This coming September the Athy Heritage Centre Museum will host a convention on World War 1. Initially I felt that the event would be more appropriate in November, November being the month of commemoration and remembrance for those who fell in the Great War. However, delving back into my notes I was astonished to discover that the month of September holds great significance for the town. Somewhere approaching 20% of the men from the town of Athy and district who died in the war perished in the months of September from 1914 to 1918.
The worst of these was in September 1916 when approximately 18 men from Athy died, almost one every other day. The first to fall that sad September was Ian Hannon, an officer in the Kings Liverpool Regiment on the 2nd September. It was another blow to the Hannon's of Ardreigh who had already lost their other son, John Coulson Hannon, killed in action in May 1915, with the same regiment. The deaths of Athy men would follow thick and fast thereafter.
On the 9th day of the month John Delaney and Thomas Connell, both of the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died, as did Robert McWilliams of the 4th Leinster Regiment and Thomas Kelly serving with the Irish Guards. Patrick Flynn from Whitebog, also with the Irish Guards, was killed in action on the 14th September, followed by two more Athy men from the same Regiment the next day, Edward Dowling and Richard Daly. There was no respite for the townspeople of Athy as Patrick Walsh of the 8th Royal Munster Fusiliers died of his wounds on 16th September, as did Martin Hyland of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. On the 19th September another Athy man serving in the Irish Guards, Peter Kane, was lost. More deaths were to follow. William Moore, another guardsman died on the 24th, Bertie Kelly, an emigrant to New Zealand serving with the Wellington Regiment, died on the 25th. Yet another Irish Guardsman Patrick Rowan, would die on the 27th and the final two casualties in the month of September 1916 dying of wounds received were J. Dunne of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on 30th September and J. Wright of the 4th Leinster Regiment.
Many of the deaths in September 1916 can be attributed to the final phase of the Battle of the Somme. Known as the Battle of Fleurs Courcelette, it was launched on the 15th of September 1916 and lasted a week. Of all the Irish Regiments present the Irish Guards were heavily involved. The battle ultimately concluded on 22nd September 1916 but the strategic objective of a breakthrough had not been achieved, although in places the front lines had moved approximately one mile. Two future British Prime Ministers served in the battle, Harold MacMillan was severely wounded while Anthony Eden emerged from the battle unscathed. The battle is particularly remembered for the first use of tanks. Arnold Ridley, the actor and playwright, best remembered for his role as Private Godfrey in the BBC comedy series ‘Dads Army’, served in the Somerset Light Infantry recalled ‘We in the ranks had never heard of tanks. We were told that there was some sort of secret weapon and we saw this thing go up the right hand corner of Deville Wood. I saw this strange and cumbersome machine emerge from the shattered shrubbery and proceed slowly down the slope towards Flers’
The weekend's events open on the night of Friday 9th September with Brendan McQuaile’s one man show ‘March Away my Brothers’. The show centres on the life of a Dublin man who enlisted in the British Army during the First World War and follows him to the trenches of the western front. Kevin Myers will deliver a lecture on Saturday the 10th September at 6pm in the Carlton Abbey Hotel on 'Athy and the Great War' while visitors to the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum will able to see a recreation of a First World War trench. Re-enactors, dressed in the uniforms of the period, will be on hand to guide visitors through this unique experience. The event is not to be missed and further details are available directly from the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum.