Galway & The Great War

/Galway & The Great War
Galway & The Great War 2017-11-16T23:01:00+00:00

Galway & The Great War

The People

Augusta Dillon

A Landed Lady

Augusta Crofton was born in Moate, County Roscommon in 1839. In 1866 she married Luke Dillon, 4th Baron Clonbrock, of Ahascragh, County Galway and became known as Lady Clonbrock. A keen photographer, Augusta Dillon captured thousands of images of her family and their tenants on and around the Clonbrock estate. Along with the family papers, these photographs are now housed in the National Library of Ireland and the archive paints a vivid picture of life in a ‘Big House’ in County Galway at the turn of the twentieth century.

Although she was well into her seventies at the outbreak of war, Augusta became an active charity worker. Along with the Irish Women’s Association, a volunteer group who gathered soldiers ‘comforts’, including food rations, cigarettes, knitted hats and socks, she organised for care packages to be sent to members of the Connaught Rangers held in Prisoner of War (POW) camps in Germany. ‘Thank you’ notes from some of these men are amongst the Clonbrock papers and reveal the basic goods that helped POW’s morale – a letter of 7 February 1916 from a Corporal Bowes notes the ‘tea, sugar, milk, 1 tin salmon, dripping, army rations, 5 packet cigarettes, 1 pk soup, powder soap, which I was very thankful to get’.

Augusta was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by King George V of England for her charitable work in 1920. She died in 1928.

George Morris

A Career Officer

George Henry Morris, son of Lord Killanin, was born in Spiddal in 1872. As a young man, George joined the British army and served in India with the Rifle Brigade and in the Second Boer War (1899-1902). He was later transferred to the newly-formed Irish Guards and became the commander of its 1st Battalion in 1913.

 On 12 August 1914, George set sail with the Irish Guards from Southampton for France, leaving behind his young wife and newborn son.

On 1 September, George’s battalion came under sudden attack from German troops at a forest near Villers-Cotterêts, France. Despite the battalion being greatly outnumbered, George rallied his men and ensured that they held their line for almost four hours before being fatally wounded himself. Private Stephen Shaughnessy of Tuam recalled that George rode through the ranks shouting ‘Irish Guards, form up! Remember that you are Irishmen!’ Another private later recounted, ‘only the CO’s coolness saved the battalion from being surrounded and cut up’.

It was over two months before George’s family learned of his fate and managed to locate and rebury his body. News of his burial and of his bravery in battle was reported widely. The Galway Observer of 5 December 1914 noted that ‘his Irish birth and Galway blood were strongly marked in his character and conduct, and his men – drawn mostly from his own country and creed adored his personality’.

Máirtín Mór McDonogh

An Industrialist

Máirtín Mór McDonogh was born in 1860. In that year his family moved from Lettermullen in Connemara to Galway City where his father, Thomas McDonogh, took up a job as foreman at the local saw mills. By the 1870s, Thomas was a partner in the firm and when Máirtín entered the business it was renamed T. McDonogh & Sons.

By the time of his father’s death in 1902, Máirtín was in charge of the mills and had begun to grow the family business dramatically. He began to mill flour and started importing coal, iron, timber and fertiliser for distribution via the expanding rail network.

In 1912 Máirtín opened a fertiliser plant in the city and around the same time reopened the local Woollen Mills and Foundry. He was a major investor in the Galway National Shell Factory, which opened in 1917.

Máirtín’s dominance of Galway’s commerce was reflected in its civic life and he was a member of Galway Urban Council, the Harbour Board and the Galway Races Committee. He also sat on the National Advisory Committee on Food Production, which met from January 1917 to organise the supply of seeds and equipment to small farmers.

Máirtín continued in business and in politics after the war – in 1927 he won a seat in Dáil Éireann for Cumann na nGaedhael. He died at his home in Salthill in 1934.

Martin ‘Kruger’ Griffin

A Claddagh Sailor

 

Martin Griffin was born in the Claddagh in 1894. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve in April 1915, at a time of energetic recruitment in Galway, and was one of over 400 men from the Claddagh to serve in the Navy during the war. Martin saw service aboard HMS Implacable in the Mediterranean and off South Africa, where he earned the nickname ‘Kruger’.

Martin was demobilised in May 1919 and continued to work as a seaman, sailing around Britain as well as to North and South America. On his return to Ireland in the mid-1920s, he worked on the docks and in the mills in Galway City. In 1929, Martin was a member of the infamous Claddagh hurling team that beat Galway in the Galway City Challenge Cup in a match that was abandoned after only 12 minutes’ play.

Martin married Mary McGrath in January 1930 and they lived in one of the houses built by the government for ex-servicemen in Beattystown in the Claddagh. They had four children. Like many Irishmen of his generation, Martin rarely spoke about his experiences of war but was known by his wartime nickname until his death in 1983.

Stephen Gwynn

A Member of Parliament

Stephen Gwynn was born in Dublin in 1864 and served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Irish Parliamentary Party for Galway City from 1906 to 1918.

Stephen was instrumental in encouraging Irishmen to play their part in the war and join the British army. He argued that Irish involvement would not only help to protect other small nations but that it would also speed up the delivery of Home Rule and prevent conscription in Ireland. Leading by example, Stephen became one of only 7 Nationalist MPs to enlist in the army. Giving his age as 37 (he was actually 51), he enlisted as a private in the 7th Leinsters in November 1914 and was made a captain of the 6th Connaught Rangers in 1915.

Stephen’s war was spent on the recruitment trail in Ireland and at the front, where he saw action at both Messines and the Somme. He resigned his commission on grounds of age and ill health in May 1917.

After the war, Stephen was deeply disillusioned by the delay to Home Rule and wrote to the King of England, asking if Ireland was to be denied ‘the fruits of a victory that the Irish regiments have helped to win?’ However, by this time the Irish Parliamentary Party and Home Rule had been superseded by Sinn Féin and the demand for a republic.

Stephen eventually left politics in 1918 and devoted the rest of his life to journalism and biographical writing. He died in 1950.

Patrick Lynskey and Bridget Burke

A Couple Apart

Patrick Lynskey, from Bohermore, Galway City, joined the Connaught Rangers in 1909 aged 17. In 1912 he was sent on overseas service to India, where he also trained as a boxer and runner and won awards for the best shot in musketry. Patrick was due to complete his tour of duty in 1915 but with the outbreak of the Great War, his battalion was sent to the front line in France.

Prior to the Great War, Patrick met and fell in love with Bridget Burke from the Claddagh. They were apart for the duration of the Great War, Patrick serving in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa and Bridget working in Boston, USA. However, Patrick and Bridget kept in touch, their letters and postcards sometimes taking months to reach each other.

Patrick’s letters contained a mix of news from the front, inquiries after Bridget and her family and friends in Ireland and America as well as his hopes for their future together after the war. Writing to Bridget from hospital in India in August 1918 (having been wounded in battle for the second time), Patrick imagines their wedding in Massachusetts in peace time, which he feels is soon approaching.

Patrick was eventually discharged from the army in July 1919, having contracted malaria in Egypt. He was awarded the 1914 Star, British and Victory medals; his discharge papers stated that he was an ‘honest, sober and hardworking man. Intelligent and smart.’ On his return, he and Bridget were married and settled in the Claddagh, where Patrick trained as a cobbler and opened a small shop in their home. They went on to have nine children, one of whom, Michael Lynskey, became the King of the Claddagh.

Sir John French

The commander of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 was Field Marshal Sir John French. Born in Kent in 1852, Sir John was directly descended from the French family of French Park, County Roscommon, a branch of one of the Tribes of Galway.

Sir John was proud of his roots and liked to think of himself as Anglo-Irish. He served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (the King’s deputy in Ireland) from May 1918 until April 1921, overseeing the introduction of both the Black and Tans and martial law.

An increasingly unpopular figure in Ireland, he escaped an assassination attempt by the IRA in Dublin in 1919 and resigned in 1921. Sir John French died in Kent in 1925. His name was memorialised at ‘Frenchville’, the housing built for ex-servicemen in the Claddagh during the 1930s.

War is Declared

On 28 June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie were shot and killed in Sarajevo. Their assassination, against the backdrop of competing territorial ambitions and the stockpiling of munitions across Europe, was to have enormous and unimagined consequences for people across the world. The incident triggered a series of events which, over the course of just a few weeks, led to conflict on a global scale.

Across Europe, it was expected that the war would be over in a matter of months. Closer to home, John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, thought that support from Ireland would speed up both the end of the war and the introduction of Home Rule. Believing this, he pledged the support of the Irish Volunteers – the nationalist military organisation founded in 1913 to protect the Home Rule bill from the threat of the newly-formed Ulster Volunteer Force – to defending Ireland from invasion by Germany.

On 18 September 1914, the Government of Ireland Act, which provided for Home Rule, was finally passed in Parliament, although it was suspended for the duration of the war. Two days later, John Redmond made an appeal to the 170,000 Irish Volunteers to join the war effort, not only in defending Ireland but ‘wherever the firing line extends, in defence of right, of freedom and religion’. His speech divided the Volunteers, the vast majority (about 158,000) siding with him and becoming the ‘National Volunteers’, the remainder staying with Eoin MacNeill’s ‘Irish Volunteers’.

In addition to over 50,000 Irishmen already serving in the army at the outbreak of war, a further 150,000 or so enlisted in Ireland between 1914 and 1918. Over 30,000 of these men were killed in the line of duty. This included at least 750 Galway men.

   The Perrse Distillery, Nun’s Island. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Galway in 1914

In 1914 Galway was a mostly rural, agricultural county, seemingly in decline. Despite a decrease in emigration, and in contrast with the growth experienced by the rest of the country, Galway’s population had fallen from 192,549 to 182,224 between the censuses of 1901 and 1911

In Galway City, the decline in population was linked to the decline of its industry. Persse’s Distillery, once the mainstay of local employment, had closed in 1908, dealing a major blow to the town. The county’s economy benefitted from tourism and, in rural areas, agriculture and fisheries. In the case of tourism, the Galway Races were already a firmly established event on the national social and sporting calendars.

Politically, Galway was a county divided. In September 1914, the vast majority of County Galway’s volunteers declared for Redmond’s National Volunteers, although pockets of republicanism remained, particularly in rural parts of the county. The two sides clashed frequently, and violently. In October 1914, the Irish Volunteers were beaten out of Galway City by pro-Redmond Nationalists.

Disputes over land and related social unrest, a feature of Galway life from the previous century, continued in the county well into the 1900s. In 1914, Galway was still considered by Government to be a volatile area and over 1,000 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) were stationed in the county.

 

War Time Galway

Aside from the absence of many of its men and the growth of new wartime industries, the war affected many aspects of day-to-day life in Galway.

As the conflict continued, it seemed likely that Ireland would face food shortages. Farmers were encouraged to cultivate more land and government schemes made extra seeds, manure and tilling equipment available. Galway Urban Council formed a ‘Land Cultivation Committee’ which created 300 garden allotments across the city allowing many townspeople to become almost self-sufficient.

To help them make ends meet, women whose husbands were away at the war were paid a weekly separation allowance by the army. Reports of Galway women spending their allowance on drink were rejected by charities who pointed out that ‘not one case of drunkenness of a soldier’s or sailor’s wife has been before the bench of magistrates in Galway’.

It would seem that wartime brought about a degree of solemnity. In January 1916 the Galway Express reported:

The Christmas just past was voted one of the quietest ever spent in Galway, and the hallowed season of peace and good-will was celebrated in manner truly befitting the occasion. … The sombre influences of the war were of course felt in many a home in the city from which there was a loved one missing, and the natural inclination to hilarity and pleasure was very much tempered by anxious thoughts of those in the trenches or in the deep.

Although they were making do with less, the people of Galway were generous in sending aid to Irish soldiers abroad and helping wounded soldiers home on leave. Many Galway families took in injured men to help them recuperate in ‘peaceful surroundings’ and to take pressure off the local hospitals.

Galway in 1916

Statue of Liam Mellows by Domhnall Ó Murchadha which was unveiled in Eyre Square in 1952. Courtesy of Tanya Williams Photography On Easter Monday 1916, a force of about 1,200 Irish Volunteers and members of the Irish Citizen Army, believing ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’, staged an uprising in Dublin. The aim of the Rising was to establish an independent Irish republic.

In Galway, local rebels cut telegraph lines and rumours of disorder in the county spread quickly. When British warships arrived in Galway Bay to fire warning shots along the coast, many villagers believed that they were under attack and began to stream into the town in search of refuge. A curfew was imposed from 5pm until 8am.

The following day Galway Urban Council formed a ‘Committee for Public Safety’ and appealed for volunteer ‘special constables’ to help the crown forces quash the rebellion. Further reinforcements came in the form of a company of the Royal Munster Fusiliers as well as 150 Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men from Belfast.

1916 Proclamation. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The success of this combined force in rounding up known rebels and cutting their supply lines convinced many Irish Volunteer officers that rebellion would be futile. Their leader, Liam Mellows (1892-1922), was determined to stand and fight. A founding member of the Irish Volunteers, Mellows led attacks on RIC stations at Oranmore and Clarinbridge and marched on Galway City, but was repelled. Over 400 rebels were arrested throughout the county, of whom 328 were later interned at Frongoch Camp in Wales. Mellows evaded arrest and escaped to America.

The Connaught Rangers heard about the Rising in their trenches. Writing later about their response to the news, Captain Stephen Gwynn remarked ‘I shall never forget the men’s indignation. They felt they had been stabbed in the back.’ However, as it did elsewhere in Ireland, Galway’s opinion about the rebellion changed following the execution of its leaders. In July 1916 a mass was celebrated in the Augustinian Church, Middle Street, for the souls of the dead rebels. In 1917, the anniversary of the Rising was marked by the hanging of tricolour flags – with some controversy – in parts of the county.

Galway’s Response To The War

Recruitment and Resistance

Due to its largely favourable response to Irish involvement in the war, the city and parts of the county proved to be fertile recruiting ground. By April 1915, enlistment from the Claddagh had risen to more than 250. Described as ‘some of the finest and hardiest men in the Kingdom’, this number was staggering for a small Gaelic-speaking fishing village.

In addition to national and regimental media and poster campaigns, recruitment drives were also organised locally. From June 1915, Galway Urban Council served as a provisional ‘Galway Recruiting Committee’; in the same year, the voluntary Galway Women’s Recruiting League was founded to encourage Galway women to persuade their menfolk to enlist. 

Numerous recruitment events were held in Galway City. At a rally in Eyre Square in April 1915, the sacrifice of Col. George Morris of Spiddal, killed in battle the previous September, was used to inspire his countymen to join his regiment, the Irish Guards. Forty men enlisted immediately.

Other campaigns targeted towns across Galway county: local and visiting speakers showed ‘magic lantern’ slides of army life and encouraged men in rural areas to do their bit. Along with local councillors, Galway’s bishops and most of the local clergy gave their support to the war effort.

Support for the war in Galway was not unanimous. Sinn Féin opponents regularly interrupted recruitment meetings and as the war progressed, Galway’s enthusiasm for recruitment waned dramatically. However, by Armistice Day in 1918, Galway ranked third as the greatest source of recruits in Ireland.

Read More About Enlistment Vs Conscription

Galway’s Response To The War

Renmore Barracks

Renmore Barracks, 2km east of Galway city, was built in 1881 as a depot for the Connaught Rangers. As the regiment spent most of its time overseas, Renmore served as an administrative base for the Rangers and was also where new recruits trained before being sent abroad. In addition to its military functions, in pre-war years the barracks also acted as a social hub for the city, hosting banquets and functions.

As Renmore was not intended to be a permanent home for the Connaught Rangers, accommodation at the barracks was limited and on rare occasions when both battalions were present many of the soldiers had to be housed outside in tents. This was also the case during the intense period of recruitment in the autumn of 1914. Between 10 August and 11 October 1914, 1,623 recruits passed through the barracks.

Following the disbandment of the Connaught Rangers in 1922, control of the barracks passed to the army of the new Irish Free State. Renamed Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa (Mellows Barracks), the barracks has since then been home to the 1st Infantry Battalion of the Irish Defence Forces.

Galway National Shell Factory

As was the case elsewhere in Ireland and Britain, industry in Galway benefitted from the war. The biggest contributor to Galway’s wartime economy was the new Galway National Shell Factory, one of five national munitions factories to open in Ireland between 1916 and 1918. It produced its first shell in February of 1917 and, with a staff of 115, continued to turn out up to 1,000 ’18-pounder’ shells a week until the end of the war.

Meanwhile the Galway Woollen Mills, which had been in decline for years, was given a new lease of life with the award of a contract to provide the army with uniforms. New staff were taken on and new machinery bought and, by 1915, the mill was reporting record profits.

In 1916, a branch of the Irish War Hospital Supply Depot opened in the city and was charged with producing 100 yards of gauze every day.

With a reduced male workforce, much of this work was done by Galway women, reflecting a wider trend in Ireland and Britain. This was particularly the case in the Shell Factory, where government regulations capped male employment at five per cent. Female workers in Galway were represented by the National Federation of Women Workers, which advocated for better pay and working conditions for its members

Galway National Shell Factory

As was the case elsewhere in Ireland and Britain, industry in Galway benefitted from the war. The biggest contributor to Galway’s wartime economy was the new Galway National Shell Factory, one of five national munitions factories to open in Ireland between 1916 and 1918. It produced its first shell in February of 1917 and, with a staff of 115, continued to turn out up to 1,000 ’18-pounder’ shells a week until the end of the war.

Meanwhile the Galway Woollen Mills, which had been in decline for years, was given a new lease of life with the award of a contract to provide the army with uniforms. New staff were taken on and new machinery bought and, by 1915, the mill was reporting record profits.

In 1916, a branch of the Irish War Hospital Supply Depot opened in the city and was charged with producing 100 yards of gauze every day.

With a reduced male workforce, much of this work was done by Galway women, reflecting a wider trend in Ireland and Britain. This was particularly the case in the Shell Factory, where government regulations capped male employment at five per cent. Female workers in Galway were represented by the National Federation of Women Workers, which advocated for better pay and working conditions for its members

The Aftermath

Tram on Shop Street, Galway. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Tram on Shop Street, Galway. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

The armistice agreement ending the war was signed on 11 November 1918, with fighting on all fronts finishing at 11 am that day. News reached Galway in the afternoon. Crowds gathered in the streets, the bells of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church rang out in celebration and aeroplanes flew overhead. The Connaught Rangers lit bonfires in Eyre Square and Middle Street and their regimental band played at an impromptu ‘Peace Dance’ in the Town Hall, ending the evening with the tune ‘The Perfect Day’.

Rev. John Fleetwood Berry, Rector of Galway, with his son Edward Fleetwood Berry, Captain & Adjutant, 8th Gurkha Rifles, who was killed at Bait Aiesa, Mesopotamia, 17 April 1916, aged 27 years. He is one of fifteen parishioners remembered on the Great War Memorial Cross at St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. Courtesy of Carol Louise Flanagan

Rev. John Fleetwood Berry, Rector of Galway, with his son Edward Fleetwood Berry, Captain & Adjutant, 8th Gurkha Rifles, who was killed at Bait Aiesa, Mesopotamia, 17 April 1916, aged 27 years. He is one of fifteen parishioners remembered on the Great War Memorial Cross at St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. Courtesy of Carol Louise Flanagan

For many in the city and county, however, the celebrations were bittersweet. Over 750 Galway men had lost their lives in the war and still more of their countymen had been seriously wounded.

The end of the war also brought a sudden stop to the city’s wartime industries of munitions and uniform production and unemployment rose, as demobilised soldiers and sailors began to return home. Nowhere was the situation as stark as in the Claddagh, where the absence of nearly 400 men during wartime had sounded the death knell of the village’s traditional fishing industry. Charities such as the Discharged Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Society and government schemes sought to help those who had fallen upon hard times since their return from the war. Housing for ex-servicemen was eventually built in the Claddagh in the 1920s.

As Home Rule failed to materialise in the weeks and months after the armistice, many Irish ex-servicemen became disillusioned. In March 1919, 150 Irish officers wrote to King George V of England, reminding him of Ireland’s voluntary sacrifice and accusing his government of ‘treachery’ in its failure to deliver on its promises.

Ireland never achieved Home Rule – the legislation was superseded by the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 following the War of Independence, which established the Irish Free State, and marked the start of a bloody Civil War.

Remembering the War in Galway

In the years following the war, plaques and crosses in remembrance of the dead were erected across the county. Other acts of commemoration included the setting up of a local branch of the British Legion. Every 1 July – the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme – the Legion would parade to Eyre Square and lay poppies in memory of their fallen comrades. This tradition continued in Galway into the 1930s.

The Collegiate Church of St Nicholas, Galway has a Great War memorial to its parishioners who lost their lives on the battle fields of Europe.

From The
Collection

Galway City Museum is a repository for objects of cultural heritage related to the city of Galway and its people, past and present. The collection currently comprises approximately 1,000 objects, most of which have been kindly donated by the people of Galway over the past 30 years. Part of the collection is on display and you will see it as you navigate through the museum. Those objects not on display comprise our reserve collection and are kept in our stores.

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Images courtesy of: John Corcoran, Thomas McDonogh & Sons, National Library of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland, Trinity College Library, Dublin, Limerick City Museum, Tom Kenny, Colm Hogan, Greg Quinn & the Lynskey Family, Tanya Williams Photography, Carol Louise Flanagan