Thursday, September 18, 2003

Abraham Boulder Victoria Cross



My good friend Dick Corrigan of Garrettstown contacted me a few weeks ago with news of what seemed to be a spectacular discovery during a recent FAS sponsored clear up of the old section of Crookstown Cemetery.  Those working on the project had found what was believed to be the forgotten grave of a soldier who during his lifetime was awarded the highest British Military award for courage - The Victoria Cross.  The name mentioned was not recorded in any of the many publications listing the elite band of men and women who had been accorded this award.  Was there a possibility that here in the Griese valley lay one of the truly forgotten heroes of the past whose name had been overlooked by military historians?

I have in the past visited Crookstown Cemetery where Andrew Delaney, a Ballitore man who died of gas poisoning in World War I lies buried, as does Fr. Stafford, former Parish Priest of Crookstown and previously Chaplain in the 1914-18 War.  I had not before seen the headstone for the Victoria Cross winner which was recently rediscovered by the FAS workers.  It transpired that the headstone marked the last resting place of Abraham Boulger who was the first man from Co. Kildare to win the Victoria Cross.

Boulger was born in Kilcullen on a date which has been given as August 1830 in one publication, September 1835 in another while 1827 is the date fixed on by one historian.  All however are agreed that Boulger was born in Kilcullen and that as a young man he enlisted in the 84th Regiment, an infantry regiment known later as the York and Lancaster Regiment and which is now disbanded.  Boulger served with his Regiment in India during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.  He fought in various actions between 12th July and 25th September 1857, displaying according to the official citation “distinguished bravery and forwardness as a skirmisher in all twelve actions”. 

The Victoria Cross Medal was instituted by Queen Victoria at the end of the Crimean War in 1856 for “conspicuous bravery ….. in the presence of the enemy”.  Before then the only medals awarded to serving soldiers were for good conduct or long service.  Uniquely the bronze medal is still cast from Russian guns captured at Sebastopol during the Crimean War.  It hangs from a crimson ribbon and being the highest award for bravery it takes precedence over all other military medals.

Abraham Boulger was a lance Corporal at the start of the Indian Mutiny but by the time he retired from the Army in 1887 he had reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  When he died on 23rd January 1900 Boulger was residing in the vicinity of the Moat of Ardscull, but exactly where I have yet to find out.  Boulger was buried in Crookstown Cemetery but surprisingly all the publications which mention Boulger and his Victoria Cross refer to his burial at Ballymore in Co. Westmeath.

We can now say with certainty that the first Kildare man to win the Victoria Cross lies in Crookstown Cemetery, but what I wonder was his connection with Ardscull.  I would like to hear from anyone who can help me out in relation to that.

Another County Kildare born Victoria Cross winner was Charles Fitzclarence who unlike Boulger has no known grave.  Fitzclarence who was born in Bishopscourt, Co. Kildare won his Victoria Cross for bravery at the siege of Mafeking during the Boer War.  He was killed during the First World War on 12th November 1914.  Aged 49 years when he died fighting in the Polygon Wood near Zennebeke in Belgium, his body like that of so many of his comrades was never found and he consequently has no known grave.

Charles Fitzclarence is of interest to Athy readers because his grandmother was Ann de Burgh, daughter of General Sir Ulysses de Burgh of Bert House.  General de Burgh succeeded his cousin William Downes who on his retirement as Lord Chief Justice in 1822 was created Baron Downes.  Given that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Emmet Rising it is interesting to note that William Downes succeeded Lord Kilwarden as Lord Chief Justice following Kilwarden’s assassination by a mob in Thomas Street, Dublin on the first night of Robert Emmet’s Rebellion.  General de Burgh became the 2nd Lord Downes in 1826 and he continued to live in Bert House until he died in 1864.  He had two daughters, the earlier mentioned Ann who married the Earl of Clonmel and whose grandson Charles Fitzclarence was to win the Victoria Cross and Charlotte who married James Colburne who in 1863 became Lord Seaton.  This was the same Lord Seaton who on coming to live in Bert House in 1863 unwittingly found himself the centre of a local controversy.  Apparently some local traders in Athy, anxious to show their loyalty to “King and Country” got up an address of welcome to Lord Seaton which was duly presented amidst much fuss and publicity but before a number of other traders and public figures had an opportunity to append their signatures.  The result was letters of protest to the local newspaper about the address being touted by the local town commissioners “for selected people to sign”.  The controversy was immortalised in the Ballad entitled “The Travels and Sad Fate of a Celebrated Address” which opened with the following lines.

            “Oh where, and O where is our famed bland Address gone?
Oh ‘tis gone around Athy, in John Robert’s care to roam,
And it’s O is my heart I do wish it safe at home.
It’s gone up to the Shruleen, and along by Beggar’s End,
And in among the paupers - ev’ry where we have a friend;
It’s gone down Preston’s Gate, and around by Meeting-lane,
And surely in Rathstewart we for names sha’n’t seek in vain.”

Abraham Boulger’s headstone records family details which might prompt some of my readers to recall details in relation to the Boulger family.  Abraham’s wife was Mary who died on 2nd January 1945, aged 80 years.  His daughter Alice Ellen Boulger died aged 20 years on 17th April 1917 and his second daughter Agnes died on 11th August 1970.  His son William A. Boulger died on 20th August 1981.  I don’t have any information as to where any members of the family were living but I would welcome hearing from any of my readers who can give me any information in relation to the Boulger family.  Abraham Boulger’s Victoria Cross Medal is on display in the York and Lancaster Regiment Museum in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England.

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