Shooting of Ardlougher teenager recalled a century on
The killing of a teenage girl in her home in Ardlougher during a republican raid a century ago has been largely forgotten, but a local historian will recall it in a talk to take place later this week. The shooting of Margaret Livingstone and its appalling aftermath is to be discussed in an online event hosted by Cavan County Council historian in residence Brendan Scott.
Margaret’s father, James Livingstone, owned a shop and post office in the townland between Killeshandra and Ballyconnell. His was one of a number of premises in the Ardlougher area raided by a gang of armed men on the night of June 18, 1922.
The date is significant. While the turbulence of the War of Independence had died down, the short lull was about to give way to a fresh upsurge in political violence. Just 10 days after Margaret’s shooting, Michael Collins would order his troops to retake the Four Courts from anti treaty forces, thereby signalling the start of the civil war.
Brendan views what happens in West Cavan in the context of a charged political atmosphere: “The civil war is about to start and what had been a unified republican force is beginning to splinter at this point into pro treaty and anti treaty. Things are obviously getting hot and heavy on the ground and people know what’s going to happen. So various groupings within the republican movement are seen to be getting themselves ready for the civil war they know is coming.”
Before arriving at the Livingstones’, the men had already seized weapons and ammunition from a number of houses in the Ardlougher area earlier that night. The religions of those targeted are not reported, but the surnames suggest they were likely protestant.
Arriving by car, the seven men, demanded James Livingstone hand over his guns. Reluctant to let them into his house, James began passing his few weapons out through the window.
“While this is going on, their daughter Margaret Livingstone, who is 14, looks out one of the top windows of the house to see what’s going on, at which point fellas on the road start firing shots and one of the bullets hits Margaret in the head, killing her instantly.
“Her stepmother Mary was standing next to her at the window and it was just a fluke it hit Margaret and didn’t hit Mary. It was a dreadful occurrence.”
After the shooting the men made good their escape. What prompted them to shoot, had they intentionally shot Margaret, or was it a mistake are questions that all remain unanswered.
Brendan notes it was dark, and says: “We don’t know what the thinking was. I’m assuming they could see it was a girl at the window, but maybe they couldn’t. No one was ever arrested or charged with this.”
The Free State is established so it was “IRA authorities” who arrived from Ballyconnell, Killeshandra, Belturbet to investigate the matter.
“A lot of people around the area are saying we’ve got clues and we’re going to find out who did this, but it never gets any further than that.”
Who the men were or where they came from also remains unknown.
Brendan paraphrases one of the gun men who says ‘We’re after coming a long way for these weapons’. Margaret’s father, James says in a report he files that the men are not masked, but he doesn’t know them.
“There could be two things there,” Brendan surmises. “He might know who they are but is afraid of further reprisals, or he genuinely doesn’t know who they are. But, if he doesn’t know who they are, how do they know who he is, so they must have local knowledge of some kind because they know which houses to target. So if they’re not from the local areas, someone from the local area is helping them.
“The inquest is reported verbatim in the Celt and it makes for really gruesome reading – the means of her death, so it must have been a dreadful thing for them to see.
“Her stepmother was supposed to go to the inquest but was ‘in a state of prostration’ is the line that’s used, and she can’t go. She’s obviously in shock.”
Margaret’s death is apparently received with widespread disgust. According to the Celt “condemned by all creeds and classes”.
“It goes down very very badly in the locality,” says Brendan. “The law keepers, the clergy, they would be the big pillars of society, and they’re very much coming down in condemnation – the Celt very much takes that line as well. But of course that’s not necessarily representative of what certain people on the ground think.”
So the Livingstone family have cruelly lost their daughter, and no one is brought to justice meaning Margaret’s killer is walking free. The Cavan family’s misery is further compounded however.
“After that, just to rub salt to the wounds for the family, they are boycotted,” says Brendan.
“They have lost their child and they very nearly lose their business as well.”
He notes it only took one person to put up a boycott notice against a local business at that time, adding: “It was an intimidation thing as well as a financial penalty. If you saw a notice up with your name saying - ‘No one go near this business’ - you would think ‘Oh God’,” he says in a dejected tone. “So it’s a stronger thing than people just not coming into your business.”
The Celt wonders how Brendan can reconcile the widespread condemnation of the killing and subsequent boycott by the community.
“All you need is one person to put up a boycott notice and then most people will follow it for fear of what will happen if they don’t follow it.
“It’s hard to tell from this distance what the feeling on the ground is,” he concedes.
The Irish Grants Committee, a body based in England, compensated former British subjects - people who suffered loss during this revolutionary period. In their application for financial help to the committee, James Livingstone said their business was just about surviving.
“It obviously makes it slightly easier, but no compensation can make up for the loss of their child.
“It was one of those really dreadful stories, there’s no good comes of it,” says Brendan of the ordeal.
“They still have family in the area,” Brendan says of the Livingstones. “In fact some of the family still live in that house and they have been very supportive towards me in my research of this and I really appreciate that.”
Brendan notes that many other deaths from this turbulent period are remembered, but Margaret Livingstone’s killing was “lost to history”. Through his talk, Brendan aims to remedy that.
“We should remember the death of a young child, who died before her time through absolutely no fault of her own – we should remember those things.”
The online talk will be posted on Thursday, June 23 from 7.30pm on both the Cavan Library Services and Cavan County Council’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The talk is supported by the Cavan County Council’s Decade of Centenaries programme.