Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Kilkenny's Memorial to 822 men and women lost in the 1914-18 war
“Over 3,000 men and women with Kilkenny connections served in World War One, many never came home and their remains are interned among the rows of marble and the poppies of Northern Europe. Almost one third of the Kilkenny’s fallen are in unmarked graves”. These are the words of Mountmellick born T.D. and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan as he prepared to unveil the Kilkenny Great War Memorial on Sunday, 15th July. The limestone monument located in the riverside Peace Park has inscribed on it the names of 822 men and women from the county of Kilkenny who died during the 1914/18 war. As the Minister pointed out in his address they had enlisted for a variety of reasons. Some like their neighbouring folk in county Kildare did so to fight for what they believed was a just cause. For many the opportunity to provide financial support for their impoverished families was a major influence while others answered John Redmond’s call to arms in the belief they were helping Ireland’s claim for Home Rule. Whatever the reasons which prompted more than 200,000 Irish men and women to enlist during World War I the sacrifices endured by those who served and the loss of lives were for many decades not adequately or properly addressed by the Irish people. The enlisted men, like those from Athy who were cheered and paraded to the local railway station as they marched off to war, were ignored on their return to Ireland. Many came back from war suffering from physical and psychological injuries and as the Minister pointed out at the unveiling ceremony those men returned to an Ireland they did not recognise. It was as he said “an Ireland that had changed very rapidly from one seeking Home Rule through parliamentary means to an Ireland seeking independence by revolutionary means. Those men and women and their families found themselves on the wrong side of history and the absence of any recognition of this part of our shared history was itself a historic wrong”. It was a wrong recognised by some Kilkenny folk almost 8 years ago when after a national day of commemoration held in the grounds of Kilkenny Castle in July 2010 three men met and decided to remember the Kilkenny men and women who lost their lives in World War I. Cllr,. David Fitzgerald, Gearoid O’Loinsigh and Donal Croghan canvassed others to form what would become the Kilkenny Great War Memorial Committee. Its aim was to record in Kilkenny limestone on a memorial in the County of Kilkenny the names of the Kilkenny men and women who died during the Great War. Here in Athy several years earlier a number of locals got together to commemorate each year on Remembrance Sunday the men and women from Athy and South Kildare who died in the Great War. Our interest in that part of our town’s history was prompted, as no doubt was the Kilkenny group, by the writings of Kevin Myers who alone for many years wrote of the sacrifices of Irish men and women who died in the Great War. It was Kevin Myers who raised the national consciousness of a past which had been obliterated by an earlier drive for independence and a later reluctance to countenance historical involvement in a war fought by Irish men wearing British uniforms. I was pleased to see Kevin Myers as one of the invited guests at the unveiling of the Kilkenny memorial. His attendance was a worthy acknowledgment of his immense contribution to a nations realisation that the Irish men and women who went to war in 1914/18 and later in 1939/45 were part of our nations story and deserved to be remembered. The Kilkenny memorial is magnificent and the engraving of the 827 names onto 14 panels by Molloys of Callan displays a skill level which is highly commendable. The total cost of the memorial, was I believe, €180,000 of which €45,000 was raised by the memorial committee and the balance contributed by Kilkenny County Council. Nearby on the Peace park wall I found a small stone engraved “1916-1991 planted by O.N.E to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising”. The Athy branch of the O.N.E. attended the Kilkenny unveiling ceremony and I could not but think of Jim Maher and James Comerford both of whom have written of County Kilkenny’s part in the war of Independence. Comerford’s weighty tome “My Kilkenny IRA days” was published in 1978 and Maher’s work “The flying column-west Kilkenny 1916/1921” was first published in 1987 and republished 3 years ago in an extended edition. The juxtaposition of the 1916 memorial, the attendance of the retired Irish army personal and my remembrance of Kilkenny’s part in the war of Independence reinforced for me the importance of Kilkenny’s war memorial in bringing together the missing strands of our shared history.