Ireland and the Crimean War

The event which eventually caused the outbreak of the war was somewhat bizarre. During the summer of 1850 Orthodox and Roman Catholic monks clashed in Bethlehem over the question of who should control the church of the Nativity. These clashes resulted in the death of several Orthodox monks,” writes David Murphy in Ireland & The Crimean War.

There were tensions in Europe, between the Russian Tsar Nicholas 1, who sought to enlarge his empire, and the Sublime Porte at Constantinople, and a serious crisis erupted when the Tsar sought to assume the protectorate of all of the Greek Christians in the Ottoman empire.

Here in Kildare the outbreak of the Crimean war also made a permanent impact with the decision of the War Office in 1855 to construct a camp for 10,000 infantry on the Curragh of Kildare.

In later years, local resident Major Edmund Mansfield, told Lord Walter Fitzgerald that “the military authorities established a camp of instruction on the Curragh without asking permission of anyone, the idea being that it was only a temporary arrangement.”

When seventeen year old Lieutenant Alexander Bruce Tulloch returned from the Crimea and was posted to the Curragh in 1856 he did not like the place “a more dreary quarter for a lot of young fellows than the Curragh could hardly be imagined ...I for one wished the regiment was back in the Crimea again, and I fancy many others also did.”

To celebrate the end of the war a great national banquet was given in Dublin, which was attended by soldiers from Newbridge, Naas and the Curragh Camp. A couple of years later it was decided in the Camp that “clothing left over from the hospitals in the east during the Crimean war was to be given to the wives of soldiers sent overseas now, who are badly off and not accompanying their husbands.”

“One of the most bizarre photographs of an Irish Crimean veteran,” David Murphy writes, “is the study of Corporal John Lyons of the 19th Foot. Lyons, a native of Carlow, who won the Victoria Cross for his bravery on 10 June 1855, returned to Ireland after the war. He died in Naas in April 1867 and his relatives dressed him in his uniform, attached his medals and prepared him for burial. They then decided that, as Lyons looked so spruce, to have his photograph taken and propped his body in a chair for the local photographer. This photograph has been used in works on the Victoria Cross ... but usually only the head and shoulders of the study is used. The full photograph is pretty macabre.”
Four Irish regiments served in the Crimea, 4th Royal Irish, 6th Inniskilling, 8th King’s Royal Irish, 18th Royal Irish, 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers), and it is estimated that Irish troops made up one third of the army, and that over 7,000 Irishmen died in the campaign.

There were Irish Sisters of Mercy, doctors, priests, engineers and navvies in the war, while amongst the war correspondents were W.H. Russell from Tallaght, E.L. Godkin from Co. Wicklow, and J.C. McCoan from Co. Tyrone, Irishmen also served in the armies of France, Turkey and Russia.

In October 1854 at ‘Little Inkerman’ when the Russians attacked the picket of Lieut. John Conolly, 49th Foot, his men engaged the enemy “and Conolly defended himself with his sword until it eventually broke. He then took his brass telescope and wielding it like a club, attacked the advancing Russians.” Conolly won a Victoria Cross “for his bravery during that battle.” Born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal he was a son of Edward Conolly of Castletown, Celbridge. He died at the Magistrates House, Curragh Camp in 1888.

This sad story was published in September 1857 in The Freeman’s Journal: A young man named Patrick Sheehan was brought up in custody of Police-constable Lynam, charged with causing an obstruction on the thoroughfare in Grafton Street.

The constable stated that the prisoner was loitering in Grafton Street for the purpose of begging, having a placard on his breast stating forth that he had served in the Crimea in the 55th regiment; that he had lost his sight in the trenches before Sebastopol, and that he was discharged on a pension of six pence a day for nine months; and that this period being now expired, he was now obliged to have recourse to begging to support himself. A Crimean medal was found on his person ... the prisoner was committed for seven days for begging.”

While the casualties of the Crimea are commemorated on war memorials, such as that at Tralee courthouse, the men were not subsequently entirely forgotten. There are many references to the war, its heroes and casualties in the volumes of the Irish Sword, the Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, and only last year a large group from that Society made a tour of the battle sites in the Crimea. David Murphy’s thesis is a welcome addition to the list.

Courtesy of the Leinster Leader
August 2002