Five hundred Sligo lives were lost in the Great War

The recent decision by Sligo Corporation to name part of the new inner relief road after a former Mayor of Sligo, Michael Conlon, has focussed attention on Sligomen who fought in World War 1. Eight Conlon brothers from Sligo Town fought in the war, four of whom were killed in action. Michael was exempted from further service because of his brothers’ deaths.

Mary Matthews reports“ We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields.”
Dr. John McCrae

Between town and county many Sligomen enlisted in the Great War, of whom an approximate five hundred were either killed or died of wounds, several others were missing and many left disabled for life. While the majority of them died in the Flanders trenches, other perished in the Dardenelles, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Balkans and Salonika; more, of course, were lost at sea.
Joe Burns, whose father, Michael enlisted, says: “I was five years old when my father left for the war and I remember it well. As he was attached to a supply section, he was lucky enough to survive with just a facial wound but I lost five uncles at sea. Times were hard and people joined up for different reasons: they very quickly found out, however, that there was very little glory attached to the conflict. I suppose the economic situation of the time had a lot to do with it”.

Married men got 6d per day plus keep while their wives got 12/6 per week, one child5/-,the next 3/6 and each following child2/-. Separations allowances were paid to the dependants of single men who had been earning a wage prior to enlistment.

The Conlon family of Sligo suffered greatly. Eight brothers, Alex, Andrew, John, James, Patrick, Joseph, Thomas and Michael joined up. Four of them, Andrew, James, Patrick and Thomas were killed in action. Because of this, Michael was given compassionate leave and exempted from further service in the trenches. He was later to become Mayor of Sligo and very much involved with Sligo Rovers.

Another Mayor of Sligo, John Fallon served in the Dardanelles and was also a keen supporter of Sligo Rovers.

Four Higgins brothers from Skreen also fought. John was killed in France, Louis in India, and Bertie died of wounds. Eddie was the only one to survive.

Miss Gillie Burke, SRN of Collooney volunteered to work in the field hospitals in Flanders. She cared for the wounded amid appaling conditions. She died in 1959 and is buried in Collooney.
Perhaps one of the best known Sligomen to have fought in the Great War was Private Martin Moffatt of Knappagh Road, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for extreme bravery, being only one of three to be awarded the honour in Ireland. He left the army in 1918 and worked afterwards as a harbour constable in Sligo.

Two members of the Wood-Martin family, Frank and James, died in Flanders.
At age fourteen, Private John Condon of Waterford was reputed to be the youngest soldier to be killed in the war. In fact, he was killed a few days before his fourteenth birthday and is buried in Tyne Cot cemetery.

His cousin Sonny Condon, says: “While my cousin may have lied about his age at enlist, it has only emerged quite recently that towards the end of the war they were actively encouraging boys of that age to join up with the promise of a “great adventure” ahead. There was no schoolboys’ adventure attached to the first World War; it was a war of blood, guts, mud and misery”. A memorial to John Condon is being erected on the Quay in Waterford.

Sergt. John McGuinn, of Cashel, Tubbercurry, showed great bravery at all times. He was killed at Ypres on March 27th, 1916. The letters that he wrote home to his mother in Cashel were full of hope and cheerfulness, yet heartbreaking to read afterwards. His nephew, James McGuinn, has written an excellent book entitled “Sligo Men in the Great War” which is available in Sligo Co. Library.
Commdt Brian Cleary of the Army Press Office says: “Soldiers of whatever army always respect each other and those men were of their time. It is quite appropriate that they should be remembered”.

By Mary Matthews
Courtesy of the Sligo Champion