Kilkenny Families in the Great War (1914-18)

The surname Nixon was for long associated with the Inistioge-Thomastown area and later with the parish of Ballyragget.

The surname Nixon was for long associated with the Inistioge-Thomastown area and later with the parish of Ballyragget.

One family of Nixons who settled at Brownsbarn near the bridge of that name, are believed to have been Cromwellian planters who came to Kilkenny in the wake of the Confederation War, when they were granted land here. They lived in a house which was subsequently replaced by the existing Deane & Woodward house at Brownsbarn. The Nixons sold Brownsbarn c. 1830 by which time a younger son of the family, Hewetson ‘Blind’ Nixon, son of Mr. John Nixon of Brownsbarn, who lived at Shamrock Lodge, near Thomastown was a well-known follower of the Kilkenny Hunt which had been founded in 1797 by Sir John Power of Kilfane. An account of a day’s hunt of c. 1820 which was written down in 1870 includes the following Nixon reference:

‘The young Guv’enor [John Power 2nd Bart] rode Watty; Sir Wheeler-staunch rock-

Rode a tight horse, a son of the famed Hollyhock.

Big Bayly, on Giant, made two giants there,

Yet his eyes and his head they were felt everywhere;

Young Cooke,[of Kiltinan] on his grey, from Kiltinan, did well;

These, with Fowler [Rev. Luke Fowler of Freshford] and Watson,[John of Ballydarton] all met at Dunbell.

Time was up, “into covert,” and clear through they go ;

“Not at home,” said Sir John [Power]; ‘twas thought it was so.

We were leaving in groups, but Blind Nixon said “No!”

Blind men’s poems and travels we cannot deny,

But a blind forward horseman was rare to the eye.

“There’s a hound still in covert” said Nixon; “he’s here!”.

What the blind want in sight they make up in the ear.

This was recorded and published by Major J. H. Connellan of Coolmore who is believed to be the author of the ‘Memoir of the Kilkenny Hunt’ which was published in 1897.

This account also tells us that ‘Blind’ Nixon who had imperfect sight since birth but who became totally blind at twelve years, was nevertheless during his whole life able to ride about the country and rode to hounds accompanied by friends or a boy who undertook to pilot him and who called out the fences as he neared them during a run. ‘Blind’ Nixon hunted for a great many years. He was considered, in the days when veterinary surgeons were a rarity, to be an excellent judge of horseflesh.

The Nixon family relocated to Cloone House, near Ballyragget, where they remained until about 1917 when the head of the family, Major-General Arundel James Nixon of the Royal Artillery sold up and removed to England where the family settled at ‘The Gables’, Fife Road, East Sheen in Surrey. Three of Major-General Nixon’s sons served in the Great War.

When I was growing up, Brownsbarn was owned by the Shores, descendants of a Sir John Shore, 1st Baron Teignmouth, an East India Company man who had made good. His family a couple of generations later intermarried with the Marshes of West Jerpoint, Thomastown. ‘Freddie’ the last Lord Teignmouth sold the house in the late 1970s. His widow subsequently returned to England where she had originally met her husband who was a high fashion tailor. The couple had no children. The house still stands.

Until very recently the Nixon surname was also to be found in the environs of the village of Inistioge: one family farmed an area of Kilcross known locally as Dreimise bwee, (otherwise Dréimire buí, a yellow steep hill) while cousins were millers in Kilcross. A field in Kilcross bears the name ‘Garrai Nixon’. My maternal grandfather, Andrew Hogan of Ballyvoole, Inistioge, had through his Ryan mother a Nixon descent, deriving from a George Nixon, alive c. 1800, who lived at Dreimse bwee, which also bordered the townland of Ballygallon. In relatively recent times the Nixon farm was inherited by the Bookles of Brownsbarn, Thomastown. Other Nixon descendants around Inistioge include members of the Ashe, Griffin, Lee, Meany, Noonan, Power, Ryan & O’ Donnell families to name but a few. One would suppose that the George Nixon, a farmer, was a member of the Brownsbarn family ; perhaps he or his father had gone native by intermarrying with a local Catholic girl hence the Catholic faith of their Nixon and other descendants. The Nixons of Brownsbarn were buried inside the old church at Famma and here we can still see their tombs and other memorials.

Arundel James Nixon, the future major-general, entered the army in 1868. In 1876 he married Maria Lucy Lawrence of Monmouthshire. By 1902-5 he was head of the School of Gunnery. In 1906 he was appointed to command the RA at Gibralter which post he held until his retirement in 1910. When the Great War broke out he as a JP for the County of Kilkenny, became involved in the recruiting programme for the army. He was also a significant contributor both financially and in kind to the Red Cross war effort, particularly so to the hospital at Dublin Castle. His sons, James, Ernest and Gerrard Nixon all saw service during the war.

James Arundel Nixon the eldest son, who was born in November 1879, joined the army after attending Wellington College and Sandhurst. He saw service during the Boer War with the King’s Own Regiment. He was wounded in action at Spion Kop. In April 1902 he became a captain, while three years later he married the Hon. Joan Burdett, 3rd daughter of the 5th Baron Latymer (Mooney-Coutts). By the 23 August 1914 he had arrived in France. He was wounded in action at Le Cateau on 26 August 1914. In March 1915 he was appointed brigade-major with the Ulster Division. Subsequently he did well rising to the rank t/Lt. Col when he was given command of the Royal Lancashire Regiment. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the DSO in June 1916. At the end of the war he reverted to the rank of major. He went on to command in India until his retirement in 1927 when he returned to England, living in Essex. He died in January 1950.

Ernest John Nixon the second son of Major-General Nixon was born at Cloone House in 1885. After Cheltenham College and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he began the war as an ADC to General Sir John Nixon, GOC of the Southern Army, India. It is not known if the latter was a relation. By November 1914 Captain Nixon had arrived in Mespotamia where he was seconded to the 30th Native Mountain Battery. He was involved in the various engagements in the advance against the Turks up the Tigris. In August 1915 he was reappointed ADC to General Nixon who was by then commanding the Indian Corps in the same theatre of operations. In April 1916 he was awarded a Military Cross and by the same month had been mentioned in dispatches by Generals Gorringe and Towsend. In September 1917 he was again mentioned in dispatches for a third time when he received the DSO. In November 1917 he was appointed a major. The French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre in November 1918. In that same year he married Beatrice Payne-Gallwey. After the war he saw service in Upper Burma and later in Egypt. He outlived his elder brother James Arundel Nixon (died 1950) by nineteen years.

The third and last son of Major-General Nixon to serve in the war was 1/Lt. Gerrard Ferrers who was born c. 1891, probably at Cloone House. In October 1910 aged twenty-three years he joined the Royal Field Artillery. He had arrived in France by 20 August 1914 with the 129th Howitzer Battery in the XXXth Brigade, RFA, 3rd Division. He took part in the Battle of La Bassée in late October 1914 in the vicinity of Fauquissart & Neuve Chapelle, in which the Division Artillery prevented troops of the attacking German 6th Army coming to close quarters with their own infantry. He was killed in this action on 25 October 1915. He lies buried in the Royal Irish Rifles graveyard (111.I.16, Leventie, France. His name is recorded on the Memorial Porch at St. Canice’s Cathedral. Like his relation, the Blind Nixon he had been a keen sportsman and had been a well-known follower of the Kilkenny Hounds.

The Kilkenny Moderator and the Kilkenny Journal followed the careers of all three Nixon sons during the course of the war. A number of the Inistioge Nixons emigrated to the USA so it is entirely possible that some might have joined the American army and fought.

Above I mentioned Major James H. Connellan of Coolmore, whose only son Major Peter Martin Connellan, a career soldier with the Hampshire Regiment, his father’s old regiment, was killed in action on 20 October 1914. Peter Martin Connellan had been born at Sale, Cheshire where his father was then stationed but when he was three the family moved back to Ireland where the family rented the Ballyduff demesne from the Winters Estate. Subsequently the family moved into Coolmore when Peter’s grandfather – also Peter - died in 1886. Peter attended Harrow (1895-98) and then went to Sandhurst, after which he was commissioned a 2/Lt on 8 January 1901. He was soon posted to India after which he saw service in Aden. In 1909 he was awarded the Royal Humane Society medal for saving the life of a fellow soldier from drowning. In 1911 he married Miss Winifred Niblett and set up home in Winchester where his regiment was then stationed. By 23 August 1914 he was in France while his wife had travelled to Ireland to live at Coolmore. He was promoted to the rank of major on 7 September 1914 and placed in command of 1st Battery for two weeks after which he was second in command, yet retained actual command of C Company. On 20 October 1914, in an action just south of Houplines a fragment of a shell pierced his neck and lodged in the spinal column, killing him within minutes. He was buried in Pont-de-Nieppe Communal Cemetary France, grave 1.B.2. He was subsequently mentioned in dispatches for actions at Caudry.

Three of his first cousins, all grandsons of Major Peter Connellan of Coolmore died during the war. 2/Lt. Percy Francis Gethin, 2nd son of Captain George Gethin (20th Regiment) of Holywell, Co. Sligo, by his wife Maisie Connellan, was killed in action on 28 June 1916. Percy, a gifted landscape painter, book illustrator and etcher, who had studied briefly at South Kensington, London and then under Mouat Loudon at Westminister School of Art and later still at Atelier Colorossi, Paris, could because of his age have avoided service. At the outbreak of the war he left his teaching post at the Central School of Arts & Crafts and joined the London Regiment, subsequently transferring to the 3/Devonshire Regiment. His brother Randolph George Gethin also saw service with the SIH and later with the 4/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Their younger brother Reginald Owen Gethin had lost his life during Plumer’s march to the Relief of Mafeking in December 1899 during the Boer War. Major Roger Cecil Slacke, a son of Sir Owen Slacke by his 2nd wife, Fanny Connellan, a veteran of Somaliland & Aden Hinterland Campaigns, who was attached to the 2nd battalion of The Queens (Royal West Surreys) was killed in action on 16 May 1915 leaving a widow and one child. A half-brother, Captain Charles O. Slacke, 14/Royal Irish Rifles lost his life in action on 1 July 1916. He was subsequently buried in Connaught Cemetary, grave IV.A.9, Thiepval, France.

Captain Henry Desmond O’ Hara, 1/Royal Dublin Fusiliers the only son of William O’ Hara RM of Ballincollig, Co. Cork by his wife Cecilia Connellan, died of wounds on 29 August 1915. Desmond O’ Hara had been gazetted a Lt in April 1914. During the landings at Sed-el-Bahr, on 25 April 1915, then still a Lt., he took command of the remnant of his battalion, all the officers except him being killed-in-action or wounded-in-action, and for this gallantry in restoring the battalion’s broken line and leading a successful counter-attack was awarded the DSO . He was wounded-in-action at the Dardanelles and died aboard the hospital ship Arcadian which was then near Gibralter, where he was subsequently buried.

These four grandsons of Major J. H. Connellan are commemorated in stained glass windows at Inistioge and in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. These were not the only grandsons to serve others of the Gethin, Slacke and Preston (Viscounts Gormanston – 3 brothers all of whom survived) also served but these four men paid the ultimate price for their service. The window at St. Canice’s is particularly charming and has the coats of arms of all four men in brass and enamel. The Teignmouths too lost a son: Commander Lionel Henry of the Royal Navy lost his life during the one big sea battle of the Great War at Jutland on 31 May 1916. His uncle, Frederick William John Shore, 4th Lord Teighmouth and his wife, Anne Louisa Connellan were then living at Ballyduff House which they leased from her brother