Amongst the memorabilia collected for the Great War project is a memorial document which relates to the family of Patrick Phelan and his son Kieran who died within days of each other in May 1915 at the Front. (See illustration). This reads:
‘In Loving Memory of Patrick and Kieran Phelan, Walkin Street, Kilkenny. R.I.P.
Private Kieran Phelan [serial no. 64368] Walkin St., Kilkenny, who is attached to the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, writing from the trenches in Ypres to his sister – ‘I have sad news for you: my father has been killed. I was in the same trench with him – about five yards away from him. He stood up in the trench to light his pipe when he was shot – the bullet passing through his head. I buried him and put a little cross over this grave. I believe it was never known before of a father and son fighting in the same trench side by side.’ This occurred on 14 May 1915.
The war was by then some nine months old. Kieran had no doubt witnessed other deaths but the stunned shock of seeing his own father’s death comes through in the lines to his sister. The account continues:
‘Private K. Phelan is a young man of 21 years of age. He belonged to the 4th. Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, but on leaving for the Front, about eight months ago, was attached to the 2nd Battalion. His father, Private Patrick Phelan, [serial no. 6635] who had also been in the 4th. Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, rejoined his regiment at the outbreak of the war, and being attached to the 2nd Battalion, left for the Front with his son Kieran. Father and son fought side by side in every engagement in which the Battalion took part – sixteen in all – and came unscratched through all the recent fierce encounters, including Neuve Chapelle, St. Eloi and Hill 60. The late Private Phelan was a man of fine physique – a typical specimen of an Irishman – and much respected by all with whom he was acquainted.
We regret also to say that his son Kieran, which we state above, got wounded 2 days after his father had been killed and died from his wounds 3 days later.’ The latter death took place on 17 May 1915. The grave of the father did not survive the war but he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium, panel 33. Kieran lies buried at Hazebrouck Communal Cemetary, grave 11.A.1 Nord, France.
Twenty-five Phelans feature amongst the data collected for Kilkenny Families in the Great War. They are: L/Cpl Chris Phelan [serial no. 7805] who lived at Walkin St., with his mother, Johanna both before and after the war. Dr. R.E. Griffin of Kilkenny recommended him for a disability pension due to a dilated heart in November 1919. A medical board subsequently awarded him a 40% disability pension. Chris served in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. There are various references to him to be found in the Kilkenny Moderator in 1917 and 1918.
Gunner Daniel Phelan [serial no 50490] of the New Zealand Field Artillery is the next man of this surname. His father, Michael Phelan, lived near Carrick-on-Suir, but in Kilkenny county, He would appear to have survived the war.
Then we have a Pte Edward Phelan [serial no 5246] of Cuffesgrange of the Royal Irish Regiment but who later transferred to the Royal Engineers [serial no. 357885]. Next is J. Phelan, a veteran who after the war lived in a Soldier & Sailors’ cottage at Annamult. The house is still occupied by his descendants. We don’t have any further details of this man’s career not even his full name or the name of his regiment.
Pte James J. Phelan of Co. Kilkenny who initially served with the South Wales Borderers [serial no.17662] but who later transferred to the Labour Corps, regiment no. 602735. He survived the war and was transferred to the Reserve on 21 March 1919. The Irish Times carried a reference to him on 19 August 1916.
Another James Phelan [serial no 5441] this time from Bawn, Johnstown, is the next man on our list. He served with the 2nd battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. It would seem that he transferred to the Leinster Regiment. He too survived.
A third James Phelan [serial no 3180] from St. Patrick’s parish, Kilkenny city served and like the previous James was part of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. He was by trade a blacksmith who had served an apprenticeship of five years with his father. Subsequently he was employed by Messrs W. Lewis & Son of John St. We know quite a lot about this man: in appearance he was over 5’6” tall, 37” chest, 126 lbs, had grey eyes and black hair and was a Roman Catholic which was the religion of the vast majority of Kilkenny men who enlisted. He had a tattoo of ‘J.F.P.’ on the back of his right had. In June 1907 and again in August 1908 he overindulged on a night out and was drunk on return to barracks for which he was fined and sentenced for the 1907 offence to 168 hours detention. In 1897 he had married Miss Ellen Mahoney. Subsequently he left for S. Africa where he saw action during the Boer War. James arrived in France on 8 February 1915. On the 23 April following he was wounded at St. Julien, Belgium, dying there three days later. His wife Ellen, who had lived at New Bulding Lane in 1908, was at the time of his death living in Upper Walkin St., but she subsequently moved to Maddoxtown, just outside the city and then back to Upper Walkin Street. During her husbands absence from home she had received an allowance of 28/6 per week (including an allotment of 7/- from her husband’s pay. As a widow she was awarded a weekly pension of 23/- to house and feed herself and her three children. James Phelan’s will survives in the National Archives, Bishop St., Dublin 8 (Box 64/167585).
At least four John Phelan’s from Kilkenny served: the first [serial no 66652] was a shoeing smith from Troyeswood, who enlisted in the Royal Engineers and saw service mainly in the Middle East. He enlisted in Manchester to which he returned at the end of his service. In February 1919, a medical board qualified him for a 20% disability pension. He was discharged at Chatam 8 march 1919.
Then we have RSM John Whelan [serial no 5133] of the 96th Training Reserve Battalion (formerly of the South Wales Borderers) who was born in Kilkenny city 11 July 1865 but who seems to have been living in the Hampshire area when the war broke out. He only saw home service so no medals were issued to him.
The third John Phelan [serial no 1760] was from St. Patricks’s parish who before the war had served for five years with the S. Lancashire Regiment. He joined the Royal Irish Regiment for a time but was discharged at Fermoy in November 1914. His wife, Christina, née Jordan, gave birth to a son John, in Poyntz Lane, Kilkenny, on 28 August 1916, by which time he appears to have re-enlisted with another regiment.
The last John Phelan [serial no 6239] was from Gowran and appears to have been living in the UK for he enlisted at Aldershot for the Leinster Regiment. He was killed in action 20 October 1914. He is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Belgium.
Three Kieran Phelans are known from Kilkenny. The first Kieran was the son who witnessed his father’s death. The second Kieran [serial no 14254] was of St. Canice’s parish. He had joined the colours initially in March 1896, but before that he had been part of the 5th Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. He had a chequered army career and on a number of occasions deserted, only to fraudulently enlist in other regiments. At one stage he was promoted corporal so obviously had made good. He only saw home service and was finally discharged from the army as physically unfit in October 1918. He appears to have settled in Manchester. The last Kieran Phelan is but a name who was registered to vote as an army/navy man and was living at Foulkscourt, Johnstown, in October 1919.
Three Michael Phelans served. The first was Michael [serial no. 3/6913] from Kilkenny city, a coal heaver whose wife was Kate Joyce from St. Mary’s parish. He joined the Royal Irish Regiment. He had seen army service previously. He was finally discharged as physically unfit due to rheumatism and granted a military pension. He returned to his home at Liverpool where most of his children had been born.
The second Michael [serial no F18453] a joiner by profession was from Kilkenny, saw service before the war and in June 1916 he choose to join the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) for the duration of hostilities. He deserted the following October, was caught and sentenced to 90 days imprisonment with hard labour. He subsequently saw out his service which seems to have been in home waters only as no medals were issued to him.
The last Michael [serial no 25868] was a private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who was reported wounded in action by the Kilkenny Moderator on 29 November and 2 December 1916. He survived the war.
Five Patrick Phelan’s have been documented by the project including the Patrick [serial no. 6635] whose son Kieran witnessed his death in the trenches.
The first Patrick [serial no 7438] was a Castlecomer man who joined the army on 9 September 1902 when he was 18 year old. He saw service in S. Africa and later in India. He qualified to superintend the cooking for a battalion and later passed an exam in ambulance duties. His wife was a Lizzie Tobin, also from Castlecomer, whom, he married in November 1911. He and his battalion (2nd) of the Royal Irish Regiment were posted to France at the outbreak of the war but quite soon he was taken prisoner and spent much of the war at Limburg with other Castlecomer men: J. Curran, J. Dormer, J. Nolan (3 men of this name) and D. Deevy.
The second Patrick Phelan [serial no 4709] was a veteran from Kilkenny city who had seen service with the Royal Irish Regiment but was now with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
The third Patrick was the solder killed 14 May 1915 which was witnessed by his son Kieran.
The fourth Patrick Phelan [serial no 11660] was born in Lisdowney but subsequently lived in Freshford. He joined the Irish Guards. He qualified as a Lewis Gunner at the VI Corps Lewis Gun School 25 May 1918. He was finally demobbed in London and placed on the Reserve. His parents Luke & Kate Phelan lived at Graigueswood.
The last Patrick Phelan, was from the city and only saw home service but he had seen service in India for in February 1927 he applied for a duplicate of his India GSM w/ clasps for the Punjab Frontier 1897-98 and Samara 1897. His wife would appear to have been a Kate Leonard, who gave birth to a daughter in March 1918 at their Waterford Road home.
Finally we have two Thomas Phelans : the first [serial no unknown] was from Kilkenny city, but we know that his regiment was the Royal Irish. He was away from home when his wife, Hannah gave birth to a son on 19 June 1916 at their Chapel St., home. We have no other details for this man.
The second Thomas Phelan [serial no again unknown] was also from the city. Post war he resided at Jacob St., from where he wrote to the War Office, seeking the 1915 Star of his late father Private James Phelan, 2/Royal Irish Regiment, and in passing mentioned that he too was an ex-soldier with the Machine Gun Corps. He was then Hon. Secretary of the Kilkenny Branch of the British Legion, who together with Branch President, Owen Murphy (from the Walkin St., area) led a local British Legion contingent of about thirty veterans who attended the funeral of Myra O. McCreery in July 1937 : she had seen service in the war as a nurse.