Sitting in my study writing this week’s column, I have before me a list compiled from past editions of the Kildare Observer and Leinster Leader of men from Co. Kildare killed in World War 1. The bulky computerised list does not contain the names of all the 567 men from the county who died in the 1914-’18 war. Listed only are those men whose deaths were reported in the local newspapers and the surprise is how many were never publicly recorded. One name which immediately catches my attention is that of Norman Hannon of Ardreigh House, Athy, who died in 1915. Further on, the same list records the name John Hannon of Ardreigh House who died in 1916. They were brothers.
How poignant to reflect that 77 years later the Hannon family are no longer in Athy and the house which Norman and John left to enlist is home to another generation and another family whole allegiances and background are so different from theirs.
The Hannon brothers were joined in death before the end of the war by their first cousins Henry Hannon and Thomas Hannon, both of Millview House, Athy. Their premature deaths were to leave their ageing parents without successors and this, in part, was the reason for the ultimate failure of the once thriving Hannon mills at Ardreigh and Duke Street in Athy.
On the same list I find the names Thomas Stafford and Eddie Stafford of Athy, two brothers, whose death in the fighting fields of France must have brought unimaginable grief and despair to their parents. But what of the Kelly family of Meeting Lane whose three sons, John, Eoin and Denis, were never to return home to Athy. No words can describe the sense of loss suffered by young and old alike whose lives had been touched by those young men whose lives were sacrificed on the Western Front.
Anthony Byrne and his brother Joe of Chapel Lane were another two uniformed men who set off on the train from Athy Railway Station enveloped in the camaraderie and excitement of the time, having said goodbye to their family. They also died fighting in the war to end all wars.
The list goes on and on. Throughout Co. Kildare the daily despatches from the War Office were awaited with fear and apprehension. Death had no respect for rank or age. Every street suffered losses. Few homes escaped the dreadful carnage which enveloped a generation which was never to grow old.
The men of Athy and Co. Kildare who fought in World War I were soon forgotten in the emerging nationalism of the 20th century. Times have changed ever so slowly. From the rather shameful neglect of over 70 years there has began to emerge an acceptance and an appreciation of a lost generation’s sacrifice. As individuals and as a nation we have learned to acknowledge that bravery wears many uniforms and is not confined solely to the daring and sometimes heroic escapades of guerrilla fighters of the Irish War of Independence, whom we have always honoured.
For the last two years a growing number of local people have given public expression to their respect and reverence for the men of Athy who died in World War I. On Remembrance Sundays in 1991 and ’92 ceremonies of commemoration were held in St. Michael’s Cemetery, Athy over the graves of those World War I soldiers who are buried there.
On Sunday, November 14th at noon, there will again be an opportunity for us all to remember in prayer and poetry those men. St. Michael’s cemetery will be the venue. Your attendance would be a fitting way of paying your respects. Elsewhere, you will read of the lectures and other events forming part of the remembrance weekend in Athy on November 13th and 14th. If you can attend any or all of these, please do so.