volunteers played their part in the Great War
Between 1914 and 1918, a large number of local men fought
for the British in what will always be known as the Great
War. They fought for many different reasons, ironically
some to bolster Home Rule, others against it. Some sacrificed
their lives, others survived, often injured, only to return
to a different Ireland than the one they left. Their experiences
on the front was airbrushed out of the official history
of the new Irish State, until quite recently.In the first
of a two part special report by David Clarke, this week
the Longford Leader has a look at just some of the Longford
men who fought in the most terrible of conflicts.During
the period of 1914-1918 Ireland though far removed from
the battlefields of Europe was a place which World War 1
impacted in a very definite way. There was drilling of volunteers
on the streets of provincial towns and there were rallies
all over the country, for example the rally in the Phoenix
Park, Dublin on April 10th 1915.
At this rally, or the National Review as it was called there
was a strong Longford representation. Indeed a special train
left Longford on that morning at 8am. The crowd was so big
that after Streete station no more people could be accommodated
on the train and they had to wait for later trains.
The local Foresters band made a fine display later that
day as they marched on the Phoenix Park and their playing
was much admired by all in Dublin that day. These rallies
were the norm during a period when many men enlisted in
the Irish Volunteers to go and fight the Germans in Europe.
Some of these men never returned, others were grievously
injured. They were however brave men who seemed to think
nothing of risking their lives for this cause.
Indeed the Longford Volunteers under the leadership
of Lord Granard, were held in high esteem by all in Longford
and further afield. The Longford Leader of May 15th 1915
has an account of three men who volunteered for active service
in the Royal Field Artillery. Apparently for every men that
was killed two others volunteered in his place. The men
who enlisted were Francis Gillian, son of Mr Patrick Gillian,
Cam and Mr James Nangle, shop assistant in Mr Quinns,
a shop in Edgeworthstown at the time and thirdly Mr James
Keegan, a local postman enlisted in the Leinster Regiment
and was based in Cork barracks.
The following is a list of young men who were members of
the Edgeworthstown Volunteer Corps and who volunteered for
active service and left to undergo a course in military
training at the nearest military depot: Patrick Cullen,
Thomas ORourke, John Keena, John Grimes, Peter Dempsey,
Patrick Dermody, Patrick Gallagher, Francis Dooris, John
Nugent, William Nugent. There were also 23 others belonging
to the regular army and reserve force who were on active
service in France or with the colours. They were : James
Courtney, Patrick Keena, Edward Grimes, Michael Dempsey,
James Dempsey, John Dempsey, Richard Dempsey, William Dempsey,
Michael Baldwin, Terence Dempsey, James Dempsey, Francis
McGuinness, Willie Dempsey, Patrick Green, Willie Green,
Willie King, John Mallon, Jas Feally, Gerald Conderson (missing
since the battle of Mons), James Smith, Serg Michael Kiernan.
F OHara. Most of the above young men were in the 1st
and 2nd battalion Leinster Regiment but a good number were
in the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Most Longford Officers got their chances to serve in the
war. Many of them would have returned being wounded and
others were just listed as missing .
The daily papers at the time listed the wounded and missing.
The Hon FGA Forbes, brother of the Earl of Granard was reported
missing. He was 32 years of age and was Captain in the Royal
Irish Regiment since 1912. He was half brother to lady Maurice
Fitzgerald of Wexford. His twin brother, the Hon BA Forbes
was a captain in the Royal Irish Rifles. Another officer
reported missing in September 1914 was Captain HB Wilson-Slator
of Whitehill, Edgeworthstown, who was popular in sporting
circles in Co. Longford. Captain Wilson-Slator was lucky
as it was learned from a private source that he was in hospital
in England, wounded but not seriously. He in fact wrote
to a friend in Longford stating that he hoped to be soon
back in the continent to have another crack at the Germans.
Another officer belonging to County Longford who was next
in command under Sir John French, and at present in France
was Major Wilson of the Rifle Brigade. He was son of the
late Mr James Wilson DL of Currygrane and brother of Mr
J Mackay Wilson DL.
One interesting account related by a Corporal Gobble, a
wounded soldier in a Dublin hospital, concerns a Longford
man Private James Bartley. Private Bartley captured nine
German prisoners during the fighting on the French frontier.
The soldier relating the story was out patrolling with two
privates when he opened the door of farmhouse and saw nine
German soldiers inside. He sent Private Bartley into the
house with fixed bayonet and told him to be careful he didnt
get shot. Private Bartley went into the farmhouse and the
Germans reluctantly surrendered and walked out of the farmhouse
with their hands in the air leaving their rifles behind
them. Private Bartley was a native of Longford Town and
belonged to the Leinster regiment. He served throughout
the South African campaign as well. His two brothers also
fought in the war, one of whom was killed at the Relief
of Ladysmith. Despite the danger looming at the front it
is sadly ironic that Michael Kelly never got the chance
to go with Lord Granards regiment to the battlefields
of Europe. There was indeed great sadness occasioned by
the death of this young man at his parents residence
in Newtownforbes. He had been in Lord Granards regiment
and stationed in Longford since September 1914, this being
now April 1915. Feeling unwell he had applied for and was
granted a pass to go home for a few days but during the
night he succumbed to heart failure. The funeral took place
to the local cemetery and was attended by the military from
Longford with their band, full military honours being accorded
The Roscommon correspondent of the Dublin daily papers writing
in October 1914 supplied the following item of news:
It is learned today officially at the Roscommon Constabulary
headquarters that Constable William Hudson, formerly attached
to the Beechwood station and at present at the front has
been promoted on the battle field to be Lieutenant for the
distinguished service during the progress of the battle.
Hudson served six years in the army and retired as a six
years reserve man. He belongs to Co. Longford and after
leaving the army joined the police and was stationed at
Beechwood, one of the sub districts of Roscommon. When the
war broke out he was called to the colours. Lieutenant
Hudson was a son of Mr John Hudson of Great Water Street,
Longford and a brother of Mr R Hudson,one of the teachers
of St Michaels National School, Longford and he was
well remembered by comrades here in Longford, all of whom
were proud of his gallant conduct which has won fame and
glory for himself and his country on the battle fields of
France and Belgium.
Indeed life in the trenches at the front was not very healthy,
often with soldiers becoming sick from the poor conditions
and constant soakings from rain never mind the risk of being
shot. In despatches sent home by Sir John French around
Feb 1915, giving an account of the fighting on the lines
around Ypres, the Hon Donald Forbes, second eldest brother
of the Earl of Granard, and a Major in the army was honourably
mentioned for bravery and dash in battle. Major Forbes was
serving in the Royal Field Artillery perhaps one of the
most dangerous arms of the war service. He was for many
years an aide-de-camp to the late Viceroy, the Marquis of
Aberdeen and was an enthusiastic lover of his country and
particularly of his native county of Longford. He was quite
a young age to have his name mentioned on the roll of fame.
The daily papers in February 1915 contained a long list
of names of officers and men mentioned in despatches and
honoured for distinguished conduct. Four Longford men were
mentioned. The first was Major General HH Wilson, mentioned
previously and promoted to be Lieut General. He was brother
of Mr J Mackay Wilson DL, Currygrane and had a remarkable
military career serving in Burma and South Africa when he
was several times mentioned in despatches. Then there was
Captain JA Edgeworth and Captain KE Edgeworth both sons
of Mr TN Edgeworth DL, secretary of Longford Co Council.
They were officers in the Royal Engineers and were commended
by Sir John French for gallantry on the field. Lastly there
was Mr Thomas F OBeirne JP, Crosshea, Edgeworthstown.
He passed through the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and
obtained a commission in the RFA and was then second Lieutenant
attached to the 1 A Reserve Brigade at Newcastle-on-Tyne.
friends and families did not forget sons and brothers at
A cursory look through the old files of the Longford Leader
from the First World War years immediately gives us a sense
of how the war impacted on the community - whether it was
a case of those who left for the front, or those who did
what they could to aid and the soldiers and victims of the
war from home.
While the heroics of the men at the front filled the papers,
people at home did their bit for the war effort as well.
Mrs Daly of Danesfort, Longford sold a number of household
pets the proceeds of which she gave to the Prince of Wales
Fund in aid of the soldiers and sailors families
who were engaged in the war. The war brought with it its
own security alerts and Longford was no exception in that
Some Irish emigrants in Europe particularly in France and
Belgium had to flee during the opening days of the war.
Miss Mollie Higgins of Melview House, Longford told a Leader
reporter of her experiences in Belgium during the opening
days of the war and of her experiences in trying to get
out of the country to her home where she eventually arrived
safely. She certainly had as much excitement in one week
as many people have in their whole lives. In August 1914
Dr Robinson, a popular young medical practitioner of Longford,
son of Mr Joseph Robinson, assistant Co. surveyor and brother
of Mr Thos Robinson, Engineer volunteered for active service
in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was called away for
duty during the war.
Also in August 1914 another very popular young man who left
to join the ranks in active service was Mr Joe Skeffington,
a leading handball player and a member of the Post Office
staff in Longford. He left to join the Royal Engineers.
He was given a hearty send off the night before by the members
of the Handball Club and other friends.
The Longford Leader issue of August 22nd 1914 carried the
story of two foreigners who were arrested at Tarmonbarry
in suspicion of being German spies, by Constable Kemp. The
men were brought into Longford and taken first to the military
barracks and as they marched through the streets a large
crowd gathered and followed the prisoners and their captors.
The military authorities referred them to the RIC barracks
in Dublin Street. However a short investigation showed that
the men were two Russian subjects whose papers and passports
were in proper order and they were travelling in Ireland
for sometime as pedlars. They had been lodging in Longford
for some weeks past and were well known to the police here
but the Tarmon authorities were alarmed for the security
of the bridge when they saw these strangers of foreign mien
and accent in the locality.
During this period of July and August 1914 the Longford
Volunteers Corps were constantly drilling in case the need
arose to defend the nation against the Germans. Even if
such a need didnt arise many of these volunteers went
to the front in any case.
Later in February 1915 two well known young Longford men
who had been at the front from the very start of the war
arrived in town for a brief holiday. They were Mr Joseph
Skeffington, who joined the army in August 1914, 6 months
previously, and formed principal clerk in the PO here in
Longford and now in the field telegraph service at the seat
of war and Lieutenant James Plunkett VS, son of Mr Joseph
Plunkett of Lisbrack. Both young men looked very well considering
the great hardships they had been through and the many times
their lives were in danger.
The local Longford clergy were also involved in and affected
by the war. In Jan 1915 the people of Longford held a collection
to present a testimonial to Rev Peter OFarrell CC
on the occasion of his departure from Longford to act as
chaplain with Lord Granards regiment. Marching orders
for the regiment were expected in about March so there wasnt
much time in which to make the presentation. May non Catholic
fellow citizens contributed to the collection which shows
how the war brought people together and united people despite
the fact that Ireland at this period in history was being
ruled by a predominantly Protestant England.
In the weeks just prior to Christmas 1914 a tremendous surprise
was caused in Longford when Pat Durkan, who was reported
of having died of pneumonia in the trenches at the front
and who was actually prayed for at all Masses at that time,
stepped from the evening train on its arrival in Longford.
It appears Mr Durkan had been ill with pneumonia and had
been invalided home but he made a fast recovery and in a
few weeks he hoped to be as fit as ever and again off to
the congenial task of evicting the Germans from Belgium
In Longford in December 1914 apart from the drilling of
volunteers another aspect of life was the numerous charity
functions. On Friday night December 4th 1914 a dance was
held in the Town Hall, Granard in aid of the Belgian Relief
Fund. An energetic committee was formed including: Mrs White,
Mrs Davis, Mrs Pettit, Mrs Maguire, Mrs Brown, Mrs TP OReilly,
Mrs Grier and Mrs J Cosgrove. Messrs WH Connell and LD Kiernan
were the hon secretaries and in the their capable hands
nothing was left undone to ensure a capital nights
enjoyment. Around this time District Inspector Yeates, Ballymahon
took his departure from Ballymahon and joined the colours.
Also Dr Kenny, medical officer of corps at the front and
it was also reported at this time that Mrs Susan Murtagh,
maternity nurse for the Abbeyshrule dispensary district
of the Union, who attached to the Red Cross Society was
also bound for the front.
In December 1914 sad news reached Longford that James Keenan
of the Royal Irish Rifles, Richmond Street, Longford was
killed in action at Newience, Chapelle in France. His death
caused a terrible sensation in Longford among his family
and friends and all who had the pleasure of knowing him.
Also in December 1914 a number of young men of the town
belonging to various regiments arrived home on furlough.
Amongst their number was Mr Wm Sargaison, son of the popular
protestant school principal, Mr. Sargaison was attached
to the Rugby Football Volunteer Corps and stationed at the
Curragh. It was expected that his regiment would be sent
to the front possibly after Christmas.
The Irish fought alongside the English in the war but during
this period there was another question which dominated Irish
thinking and that was Home Rule and freedom from English
rule. The English were our allies in the war but yet people
were willing to fight for Irish freedom from English rule.
Both the war and Home Rule seemed to exist side by side
during this period from 1914 to 1918. In Sept 1914 the news
of the final triumph of the Home Rule Bill and its being
placed on the statute book as an act of parliament was received
with manifestations of great joy in Longford. A huge bonfire
was lit on the Market Square when night fell and the Foresters
Band turned out and paraded the town playing national music.
An important meeting held on the Square beside the bonfire
and speeches and delivered by Messrs P Igoe Co Council;
JP Farrell MP and Joseph Deane. The same evening at a meeting
of the Urban Council a resolution was proposed by Mr Molloy
and seconded by Mr Deane and passed with acclamation congratulating
Mr Redmond of Irelands long struggle for freedom.
At the meeting of the Longford branch of the United Irish
League a similar resolution was adopted. It must be remembered
that there was a lot of poverty during this time in Irish
history and so a lot of Irish men joined the army because
of unemployment and the need for money. But whatever the
reason it was a time for Irish and English people were brought
together to face a common enemy.
of the Longford Leader