at Coleraine the prisoner said — “I think it would be better for me to plead guilty.”  I told him that his solicitor would instruct him as to that. He said he (the solicitor) would make him go on with it, for the purpose of getting the money. He said he had only three or four pounds, and that it would not go far in paying lawyers.”

Mr. Gaussen, for the defence, then  read to the jury a list of the decrees of the local courts against the dead man, i.e. for trespass on the field in question, being bound over to keep the peace after assaulting and beating his uncle (the prisoner).  Indeed, on one On one occasion, the deceased was sent to gaol for a fortnight.

Summing Up

His Lordship told the jury that there were two key questions which they had to consider.

The first was, were they satisfied, based on the evidence put before them, that Patrick Bradley shot Francis Bradley?

Secondly, if they were so satisfied, were there circumstances in this particular case, that in their opinion, which would fairly mitigate the crime from being one of murder, to one of manslaughter?

His Lordship went on to say that whatever the jury might think, the evidence appeared to be irresistible, and he did not understand the prisoner’s defence counsel trying to contradict that allegation.

With respect to the second question, his Lordship noted that the Bradleys appeared to be a family of “a very low type”, physically as well as mentally. Some of them were described as “not wise.” 

He referred to this aspect because it had been suggested by counsel, that they should not measure what would excite such people, by the ‘ordinary standard’ which would he held to justify other people being excited.

In concluding, the judge said that the jury would be fairly entitled to find the prisoner guilty of manslaughter, and thus not guilty of the greater crime of murder.

The jury subsequently returned a verdict that Patrick Bradley was guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter.


The judge asked: “What is the prisoner’s age?”    The response came back, “79 years old, your honour.”

The judge smiled, and cast some doubt on the reply, saying:

I don’t mind the statement of country people. They are always four score.

The police sergeant intervened, saying he had looked into the matter, and that Patrick Bradley was in his seventies.   The judge’s reaction suggested that this intervention didn’t shed much new light onto the issue at hand, and the sergeant decided to sit down again.

The judge sentenced the prisoner to penal servitude for ten years.   This particular punishment refers to imprisonment with hard labour.

I cannot find any further details of whether this sentence was appealed, or how long Patrick Bradley ended up in jail for. It’s difficult to imagine a man of that age being fit for hard labour. 

He died some thirteen years after the murder in Fallagloon.  The death record indicates that he was 90 years old.  He was senile by the end and, ironically, one of his nephews (also called Patrick) was with him when he passed.

maghera patrick bradley murderer

Maghera, the death of Patrick Bradley

These were violent times in the area.  There was a similar murder around the same time in nearby Tobermore.  Again, for reasons that I am unclear about, the charge was relegated to manslaughter.  This is very confusing.

This Maghera killing appears a clear case of cold-blooded murder.  

Okay, the nephews, especially Francis Bradley, may have been verbally abusive, ill-tempered, violent thugs.  Yes, from statements, we hear that Francis Bradley had a focus on greed.  We know there was bad blood.  Even the deceased’s brother (who was also violent and threatening) labelled both his dead brother and uncle as ‘eccentric’.

We know from previous court proceedings that James and Francis had both threatened to kill their uncle, and had been sanctioned for the threats. 

Thus, fearing for his life, their uncle Patrick Bradley was given legal permission to own a gun.  He subsequently bought a gun, but went on to threaten to kill his nephews if they interfered with (what he perceived to be still) his property, and then made good on his threat. 

The victim was unarmed.  There is no record of any dialog or argument that morning in the field.  We are not even sure that the nephew saw his killer. There is evidence, because of the tramped grass in a ditch beside the field, some 33 yards from where the killing took place, that someone had been laying there for some time.

Did his killer lay in wait that morning.  The uncle knew, being 79 years old, that he daren’t risk being over-powered by his 30 year old nephew. The doctor who examined the body in the field said that it appeared that the victim had been shot while stooping. This suggests he was most likely shot whilst in the midst of digging. 

From the evidence that we have, it appears that Patrick Bradley shot his nephew in cold blood. There was little or no warning that morning.

One imagines a defence of ‘diminished responsibility’ would have been vigourously pursued if the trial were held in modern times.  The defence’s argument that the killer was ‘eccentric’ and ‘not wise’ hints at this, in the original 1888 trial. This was probably why the judge encouraged the jury, to relegate the original charge from murder to manslaughter.

Some twenty years later, a few miles away, at Garvagh, there was a very different outcome to a rural murder.  I will try to finish that article in the near future.

This article was compiled from several newspaper stories from 1887 and 1888, along with other local resources.