I received in the post quite recently, a small bundle of old letters neatly kept together in a box, which itself was evidently of great age. They were sent to me by David Hannon, brother of Bishop Hannon of Clogher, both of whom are sons of the late Archdeacon Gordan Hannon. It was the second time that some of these letters were delivered to Ardreigh House. On the last occasion their letters arrived in Athy, Leslie Hannon and his brother Ian Hannon were writing to their parents, John and Martha Hannon.
Mr. and Mrs. Hannon and their eight children moved to Ardreigh House Athy in 1910 from Prumplestown House, Castledermot when John took charge of the Ardreigh Mills, following the death of his brother Harry. Their four sons Reggie, Gordon, Ian and Leslie and their daughters Gladys, Marjorie, Eileen and Ethel spent many happy days in the idyllic surroundings of Ardreigh, an area immortalised in the poetry of Rev. J.J. Malone who was a native of Barrowhouse.
Gordon Hannon entered Trinity College Dublin and studied for the Church of Ireland. He later began his clerical career as a curate in Dublin. His brothers, Norman Leslie, commonly known as “Leslie”, and John Coulson known as “Ian”, enlisted in the British Army during the first year of the Great War, as did so many of their neighbours from Athy. Both were commissioned as Lieutenants in the 7th Kings Liverpool Regiment.
Leslie’s letters home to his parents and to his brother Gordon are full of the excitement of a young man barely out of his teens who found himself caught up in the comraderie and friendship known only to men who endure common hardship and deprivation. “More power to your elbow”, he wrote in pencil on a scrap of paper to his brother Gordon, not yet a Minister of the Church of Ireland, from somewhere in France just eight days before he died. The letter dated Saturday 8th May was enclosed in an envelope postmarked 9th May 1915, and it may have reached his brother Gordon before 20 year old Leslie was killed in action in Festubert on the 16th of May 1915. The line, “Remember me to all the lads”, written across the side of the one page letter, strikes a poignant note even now after the lapse of 80 years.
Another letter dated 18th August 1915 was sent to the Hannon family by a companion of their son Norman Leslie who relates how he went to Richborg and “settled up Leslie’s grave”. Reference was also made to a poem written by the Brigade Doctor, which had earlier been forwarded to Mrs. Hannon in Ardreigh House. The opening lines ran :
“Staunch comrade, brave soldier, too soon fallen out,
I think of you stretched near the German redoubt,
With your blue Irish eyes gazing far into space,
And the pallor of death on your fearless young face.
And I picture the night when our friendship was sworn,
When you stood up and sang us “The Mountains of Mourne.”
Many of the letters and field service postcards from Ian Hannon were sent to his brother Gordon and in a letter dated 2nd August 1916, just sixteen days before he was killed, he mentions having met “Tom Perse on one of my rambles.” Tom was an Athy man from the Ardreigh area who survived the War.
On the 27th of May of the same year, in a letter to his father, Ian wrote :
“there was a great festival on in the Square yesterday, about 20 French and 70 English heroes were decorated by an English and a French General. There was a Russian chap present also and I believe Conan Doyle was there.”
Later in the same letter, Ian referred to the good days fishing which his father had recently enjoyed. On the 18th of August 1916 Ian Hannon was killed in action aged 24 years.
The loss of his two sons proved a severe blow for John Hannon and he was to die tragically by his own hand at Ardreigh House, just ten days before his son Gordon’s wedding in April 1923. Within two years, the Hannon Mills at Ardreigh and at the bridge in the centre of Athy, were to close for the last time.