Recently, (21 February 2015) Maynooth Local History Group hosted a series of talks and an exhibition in the Glenroyal Hotel in Maynooth on – ‘History, Memory & Commemoration – aspects of World War One, Ireland, Kildare & Maynooth’ . The purpose of the event was to remember or as one historian has put it ‘to rediscover’ the men and women who fought in World War One.
Maynooth Local History Group decided to use the symbol of the common herb Rosemary as a symbol of remembrance, instead of the poppy. The poppy became a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day (11 November) due to the World War One poem In Flanders Fields written by the Canadian physician and Lieut Col John McCrae after witnessing the death of a friend in May 1915.
Three years later in 1918 an American YWCA worker, Moina Michael, inspired by the poem vowed to wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who died in the war and campaigned to have it adopted as a national symbol of remembrance. The custom grew and at one stage poppies were sent to London and adopted by the Royal British Legion. It was also adopted by veterans’ groups in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In myths, Rosemary has a reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in parts of Europe and Australia. Mourners threw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for their dead. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet Ophelia says: “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” (Hamlet iv.5)
During the last ten years, in addition to the study of the course of the war itself, increased emphasis has been placed on individuals and groups and the part they played in the major events that took place in Ireland, Europe and elsewhere between the years 1914 and 1918. This has added a further dimension to the conflict – that of human experience.
Irish history, similar to the history of many other countries is a nuanced and complex subject. Family histories are also nuanced and complex, in that there can be many opposing opinions and many legitimate points of view.
In 1901, James Kent, a retired member of the Royal Irish Constabulary and an Irish speaker, was living with his daughter and four of his sons at Fairview Avenue in Clontarf in Dublin. One of his sons, Edward Thomas, then aged 19 worked as a clerk in Dublin Corporation. Another son, William had joined the British Army and had taken part in the Boer War in South Africa.
A search of the 1911 Census failed to locate Edward Thomas Kent. Then with a bit of lateral thinking, he was found. In 1911 Éamonn Ceannt is ‘Pósta’ (married) and is living in Kilmainham with his wife Áine (bean Éamonn Ceannt) and his son, Rónán aged 4, and is still working as a ‘cléireach’ (clerk). The census form is clearly written in beautiful Gaelic script. James Kent had passed on the love of the Irish language to his son.
As is now well known, Edward Kent became politically active and as Éamonn Ceannt, Commandant, 4th Battalion of the Irish Volunteers, was one of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation and was executed after the Rising. He was 34 years of age. He is remembered on the Memorial at Arbour Hill Cemetery in Dublin.
Sgt William Kent served with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in World War One. He was killed at Arras in northern France on 24 April 1917 – one year to the date after the Rising in Dublin. His age is not recorded. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial in Pas de Calais in France.
Irishmen, from the Middle Ages to the Vietnam War and to the present day have enlisted in overseas armies. Why did they join the British Army in 1914? We can only summarise.
1. Economic Reasons
2. Family Tradition
3. Peer Pressure
4. Joining ‘Pals’
5. Sense of Duty (Belgium)
6. Sense of Adventure
7. In the hope of consolidating Home Rule.
What may be less well-known is that in the final three months of World War One, from August to November 1918, c. 10,000 Irishmen voluntarily enlisted in the British Army. This was at a time (and almost two years after the Easter Rising of 1916) when the horrors attributed to an all-out ‘industrial war’ on a scale that had never before been experienced were well-known. What was their motivation?
With regard to World War One, when one examines the overall scale of deaths and casualties, numbers become meaningless. However, on a local scale, every town and village in Ireland was affected by the war. It is estimated that c. 600 from the county of Kildare died either during the war or afterwards from the effects of war. It is further estimated that c. twenty came from the town of Maynooth and surrounding area. They came from the town itself, including Parson’s Street, Greenfield and Buckley’s Lane. They came from Moyglare, Crewhill, Carton and Grangewilliam. These are the men who died. It is much more difficult to trace the names of those who survived. Any ‘list’ where World War One is concerned is not necessarily complete and is being updated on a continual basis.
The majority of those who died were young men in their 20s – young men without family responsibilities. This is evident from the fact that in the ‘Informal Wills’ that survive and which are available to view online at the National Archives in Dublin, many of the young wrote, in pencil, “In the event of my death I give the whole of my property and effects to my mother …”
Where are these young men remembered? When the war was over they were of course, remembered by their families, friends and neighbours. If we are to take a conservative figure of 35,000 Irish war dead, this means that after 1918 at least 500,000 people in Ireland were in deep mourning for the loss of a loved one and some families lost more than one member. Their loss was compounded by the circumstances in which the men died and the fact that in the short term, families had no body to mourn over and in the long term, many had no known grave.
Today, the Maynooth war dead are remembered in various cemeteries and on various memorials that are scattered throughout Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere.
They are remembered in Prowse Point Military Cemetery and at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium. They are remembered in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Nord; in St Sever Cemetery, Rouen; at the Loos Memorial; in Calais Southern Cemetery; in Noeux-Les-Mines Communal Cemetery; in Quarry Cemetery, Montauban; at the Thiepval Memorial and in the Villiers-Faucon Communal Cemetery – all in France. They are remembered at V Beach Cemetery on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey and at the Jerusalem Memorial in what was then Palestine – now Israel.
A few (who survived the war, but died a few years later) are remembered in Ireland, at the Glasnevin Memorial in Dublin, in Moyglare Church of Ireland Churchyard at Moyglare and in Maynooth (Lady’s Chapel) Graveyard at Maynooth.
We know of one young man from Maynooth who survived the war. He worked as a barman and enlisted in the Royal Navy in June 1915 when he was 18 years of age. He served as a stoker on various depot ships including the HMS Titania which was a depot ship for submarines. Titania was described as a floating power station that provided power to submarines when moored alongside her. She also operated a powerful wireless transmitter acting as a 24-hour navigational aid to submarines and other vessels off the coast in the North Sea. This young man was honourably discharged in 1927.
We know of one young woman from Maynooth who in January 1918 at 21 years of age applied to join the newly established Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACS). Her motivation for applying may have had something to do with the fact that she had lost a brother, aged 20, who was killed ‘going over the top’ on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. She was to lose a second brother (age not given) who was killed in action, also in France on 21 March 1918.
With heavy losses on the Western Front in 1916, the British Army became concerned by its reduced number of fighting soldiers. It was suggested to the War Office that far too many men were doing what they called ‘soft jobs’. After talks with the government it was decided to use women to replace men doing certain administrative jobs in Britain and in France. These men could then be sent to the front. Over 57,000 women from Britain and Ireland served in the WAACs between January 1917 and November 1918. The corps was disbanded in September 1921.
The last word goes to an unknown soldier who took part in the Battle of Nablus (19-25 Sept 1918) on the northern West Bank in Palestine during the final months of the campaign:
“Dead men and animals, torn with ruthless bombs, swollen and distorted, stank fearfully. Many of the animals still lived in speechless agony, and some of the wretched wounded were in many cases pinned down by carrion, but there was no time to stop and help them. That was for others who came behind. War is hell, and looks well only in a picture show.” (C G Powles & Wilkie, 1922).
Maynooth Local History Group
16 March 2015
Maynooth Local History Group would like to acknowledge the support of Kildare County Council Library & Arts Services towards the hosting of the above mentioned event.
Sources include: Relevant official Regimental Websites; ‘A Call to Arms – Co Kildare WW1 Dead’ (online); Commonwealth War Graves Commission re Memorial Certificates; the National Archives of Ireland who gave permission to download and display Census 1901/1911 and copies of Soldiers’ Wills; National Archives, Kew, England.
Maynooth Local History Group would also like to thank the descendants of those contacted the group with details regarding the life and death of their family members who took part in World War One.
The ‘story board’ containing the details of each soldier are printed in colour – depending on the regiment he served in. For instance, those who served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers are printed in green – and so forth.
NB. While every care has been taken to ensure that details of soldiers’ names and places of birth etc. are accurate (given current information available) the sections under ‘Other Details’ have been added by the author in an attempt to contextualise the date and place of death of each individual soldier.