This week I would like to look at the Stapletons who served in the Great War. The surname is not a numerous surname in Kilkenny but it is one we are all familiar with. A Joseph Stapleton, who had I think connections with Callan, who was on the staff at The Tholsel in I think the 1970s and 1980s was the son of one of these men and a nephew of three others.
The first Stapleton is a James from the Gowran area where he was born about 1896. He was a brother to Patrick (b 1895), Matthew & Michael (b 1898) all four being sons of Martin Stapleton and his wife Anastatia Brennan, who were then living at Upper Grange, near Gowran village, which townland was also home to the Buggy family, the maternal ancestors of Ted Walsh and his son Ruby, the famous jump jockeys. The Buggys were the blacksmiths of the area and as a child I can remember visiting them and their forge. Martin & I think his sister Miss Peggy Buggy were full of stories of the long ago. But back to the Stapletons. The other children born to Martin & Anastatia Stapleton were: Patrick (b 1890, died young), Johanna (b 1892), John (b 1893), Anastatia ( b 1899), Mary (b 1904) and finally Mary Anne (b. 1909). All four sons who enlisted, survived the war, which is quite remarkable.
James (4077) entered the Leinster Regiment, while Patrick (6313) joined the Irish Guards but the regiment(s) into which Matthew & Michael enlisted are unknown to us. Patrick or ‘Paky’ who after the war married and lived in Gowran village, spent most of his working life with my grandfather, John Kirwan and his son, Daniel Kirwan, both of whom were National Hunt trainers of some note in their day. Paky or ‘the Master’ as he was known ran the yard, answerable only to the ‘Boss’ and was according to my sources a firm but fair man. On occasion when a stable-lad went AWOL, it was usually Paky who conducted the search and possibly administered the subsequent punishment! James after enlistment, had arrived in France by 10 August 1915 ; later he transferred to the Cl. Z Reserve. He was given the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. A set (lot 1040) such as this belonging to a Pte John Murphy (11045) of Kilkenny & the Connaught Rangers, was sold last month by Mealy’s Rare Books for €130. Before the war, Paky had started training as an apprentice gardener, possibly at Gowran Castle or with the Whites of Gowran House, who also had a son in the war. On 29 December 1914 Paky took the ‘King’s Shilling’ and was in France by 2 June 1915. In November 1916 The Kilkenny Moderator reported him wounded in action : a shrapnel wound to the left thigh and left kidney. He survived and like his brother James was transferred to the Cl. Z. Reserve. However that was not the end of his military career for on 4 February 1920 during ‘the Troubles’ he re-enlisted at Kilkenny for a further year. He was subsequently posted to the 47th Battalion of the RF in France and given a new regimental number G/142802 at which time his vital statistics were recorded as a little over 5’9”, 172 lbs and with a chest of over 36” ; he had afresh complexion, brown eyes and black hair. We have a photograph of him from the 1950s with Nellie Brannigan (née Kirwan) my aunt who is the grandmother of my cousin and colleague in this project, Niall R. Brannigan, who currently works in the Pentagon, Washington. Paky was finally discharged at London from the army on 16 October 1920 when he returned to live in Gowran. Like his brother James he got the usual three campaign medals. Paky and his wife had no children. He died suddenly in the early 1960s. He was not an old man.
The next chap is a Michael Stapleton who was from Ballyragget area where he was born about 1886. His mother, Mary Stapleton was living at the Fair Green, Ballyragget, and had at least three other children : James, John & Mary. On 25 April 1908, aged 22 years, Michael enlisted for eight years with the Colours and for four years with the Reserve. He was a much bigger man than Paky Stapleton being over 5’10” tall, weighed 182 lbs and had a chest size of 41”. The army recorded him as having a fresh complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair and had a one-inch long scar on his forehead. Following two months of training at Portsmouth he was posted to 49th Company of the RGA. During his years with the army he attained (1910) a 1st Class Certificate of Education. On 19 June 1914 before the war had started, he was posted to Sierra Leone where he landed by 1 July 1914. Here he remained until 31 October 1915 when he was posted back to the UK. He arrived in France 27 April 1916 where he was appointed a/Bdr. In January 1918 he was admitted to hospital with nephritis (kidney disorder) and was subsequently invalided to the UK where he had arrived by early February. He was finally discharged as physically unfit on 4 December 1918 by which time the war had ended. He was given the British War Medal and Victory Victory medal but not the 1914/15 Star, which is often called the ‘Mons Star’.
The next man is another Patrick Stapleton again from Ballyragget but apparently not a sibling of Michael. This Patrick (8649) joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. He had arrived in France by 13 August 1914 and was at Limburg Prisoner of War (POW) Camp in Germany by February 1915 together with fellow Ballyragget man, J. Rodgers. He survived the war and was given the usual trio of medals. The Kilkenny People of 6 February 1915 carried the report on him which told his relatives that he was a POW with other Kilkenny men. The J. Rodgers just mentioned was Pte James Rodgers (3966) of the Royal Irish regiment, who later transferred to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (58036) who served until 1921, when he was discharged.
Patrick Stapleton from Callan is our next man, where he was born c. 1873. On 10 February 1891 having seen service with the Kilkenny Militia, he enlisted at Kilkenny for seven years with the Colours and for five years with the Reserve. By September 1898 he was in India, where he passed the mounted infantry course at Mhow on 31 July 1899. He extended his service while stationed at Kamptu to complete twenty-one years with the colours. He was back in India by 20 January 1905. While stationed at Rawalpindi he was convicted of leaving his guard post and being drunk for which he was sentenced to 56 days detention (21 days were later remitted) ; he had attained a 3rd Class Certificate of Education by 3 August 1910. He arrived in France by 19 December 1914 and was subsequently posted to Salonika in Greece where he was by 27 November 1915. He survived the war but only just and died at Callan on 8 August 1920, possibly as a result of war injuries. Reference to Callan brings to mind the late Patrick ‘Patsy’ Hogan, a publican for many years, who in the early days of my research shared all the material he had collected on the Great War men from Callan and surrounds. Patsy was a lovely man to meet and chat with and he and his wife, who provided tea and ‘eats’ were welcoming and generous.
Our last Stapleton was a Thomas of the Royal Navy who hailed from Thomastown. When he enlisted at Davenport on 26 August 1915 he gave his occupation as steel worker, no doubt like thousands of other Irishmen he had had to emigrate to get a job. He signed up for the duration of the hostilities. Thomas transferred to the torpedo boat depot ship HMS Dido in November 1915. He survived the war and was demobbed on 8 March 1919 and was paid a war gratuity.
Earlier in this article I mentioned the Buggys of Upper Grange near Gowran and as a result I would like to mention here the one Buggy soldier amongst our findings. He was Gunner James Buggy of the RGA (7458) who was from Kilkenny city. This James was born c. 1880 and had seen three years service with the Royal Irish Regiment (16361) and later with the RGA when was invalided out on 20 April 1905. His wife, the former Miss Elizabeth Bowe (married in St. John’s Church 7/1/1907) lived in Maudlin St which place supplied many young men for the army during the war. James was still living in Maudlin St. when he re-enlisted at Kilkenny for the duration of the war on 7 November 1915 when he declared his age to be thirty-five. He was duly posted to Dover but early in January 1916 he was discharged for medical reasons as unlikely to become an efficient soldier’. He rejoined his wife and son Patrick (born 1909) at Maudlin St., where he died on 18 April 1916.
I made reference above to the White Family of Gowran, who had a son serving in the Great War. He was Aubrey Cecil White, 2nd son of Richard P. White and his wife, Anna Marie née Croly of Gowran House, which house still stands at the top of Gowran village street almost opposite the entrance gates to Gowran Castle. Richard P. White was the agent for a number of estates in the area, notable the Clifden/Annaly estates. Aubrey gained a commission in the York & Lancashire Regiment. He had just left school, Trent College in Derbyshire, when he enlisted on 6 October 1914. He arrived in France on 28 December 1915 and by the 1 July 1916 he was reported as missing in action. Several soldiers testified to his death but his body was not found. On the 24 September 1916 the War Office sent a telegram to his mother back in Gowran confirming his death which they said had occurred while leading his platoon near Blighty Wood during the Battle the Somme. On 6 November 1916, of the International Red Cross Geneve, : ‘I saw 2/Lt White drop and me and Pte Woodhouse dragged Sgt. Janes (sic) of his platoon into the shell-hole where he was and he muttered “White was outed” and we saw someone hit full with a shell but did’nt recognise who it was...’ Officially White was killed on 1 July 1916. Memorial stained glass windows were erected to his memory in Gowran Parish Church (CoI) and at St. Canice’s in Kilkenny. A fine article on 2/Lt. White was published some years ago in the Old Kilkenny Review, complete with illustrations.