This year’s Armistice Day, 11th November, coincides with Remembrance Day and so uniquely we can commemorate at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month the ending of the First World War. At the same time we can remember those unfortunate men from Athy and district who, encouraged by civic and church leaders, enlisted to fight on foreign soil. Many of them never again saw their families or friends back home in Athy. Many more would find a last resting place in unknown and unmarked graves. Few local families were left untouched by the carnage of the First World War. I was reminded of this during the week while looking over notes taken over the years of Athy families whose men folk enlisted during the 1914-18 war.
The Carey family of Shruileen Lane were for generations employed on the Grand Canal and the Barrow Navigation. John Carey was just 16 years of age when he enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in December 1908. He was called up from the Army Reserves at the beginning of the war in August 1914. Three years earlier he had married local girl Margaret Bowden, whose brother Michael, a postman attached to Athy Post Office, had also enlisted at the start of the war. John Carey was wounded during the second battle of Ypres in 1915 and was discharged from the Army on health grounds in November 1915. John later lived in St. Dominic’s Park where he died in 1966, aged 73 years.
His brother James, who also served in the Dublin Fusiliers and survived the war, drowned in the Grand Canal in February 1924, aged 37 years. John’s brother in law Michael Bowden was living at the Dry Docks, Athy when he first enlisted in the British Army in 1906. By the time the First World War started he was employed as a postman in the local Post Office and was also a member of the Reserve Forces. Recalled to the colours he joined the 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and arrived in France in August 1914. Michael was captured at Le Cateau on 26th August 1914 and imprisoned in Limburg prison of war camp where he died in May 1918, aged 29 years. He is buried in Germany.
John Carey’s sister Mary married local man Patrick Day on the 1st day of December 1907. One and a half years earlier he had joined the Leinster Regiment and subsequently transferred to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He served in Gallipoli in 1915 and in France from June 1916. Captured by the Germans he was a prisoner of war from March 1918, but unlike Michael Bowden survived to return to Athy at the end of the war. He died in May 1966.
The interlinking family connections widened when John Carey’s daughter Mary married an Irish Army soldier Patrick Roche from Ennis, Co. Clare. Patrick’s father was Michael Roche, who at 19 years of age joined the British Army in October 1914. He was discharged due to ill health two years later but would subsequently join the Irish Free State Army in April 1922. Promoted to the rank of sergeant and attached to the 1st Western Division he was to die tragically on 25th August 1922. While patrolling near Ballymullen Barracks, Tralee, Co. Kerry a carelessly handled grenade exploded killing Michael and the officer in charge of the platoon, Lieutenant Timothy McMahon.
Army service and especially war service during the 1914-18 conflict linked the Carey, Bowden, Day and Roche families. Within those families at least 5 members enlisted and 2 were to die, one in Germany, the second surviving the killing fields of France and Flanders only to die in the country of his birth during the Irish Civil War.
Many more as yet unidentified Athy families gave sons, brothers and husbands to the war which was believed would end all wars. On Sunday next, 11th November at 10.45 a.m. St. Michael’s Cemetery will be the gathering point for those wishing to observe a minute’s silence as the clock strikes the eleventh hour. The graves of the six soldiers who died at home in Athy during the 1914-18 war will be the scene of the now annual commemoration ceremony which will follow. This will represent a change from previous years commemorations, bringing the ceremony back from 3.00 in the afternoon to start at 10.45 in the morning.
If any member of your family was involved in the First World War the St. Michael’s Cemetery Commemoration on November 11th affords an ideal opportunity to remember and pay respect to their memory. The organisers would welcome hearing from anyone with information on Athy families whose menfolk enlisted during the 1914-18 war. If you can help in that regard the staff in the Heritage Centre would like to hear from you.