Tallaght Historical Society – Lecture Series 2017/18

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Exhibition: Messines, Ypres and South Dublin County

After the Battle of the Somme, the campaigns of the Great War continued to take their toll on South Dublin County. This being the centenary of two of the most decisive battles to take place after the Somme, we in Local Studies have identified thirteen men from the county who were killed in Belgium during these iconic battles of the Great War. One was killed at Messines, twelve perished at the Third Battle of Ypres.

The Battle of Messines was considered a successful offensive of the Great War mainly due to the much-improved accuracy of British Artillery, and the extensive use of underground mines. In all, 19 were detonated under the German defences at the Messines Ridge causing extensive damage. In Irish terms, it was also the first battle where Unionists and Nationalists fought together against a common foe.  Among their number was the only  known Messines casualty from  the South Dublin County area – a Tallaght man – William (Billy) Barrett who spent his early years living in Tallaght Village. His mother ran a pub which was then called Barratt’s. The premises still exists as the Dragon Inn, and is virtually unchanged since then.

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The Dragon Inn today

We have located and transcribed personal letters from Billy to his brother in Wicklow, along with some very moving letters from his comrades to his mother detailing the confusion surrounding his last hours.

 

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Billy Barrett’s panel and letters home

 

The Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele, lasted from the 31st of July to the 10th of November 1917. The battle was characterised by persistent mud and heavy losses . The Allies sustained over 320,000 casualties, while German losses were between 260,000 and 400,000.

Twelve men who were born or lived in our county were killed at Passchendaele:
Daniel Brady and Robert Christopher Butler (Rathcoole), James O’Toole (Templeogue), John Nolan (Saggart), Joseph Redmond, Richard Rodgers and Thomas McCann (Rathfarnham), Thomas Stoney (Tallaght), John Monahan and William Carroll (Lucan), Ralph Mulligan and Richard Rumgay (Clondalkin)

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Panels showing the life stories of British Army casualties from South Dublin

 

Their life stories are detailed on panels illustrated with newspaper cuttings, photographs and contemporary documents. Earlier census returns from 1901 show them as small boys still at school. The occupations of their fathers include an RIC pensioner, an army pensioner, a dairy farmer and general labourers.

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Some examples of food from the Great War

 

If these men were to return and walk round our county’s villages again, the surroundings would no doubt be very familiar to them. Their streets are our streets, and this exhibition reclaims their memory, presenting their stories in an accessible way.

The exhibition runs at the County Library, Tallaght until the end of September.

 

WW1 Soldier’s Bible Reunited

One of South Dublin Libraries’ Decade of Centenaries projects was the creation of a website using as its source an early 20th Century magazine called Irish Life. During WWI, it published pages of photos and information on Irishmen in the British Army who were either killed in action or were decorated for bravery. A hundred years later we made it available online as a free database called Our Heroes.

It has been in existence since 2014, and in the database there is an online enquiry form which attracts enquiries, both locally and as far afield as the USA and Australia. Many people search for a relative’s name and up comes our information and a photograph which in some cases they never knew existed.

An unusual query popped into our inbox on the 12th of July. A woman named Janet from Manchester had picked up a small New Testament in a local flea market ten years ago.  It was inscribed:

With every good wish

From Mrs. W Montgomery Coates

Sheringham 1916

John 3-16

 

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Janet searched the internet with the name on the inner leaf of the book, and her search results returned our site which lists a soldier named Basil Montgomery Coates who was killed in 1915. He was the son of a Mr. W Montgomery Coates MA – a double medallist graduate (mathematics and experimental physics) of Trinity College Dublin. The soldier’s mother, Mrs. W. Montgomery Coates was from Sheringham in Norfolk.

This confirmed that the bible had been inscribed by the mother of the deceased soldier – a year after he was killed. Poignantly, the Bible verse referred to in the inscription is “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”

 

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Further research revealed that Basil Montgomery Coates was killed while on patrol by a German sniper on the 7th of September 1915. Attempts by his comrades to locate his body failed due to enemy gunfire. It appears that his body was retrieved by the Germans and buried, but subsequently lost. Consequently he has no known grave.

We were asked by Janet if we would be interested in acquiring the book, or if we knew how to go about finding any descendents. She made the point that she found it incredibly sad when items such as these get discarded.

We agreed, so a quick search on Ancestry’s website revealed the existence of a hidden photograph of Basil Montgomery Coates on a family tree. A message was swiftly dispatched to the owner of the tree (coincidentally named Janet), who confirmed she was indeed a distant cousin of Basil Montgomery Coates and was living in the USA in Michigan.

So, in September 2017, “USA Janet” will be visiting the UK, and “UK Janet” will reunite the hundred year old New Testament with the family of Basil Montgomery Coates.

“UK Janet” told us “This makes me so happy to think after all this time ‘The Little Book’ will be back with a Family Member.”

Well, we in Local Studies are delighted that we played such an important part in making it happen.

 

History and Heritage 2017

South Dublin Libraries is delighted to present History and Heritage 2017 Stair agus Oidhreacht – a wonderful programme of heritage events which runs from July – September 2017.

The programme kicks off with the ever popular heritage walks of South Dublin County’s Villages. Whether you’re a local, once lived in the area or are just interested in the heritage and history of Newcastle, Palmerstown, Templeogue, Tallaght, Clondalkin, Lucan or Rathfarnham, you can start exploring and learning on these guided walks. If you fancy getting out into the countryside, there are guided walks at Bohernabreena Reservoir, or you can head to Massy’s Woods and learn all about the fascinating history of this estate with historian Frank Tracy.

 

style sneakersAnd whilst the big kids amongst us may have our heads in the clouds, we can’t forget the young ones in the family. There is plenty for children, from Irish History Live, the hands on museum where children can experience the world of round towers and Vikings, to craft workshops and family tree events.

The events will also include talks, exhibitions, storytelling and much more!

So immerse yourself in the history and heritage of South Dublin County this summer with this FREE programme of guided heritage walks, talks, workshops and exhibitions. There really is something for everyone!

Check out the full programme of events here.

Maj. Willie Redmond MP and the Battle of Messines 100 Years Ago Today.

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100 years ago today, Willie Redmond was fatally wounded during the start of the Battle of Messines.

Born in Co.Wexford, he was a brother of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and National Volunteers. In the early 1880s, he was heavily involved with the Irish National Land League, and was a follower of Charles Stewart Parnell. At 21 years of age he served three months in Kilmainham Gaol for the crime of possessing seditious literature, during which he shared a cell with Parnell. He was elected an MP for Wexford Borough and later Fermanagh, all the while raising funds for the land league. He was sentenced to three months hard labour in 1888 for resisting the eviction of tenants.

He spoke out against the Boer War, was a social activist and also a supporter of Female Suffrage. Like his brother, Willie Redmond was heavily in favour of Home Rule.

As one would expect from both his and his brother’s views on Home Rule, he was one of the first to enlist in the British Army at the outbreak of the First World War as part of the Irish National Volunteers. In 1915, aged 53, he gained a commission in the 6th Royal Irish Regiment. He gained a reputation for leading from the front and, whenever possible, mingling with the ordinary footsoldiers. He refused the use of a horse, and carried his own kit (officers were not generally expected to carry their belongings, this task normally being carried out by a “batman” – a type of military servant.)

The 1916 Rising affected him deeply. He believed it to be the death knell for Constitutional Nationalism. However he didn’t give up hope. In December 1916, in a letter to his friend Arthur Conan Doyle, he wrote “It would be a fine memorial to the men who have died so splendidly if we could, over their graves, build up a bridge between North and South…the two sections from Ireland are actually side by side holding the trenches!”

Willie Redmond found himself in exactly that position in the morning of the 7th of June 1917. At 56 years of age, and holding the rank of Major, there was official resistance to his request that he lead his men “over the top” at the opening of the Battle of Messines. He was eventually allowed to do so.

At 3.10 a.m. he led his men in the attack, and was the first over the parapet. He was wounded in the arm, but continued to lead until he was again wounded in the leg. He was evacuated to a Field Ambulance depot by two stretcher-bearers from the 36th Ulster Division, and was transferred to Locre Hospice. There, just before noon on the 8th, he died of his wounds.

Unlike the vast majority of British Army casualties, he was not buried in a military cemetery. There is a persistent myth that his last wish was that he would not be buried inside a British cemetery in protest against the execution of the 1916 Easter Rising leaders. The reality is simply that he was buried near a grotto in the grounds of the Hospice in which he died and, despite requests from the War Graves Commission, his wife refused to have his body exhumed, preferring to have the nuns look after his final resting place.

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There were further attempts at exhumation and reburial by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; Once in the 1960s when a local Belgian priest, Fr Debevere, insisted that Mrs. Redmond’s wishes (that her husband’s grave be left alone) be respected. The Commission tried and failed again in 1977 after Fr Debevere’s death.

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Major William Redmond’s grave today. Image: KimberlyGE, Wikimedia

It is fitting that Major William Hoey Kearney Redmond’s refusal to conform during his lifetime continues 100 years after his death.