Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Athy men who served with the Anzacs during World War I

A week or so ago I had the privilege of meeting the Australian author Jeff Kildea who stopped off in Athy on his journey home following the launch of his latest book in Tullamore.  As I mentioned in a previous Eye Jeff’s great great grandmother as a young girl was sent to Australia under the Irish Workhouses Orphan Emigration Scheme at the end of the Great Famine.  Roseanna Fleming was from Ballyadams and thanks to the generosity of spirit of Jim Fleming, Jeff on his visit to Ballyadams was able to learn some of the background to that location’s history.


Visiting Ballyadams Catholic Church which with the nearby national school makes up the visible centre of the townland, our Australian visitor came across a reminder of his youthful Australian past.  There in front of the Church are buried a number of former parish priests of the parish of Ballyadams.  Amongst them lies the remains of Monsignor Walter Hurley who died at Ballyadams on 21st June 1956.  Monsignor Hurley was at one time parish priest of Bondi Beach, Sydney and amongst his parishioners was a young Jeff Kildea.  Indeed I believe the Monsignor baptised Jeff Kildea, the man who visiting Athy and Ballyadams in April 2017 was not aware that his former parish priest lay buried before the parish church where his great great grandmother may have worshiped over 160 years ago.


This discovery by the Australian author of the splendid book ‘Anzacs and Ireland’ was one of the highlights of his visit which included a tour of the remaining blocks of the original Workhouse in Athy opened in January 1844. 


‘Anzacs and Ireland’ published by Cork University Press in 2007 provides an interesting and detailed account of New Zealand and Australian soldiers of World War 1 who spent time in Ireland during the 1916 Rising.   The Australian New Zealand connection with Ireland is based in many instances on a common genealogy and a shared heritage.  Soldiers from these two countries and Ireland fought alongside each other during World War I and Jeff Kildea’s book elaborates on the association between Anzac soldiers and Ireland during a difficult period in our history. 


Athy’s connection with the Anzacs was further clarified for me by data shared by Jackie Greene whose own relation was a member of the Anzacs.  Jackie, who researched the Irish Anzacs database provided by the University of New South Wales, discovered six Athy men who enlisted with the Anzacs during World War I. 


Two of those men enlisted but shortly thereafter were discharged.  They were George Cullen, aged 43 years, originally from Bray, Athy who enlisted in Sydney in April 1916.  Patrick Connor, whose brother had an address at Athy Post Office, also enlisted having previously served in the Royal Field Artillery in England.


Gallowshill born Thomas Smyth enlisted in New South Wales in February 1915 and served as an infantry soldier in Gallipoli and later with the Field Ambulance Brigade in France.  He survived the war, despite being wounded in April 1918 and returned to Australia.  Another enlistee in Australia was Andrew Short who also fought in Gallipoli and France.  I believe he was from the Castleroe Maganey area. 


Gerald Whelan, son of Thomas Whelan of William Street, enlisted in New South Wales in April 1915 and fought with the Anzacs on the Western Front.  He also survived the war, as did Charles Prendergast, another Athy man who unlike the other five men was married.  He had enlisted in Melbourne in September 1914.


Jeff Kildea in his book ‘Anzacs in Ireland’ wrote ‘the time is surely ripe to revive memories of the links between Australia’s soldiers and Ireland – links forged in battle at Gallipoli’.  Thanks to Jackie Greene’s research that link has now been made.

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