Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Castledermot men of World War One

The village of Castledermot in medieval times was a relatively peaceful settlement compared to its near neighbour, Athy, which as a fortress village was garrisoned to protect its inhabitants and those living within the Pale. It was in Castledermot that the first gathering of Norman overlords came together in what is now accepted as the first Parliamentary type gathering on the island of Ireland. Parliamentary sessions were subsequently held in Castledermot on many occasions, confirming the village as a relatively safe place for visiting overlords and village citizens alike. I was reminded of the continuing importance of Castledermot which extended long beyond the medieval stage of its development when learning of a lecture to be given by Ger Whelan this Tuesday, 24th Sept. at 8.00p.m. in Teach Diarmada, Castledermot. I had previously done some limited research on the Castledermot men who served in the war, but my efforts in that regard pale into insignificance compared to the wide-ranging research undertaken by Ger Whelan. He has discovered an enormous amount of detail relating not only to the Castledermot, Moone, Kilkea and Dunmanogue men who served, but also the one female native of the village who served overseas as a nurse in the U.S.A. army. I have always believed that the majority of the Irish men who enlisted during 1914-18 did so because of lack of employment. However, men who were members of the National Volunteers also enlisted following John Redmond’s call to arms during a rally in Woodenbridge. Would this explain why many from Athy and Castledermot went overseas to fight the Germans. What I wonder would explain why four Lawler brothers and three Byrne brothers, all from Castledermot, enlisted during the war. Their story and that of many more Castledermot men will be told by Ger Whelan at his lecture tonight. Of the four Lawler brothers, three, Daniel, Joseph and Patrick survived. Their brother John (Military Medal Winner) died not in battle but as a result of injuries sustained in a train crash near Blargies on 5th March 1919. Two train collided, resulting in the deaths of 14 British army soldiers including John Lawler and one French soldier. In the Roll of men from Castledermot and district published in 1916 who were described as ‘serving his majesty’s forces’ the Lawlers named were John, Patrick and Peter, with another Patrick Lawler listed as another enlistee. Another local family with several family members who joined up were the Byrne family of Barnhill, Castledermot. Cornelius Byrne and his brother Thomas were killed in action, while their brother Robert survived and later went on to serve in the Second World War. Their father, I understand, was himself a soldier and I believe was known locally as ‘soldier’ Byrne. All of this information comes courtesy of Ger Whelan whom I spoke with briefly a few days ago and whose knowledge of Castledermot locals’ involvement in the war is prodigious. His research to date shows that 82 men from Castledermot served in the war, of whom 38 died. The first man to be killed was William Whelan who although born in Rathoe, Co. Carlow to Castledermot parents lived in the south Kildare village. He enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and arrived in France just four days before he was killed on 27th August 1914. He was the first man from the county of Kildare to die in that war and today he lies buried in a mass grave in Clary, France. Both Clem Roche and I following research some years ago could only identify 23 Castledermot men who were killed in the war but Ger Whelan has made a huge contribution to Castledermot’s history by identifying 38 local men who died. Even then my figure of 23 included the two Hannon brothers, John and Ian, who although born in the parish of Castledermot were living for many years before they enlisted in Ardreigh House, Athy where I am now writing this article. Another interesting discovery by Ger was the one Castledermot born female who served during the 1914/’18 war. Mary Timmons had emigrated to America and served as a nurse in the U.S.A. army. Her story and that of the other Castledermot enlistees will be the subject of Ger Whelan’s lecture in Castledermot tonight at 8.00 p.m. It should not be missed. Another unmissable event is the War of Independence exhibition currently ongoing in Athy’s Heritage Centre. The exhibition which runs until early October shows another side of the fighting Irish. Irish men in the British Army at a time when the Irish Volunteers were preparing to fight the British would presents a unique picture of a country divided. However, it was the terms of the 1922 Treaty which separated one-time comrades and plunged the country into civil war. If anyone has any information of any relations who fought in the war, Ger Whelan would be pleased to hear from you and he can be contacted via email on gjjwhelan@gmail.com or alternatively you can bring the information with you to the lecture tonight.

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