Sunday, August 7, 2011

Portlaw and the Great War

A figure of 200,000 Irishmen are thought to have served during the Great War, from north and south, with the majority coming from the 26 counties that would eventually make up the Free State after partition. Recent work by historian Patrick Casey puts the figure of Irish war dead at 35,000. The data available on Portlaw dead is based on research published by the Waterford Archeological and Historical Society. Of the nine Irish infantry regiments Portlaw men are listed in the death rolls of eight of them.
A review of the available records show that the first man killed from the village was James Daniels; killed in action on August 26th 1914, only four days after the war started. Michael Sullivan died of wounds on September 17th, Edward Murray fell on the 10th October and Patrick Maddock on the 19th October. All were members of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment and all were regulars or reservists called up in the first days of the war. Patrick Coady, William Mooney and James Whelan, also serving in the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, died in the desperate attempts to break the stalemate of trench warfare during 1915. Richard Galvin, serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Leinster Regiment, also fell during this period. In the stalemate prior to the Battle of the Somme, Maurice Ryan, also of the 2nd Leinsters, died of wounds sustained in battle.
The name Gallipoli has great significance for the Irish who fought in the Great War. During the landings on 25th April 1915 casualties were so great that it was said that the sea on the shoreline was dyed pink with blood while the water around the boats turned red. Amongst the many Irishmen who fell during the bitter fighting of the 1st May was another of our sons; Corporal William Purcell of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Munster Fusiliers. Other Portlaw men served at Gallipoli and survived. One such man was Jack Kelly and his family have donated copies of his documents.
Popular history has identified the 1st July as the day of the Battle of the Somme. However, research has shown that the Somme offensive lasted for months and involved a great deal more military action than just the first day. The 16th Irish Division experienced over 4,000 casualties between the 1st and 10th September 1916. Portlaw lost more men during this period. Patrick Sullivan, serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, died of wounds on the 14th of July 1916. Joseph Butler died the next day when he was killed in action serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers. Cornelius O’Neill fell on the 21st July 1916 while serving with the 6th Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment. One of the 6th Battalions more famous officers was Willie Redmond, brother of John, who would fall a year later at Messines in early June 1917. As the war progressed more losses were visited upon the village. Michael Hogan was killed in action while serving with the 2nd Battalion, The Irish Guards on the 4th September 1917. Acting Corporal Edward Nolan died of wounds on 30th November 1917 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The final deaths of 1918 were Daniel Walsh who died of wounds in Egypt on 1st June whilst serving with the The Royal Irish Regiment. Michael Crotty died at home on the 8th August 1918 serving with Royal Defence Corps.
Separate to the infantry line regiments Portlaw gave 3 more of her sons during the course of the Great War. Corporal Llewllyn Malcolmson was killed in action on 5th October 1915 while serving with the Royal Engineers. William Power, a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, died at home from wounds sustained in action and is buried here in Portlaw only feet from Maurice Ryan, Vice Comdt in the Old IRA, who died in 1922. Thomas O’Keeffe, also in the RFA was killed in action on the 29th August 1918, only three months from the end of the war. Two other Malcolmsons died in the Great War; Hubert with the Royal Irish Regiment and Hugh Fraser with the French Red Cross.
We have a record of another of our sons lost, but this time in the Second World War. Private David Walshe was killed in action in Italy while serving with the West Surrey Regiment on the 12th October 1943.
In recent times Irish society began to investigate the complexity of its political and military traditions. These men are now taking their part alongside those who stormed the GPO and fought in the War of Independence. Many soldiers returned from the Great War to poverty and a changed Ireland and would not mention their experience. By providing a safe environment for the telling of these stories here in the Heritage Centre we can add a major chapter to the history of our village.
So let us remember them in the prayer at the opening of the Messine Peace Park: “To the glory of God and in perpetual memory of all those who fought from the Island of Ireland who made the supreme sacrifice in The Great War.”

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