Medals of Honour, Victoria Crosses, Kilkenny’s military history

THere have been recipients of the Medal of Honour and the Victoria Cross, they have fought in South Africa, Korea and even in Arizona and what they had in common is that they all came from Kilkenny.

THere have been recipients of the Medal of Honour and the Victoria Cross, they have fought in South Africa, Korea and even in Arizona and what they had in common is that they all came from Kilkenny.

Lt Scallon from James Stephens Barracks has chronicled the participation of Kilkenny men and women in wars around the world since the first militia made up of 460 volunteers was formed in Kilkenny in 1793. The Kilkenny militia first saw action in the 1798 rebellion when they fought against the French and the Irish in Castlebar.

It is the individual stories that stood out from Lt Scallon’s presentation to the county council.

The first Kilkenny man to receive the Victoria Cross was John Byrne from Castlecomer. The victory cross is the highest award bestowed on soldiers by the British or Commonwealth armies. In 1854 Pvt John Byrne was serving in the Crimean war when he bravely risked his own life to save an army comrade. For his efforts he was awarded the VC.

The first man ever to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross was Walther Richard Pollock Hamilton from Inistioge. Pollock Hamilton was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts in defending a fort in Kabul in Afghanistan.

Kilkenny men didn’t only serve in British armies. At least one Kilkenny man has received the Congressional Medal of Honour for fighting against Indians in Arizona. Private Patrick Burke who was born in Kilkenny in 1835 joined the US army in Vallejo, California. He was a farrier in the US cavalry. For his bravery in action on August 13 and October 31 1868, near the Black Mountains in Arizona Pvt Burke was awarded the Medal of Honour. The citation for his award states “Bravery in scouts and actions against Indians.”

Lt Scallon reckons that about 150 Kilkenny soldiers left to serve in the Boer War in what is now South Africa in 1900, but this number pales into insignificance when the number of Kilkenny men who served in WWI. John Kirwan and Lt Scallon both believe that over 1,000 people from Kilkenny served in the great war with between 470-500 of them never to return. Lt Scallon pointed out during his presentation that some of the men who died in the WWI haven’t been mentioned since due to the political climate up until recently.

A significant number of Kilkenny men such as the Clough Volunteers answered James Redmond’s call to fight in WWI for Irish home rule. Lt Scallon showed the council copies of Irish recruitment posters from WWI which he said never featured flags. The Irish recruitment posters emphasised the comraderie of the Army.

There is a dark side to Kilkenny’s military past as well. Two locals John Phelan and John Murphy were both executed by the 26-County Government in Kilkenny Jail, 29 December 1922.

These are some of the men and women that Kilkenny Borough Council is planning on honouring with a memorial to all Kilkenny men and women who have served in wars.