08 Aug 2022

Kilkenny families in the Great War

The project to document the men and women of Kilkenny who were involved in the Great War (1914-1918) began in 1995. Since then over 3000 men and women who were Kilkenny natives, or who lived for considerable periods of their lives in Kilkenny, have been documented. Over 400 men lost their lives. The vast majority of these people were in the armed services but we also have nurses, doctors, clergy, medical orderlies, and indeed references to Kilkenny families who migrated to Britain to work in the munitions industry, some of whom lost their lives during the course of this often hazardous work.

The project to document the men and women of Kilkenny who were involved in the Great War (1914-1918) began in 1995. Since then over 3000 men and women who were Kilkenny natives, or who lived for considerable periods of their lives in Kilkenny, have been documented. Over 400 men lost their lives. The vast majority of these people were in the armed services but we also have nurses, doctors, clergy, medical orderlies, and indeed references to Kilkenny families who migrated to Britain to work in the munitions industry, some of whom lost their lives during the course of this often hazardous work.

Almost every surname which one finds to-day in Kilkenny is represented : Anthony, Aylward, Bannan, Barron, Barry, Beehan,Bergin, Blanchfield, Bolger,Bourke (also Burke), Boyd, Bradley, Brannigan, Brennan, Breen, Brett, Brophy, Brown, Bryan, Byrne, Cahill,Callaghan, Campion, Cantwell, Carroll, Casey, Cass, Clarke, Coady (or Cody), Collins, Comerford, Connolly,Coogan, Costelloe, Cuddihy, Cullen, Cummins,Curran etc., all the way down through the alphabet.

As you would expect the men and women of the ‘Big House’ are amongst the officer class, such as George Butler, Lord Ossory , subsequently 5th marquess of Ormonde who died in 1949. His brother Arthur, who won the Military Cross, is also here (photograph). The latter is best remembered now as the Lord Ormonde who gave the Castle and twenty acres of parkland to the people of Kilkenny.

All classes, creeds and political persuasions are represented. William King Carew, who was born in Kilkenny city in 1872 was a major with the Royal Army Medical Corps. His brother, Captain Carew, who was in the Mercantile Marine Service, lost a leg while serving in the Suez Canal area. Their uncle was the scholar-Nationalist John O’ Leary of Graiguenamanagh, who is the great-uncle of Olivia O’Leary who needs no introduction.

We have men who in their day were well-known internationally – the stars of their day - such as the early aviator Denys Corbett Wilson who lived at Damerstown near Jenkinstown for many years. He was to loose his life on 10 May 1915. He was arguably the first man to fly across St. George’s Channel from England landing at Crane Co. Wexford in January 1912.

Ordinary men of Kilkenny are the most numerous as you would expect. Michael Dunphy, a local government employee, who was born in Mooncoin in 1886, served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, ending up with the rank of captain. He returned home and in 1922 joined the Free State army and was military adviser to the Chief of Staff, General Michael Collins: he was present at the taking over of the Beggars Bush Barracks from the Crown Forces and was subsequently appointed to the Curragh command. He was associated during his career with both General Mulcahy and General Eoin O’ Duffy.

Another local man, one with Local Authority associations was Patrick Fewer again from Mooncoin, where he was born c. 1885. Patrick served in the Royal Field Artillery. He subsequently worked for Kilkenny County Council for many years.

Patrick Hayden a Kilkenny city man served long enough to receive a pension for life. He joined the Free State army during the Civil War. He was associated too with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Later he became a ‘Blue Shirt’ and was involved in organising the Irish Brigade which General Eoin Duffy took to Spain. He was for a time a member of Kilkenny Corporation. One of his colleagues on the corporation noted that he added ‘a good deal of piquancy’ to meetings of the Corporation which after his resignation were often ‘dry as dust’. He died at his home in Lord Edward St. in 1943.

John Halloran is another Kilkenny man who served but he too was actively involved with the fight for Irish freedom. John, was born in the city but lived most of his life in Hugginstown. After the Great War he was an active leader in the Hugginstown Company of the 7th Bn (Callan) Flying Column, Kilkenny Brigade of the IRA. He was arrested and imprisoned for a time.

Patrick Horan of Callan is yet another figure in our study who joined the Free State army which he did in March 1923. Patrick, with a Lt. Thomas Jones of Dublin, a Sgt. O’ Gorman from the city and a Pte Croke were abducted by anti-Treaty forces in Co Wexford, taken to Adamstown, where the first two men were executed that same day by machine gun.

James Kelly from Callan is yet another veteran who saw active service in the War of Independence: he served with the Ahenure Company of the 7th Bn (Callan) Flying Column, Kilkenny Brigade. After the Truce he served as a Free State army drill instructor but during the Civil War he sided with the anti-Treaty forces. He eventually joined the Gardai Siochana and was stationed at Ballingarry for many years. Upon retirement he moved to Mooncoin where he owned his own grocery store.

One who actively opposed the fight for Irish freedom was Cyril Francis Fleming who lived at Grennan, Thomastown with his wife from whom he obtained a divorced in 1922 in the local courts. Fleming had originally entered the RIC but after the war was a London based recruiter for both the Black & Tans and the Auxilaries.

We have a Private Patrick Hogan of the Leinster Regiment, who was sentenced to death for desertion in 1916 which sentence was later commuted to five years penal servitude which was later suspended. The poor man was undoubtedly suffering from shell shock a condition not readily recognised. He was lucky in his commanding officer.

Then we have Bat Hackett, whose father Dr. Hacket was a well-known Kilkenny figure. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the war and afterwards went into the Prisons Service. In November 1920 he had to witness the death by hanging of the young Republican, Kevin Barry. His brother the Rev William Hackett S.J., served as a chaplain in France under the Rev Germain Foch, a brother of the famed field marshall and as a priest befriended leaders of the Irish independence movement notably Padraig Pearse, Thomas McDonagh and Erskine Childers. He attempted too to mediate the split between Collins and De Valera which led to his own transfer to Australia, as it was judged by his superiors that he was getting too politically involved. His brother, Edmond, emigrated to the USA where he was the first director of Yale University Press.

Others of the middle classes too are represented :Denis A. Hayes who was a teacher at St Kieran’s College, prior to the war. He was to die in action on 9 July 1916. Tommy Duggan, a son of Richard Duggan, of the Monster House was yet another from this group who lost his life. William Heffernan of Patrick St., also fought and died. The Rev Thomas Crotty is also here. He was sent as a chaplain by the Holy See to minister amongst the ranks of the Irish POW’s in Germany. He became involved with Sir Roger Casement. Other well-known city families such as the McCreerys were also represented.

Another interesting case is John Patrick Hurley, a Callan man who emigrated to the USA before the war. He received his secondary school education in St Kieran’s College and went into the seminary where he advanced to the stage of taking Minor Orders, before changing his mind and emigrating. He joined the American army and saw service in France. In 1923 he was awarded the DSC for extraordinary heroism – after receiving gun shot wounds to leg and chest - he continued to advance on a machine gun nest and successfully captured or killed its crew. Hurley was characterised by American friends as ‘an argument for the continued existence of the Irish as a people and compared him to Padraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and Thomas McDonagh.’

On a more humorous level we have the case of Patrick Holden from Castlecomer who joined the Royal Irish Regiment & ended up a sergeant. He was a POW at Limburg. Later he was moved to Giessen camp in which he was the sole Castlecomer man. He used an ingenious code to evade the censor when writing home saying that it was a long time since he had seen Mike Dwyer or Martin Comerford but that he saw Tommy Moran every day since coming to Giessen. The recipient knew that Mike Dwyer & Martin Comerford were local butchers, while Tommy Moran was the district contractor for supplying kennels with carrion. All three wisely stayed at home in Castlecomer.

There are many stories to tell from the research. One of the saddest occurred to a Whelan family: father and son were serving in the same regiment and on duty in the same sector. The father raised his head to light a cigarette only to have it blown off and this was seen by his son, who that same day lost his own life. We have too the story of a Paddy Kirwan (no relation) who joined the army, transferred to the Air Force then newly formed, became a sergeant-instructor, survived the war only to drown in the King’s river on the way home from the Callan Fair, where he had perhaps over indulged. We have too the sad story of a young Goresbridge family whose mother was dead, the father away in the trenches & the eldest daughter aged all of eight years, was left to do ‘mother’. The family ended up in care when it was discovered that she and they were going hungry and ill-kept. The eldest girl was taken to court and charged with cruelty. Victims of the war too!

Sgt. William Barry of Kilkenny city – killed in action & the Rev Thomas (James) Crotty of the Dominican Order, chaplain.

One of the earliest (if not the earliest) Kilkenny men to die in action, on the front was Sgt. William Barry, of the Royal Irish Regiment, who was born at Butt’s Green in St. Canice’s parish,in October 1881, the son of Patrick Barry. What do we know of this man? Quite a lot as his military record survives at the National Archives at Kew, London. He was killed on or about 19 October 1914 within days of his 33rd birthday. The war, which was to be over by Christmas was then in its second month.

William Barry commenced his military career on 5 April 1899, when he joined the 5th Battalion – known as the Kilkenny Militia - of the Royal Irish Regiment, on 5 April 1899. We know from his record that he was then 17 years & six months old and was assigned the military service number of 2523. He was a little over 5’4” tall, weighed 112 lbs ( 8 stone) and had a chest size of a little over 32”.So he was a small light teenager who had probably suffered from a poor diet all his young life. At the time of his enlistment he had been employed as a labourer by a Mr. Smithwick, a Kilkenny businessman. His service record goes on to tell us that he had a fresh complexion, grey eyes with brown hair and that he was a Roman Catholic.

William was mobilised for the Boer War on 11 May 1900 & became a lance-corporal on 19 September 1900. In early December 1902 he married Margaret Kerwick, a daughter of Patrick Kerwick of Goose Hill at St. Canice’s Church. The couple subsequently set up home at Goose Hill. On 7 June 1905 he became a sergeant. In late July 1908, his service time being up he re-enlisted for six years with the colours at Tipperary during the annual Summer training camp. The war broke out on 4 August 1914 ; next day he was mobilised & by the 7 October 1914, he was in northern France. On 19 October his battalion attacked the Germans near the village of Le Pilly during which, or next day, when the Germans counter attacked, he went missing in action. His battalion had gone to the front on 19 October with 20 officers and 884 men, but by 21 October, there was only one 2Lt & 135 men to answer the roll call. Disastrous losses which were to occur over and over again during the following four years of war.

On 30 December Margaret Barry - his widow though she did not know it - got a friend to write to the War Office, as she had not heard from her husband for eight weeks. On 16 July 1915 she again wrote, this time seeking confirmation of her husband’s death of which she had been notified by a ‘Fr Crotty’ in a postcard, which told her that her husband had been killed in action on 20 October 1914. A lamentable record.

The ‘Fr. Crotty’ mentioned above was born James Crotty on 2 January 1867 at Main St., New Ross, where his parents, Martin & Ellen (née Rowan) Crotty lived, prior to moving to Kilkenny where he established a home and a business in Parliament St. To-day the bakery is a restaurant & enterprise centre while Reidy Insurance & Solicitors occupy the former Crotty home. James attended the local Christian Brothers National School before going onto St. Kieran’s College, for his secondary school education. In September 1884 he entered the Dominican Order at their main house, St. Mary’s in Tallaght, as a son of the convent of Kilkenny. He was ordained at San Clemente in Rome c. 1890-91. During the years 1892-7 he was on the staff of Newbridge College and had various other appointments before coming back to the Black Abbey, Kilkenny, as Prior for the years1902-5. Then it was back to Rome where he remained until 1914, when the Pope sent him on a mission to the Irish prisoners-of-war (POWs) who were then housed at Limburg-am-Lahn. During the years Fr Crotty spent at Limburg he was much loved by the Irish soldiers for his kindness & humanity unlike his fellow priest, Fr John Nicolson, a native Irishman from Philadelphia. Fr Tom (his name in religion) failed to promote Sir Roger Casement’s ‘Irish Brigade’. Subsequently it was claimed that he even obstructed Casement’s efforts to recruit Irish POWs to fight for Germany and its Axis allies against the Allied forces (chiefly France, Britain and Russia who were subsequently joined by Italy & Romania. The German authorities did not care for him and tried to have him recalled from Germany but influential German friends, notably a Prince von Blucher, a Prussian Protestant Junker (landowner), who saw to it that he remained at Limburg for the duration of the war. Furthermore, the German authorities accused him of being an English spy though he had come to Germany under the auspices of the Holy See. Fr Crotty regularly corresponded with the Kilkenny newspapers – the Kilkenny People and the Kilkenny Journal - through his brother the Rev Martin Crotty, a curate in Glenmore, giving them reports on the individual Kilkenny men who were prisoners. Unlike Sgt. Barry, Fr. Thomas survived the war and died Prior of Newry in the 1930s.

Other Kilkenny men held at Limburg included: Pte James Bourke R.Ir.Reg; Pte James Burke, Ir. Guards, Pte Joseph Brennan, S. Lancs., M. Brennan of Clara, D. Bryan (or O’ Brien) Kilkeny city, Butler of Booley, Pte James Byrne, R Ir Reg., Kilmacow, Pte James Campion, R.Ir. Reg., St. Mary’s parish, Christopher Carroll, R. Ir. Reg. St. John’s parish, Pte John Cody, R. Ir. Reg.,Ladywell, Thomastown, QMS Daniel J. Croake, R. Ir. Reg ., St. John’s, Pte Christopher Cummins, R. Ir. Reg., city, Pte John Curran, R.Ir. Reg., Castlecomer, Pte Danmiel Deevey, R. Ir. Reg., Castlecomer (see photo), Pte Edward Delaney, R. Ir. Reg.,city, Pat Delaney, R.Ir. Reg., city, Pte Martin Dermody, Leinster Reg.,Callan, Pte Martin Dooley, R. Ir. Reg.,Callan, Pte Thomas Dooley, R. Ir. Reg., Freshford, Pte William Dooley, R.Ir. Reg.,Freshford, Pte John Dormer, R. Ir. Reg., Castlecomer, Pte Ben Dowling, R. Ir. Reg.,St. Patrick’s, Pte Michael Dowling, R. Ir. Reg., city, Pte Michael Doyle, R. Dublin Fusiliers, city, Pte John Dullard, R. Ir. Reg., St. John’s, Pte John Dunne, S. Lancs Horse, city, John Fanning, Urlingford, F. Fennelly, Ballycallan, Pte Peter Gorey, R. Ir. Reg.,Thomastown, Pte John Grace, R. Ir. Reg., Kilmoganny, R. Grace, city, T. Grace,Urlingford, F. Halloran,Callan, Pte Patrick Hawe, R. Ir. Reg., Kilmoganny, Pat Hennessy R. Dublin Fusiliers, city, Pte William Hennessy, RDF.,city, Pat Hogan R.Ir. Reg.,St. John’s, Pte Thomas Hogan, Leinsters, city, Sgt. Patrick Holden, R. Ir. Reg., Castlecomer, Pte P. Kealy (or Keely) RMF.,city, Pte James Keeffe, R.Ir. Reg.,city, Pte Richard Kenna, R.Ir. Reg.,Urlingford and Pte Jack Kerwick (medal winner with Erin’s Own Hurling Club), R. Ir. Reg.,city. Most of these men survived and returned home but a few died during their years of imprisonment.

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