In June 2015 a group of Irish school students representing every county in the country will make a special trip to the Somme battlefield region of northern France. Each student has ‘adopted’ a soldier from their native county who died during the Battle of the Somme and during the trip will visit either the grave or monument in the Somme region to honour the memory of their soldier. The trip is being organised by Gerry Moore, a History teacher in Donegal.
On Monday 20th April, 4 of the students representing counties in the southeast shared their knowledge of their ‘adopted’ soldiers with a packed audience of over 60 people in Waterford’s Medieval Museum. The meeting was run jointly by Waterford Treasures Museum and the Waterford Branch of the History Teachers Association of Ireland.
Waterford student Amy Mackey, from Clonea Power spoke about Private Joseph Bohan-O’Shea, from Francis St. in Waterford who joined the Royal Engineers and died on 17th July 1916. Joseph was a young man who had worked on the refitting of Waterford’s ‘Timbertoes’ Bridge before moving to Britain where he worked on the Firth Bridge in Scotland and later in London before he enlisted. Sadly, following Joseph’s death at the Somme his wife, Mary Josephine and 4 children were not welcomed back to Waterford by Joseph’s family who had by then become involved in the nationalist movement at home and considered that Joseph had taken the ‘Saxon shilling’. Despite this she made a life for herself and her children, training and becoming a midwife and even helping out Joseph’s brother when he was imprisoned by the British during the War of Independence.
Kilkenny student Béibhinn Breathnach spoke about Private Patrick Delaney, from Maudlin St. in Kilkenny, who joined the Royal Dublin Fusileers, while Emily Boyne from Enniscorthy remembered Private Daniel Murphy of the Middlesex Regiment from Adamstown in Co.Wexford, both of whom died of 1st July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Finally Kieran O’Mara from Bagnelstown spoke about Captain William Joseph Murphy, from Tullow, in Co. Carlow, also a soldier in the Royal Dublin Fusileers who died on 9th September 1916. The research ccompleted by the 4 students provided a very interesting insight into the social history of the time and helped to make real the experience of these soldiers. The evening was made even more moving by the presence of relatives of both Private Patrick Delaney and Private Joseph Bohan-O’Shea.
A further insight into the great war experience in Waterford was provided by the Local History Inspector Kevin McCarthy from Cappoquinn who spoke about the collective memory of the local men who enlisted and died and the impact on their families and on those who survived. Over 20 local people were lost from the town and environs of Cappoquinn including Walter Barron of the bakery family which is still making ‘blaas’ today. Kevin recalled that one of the most poignant aspects of the folk memory in the town was that often letters written home to families by soldiers at the front brought news of neighbours who had been killed long before the families of the soldiers had been officially informed. The evening concluded then with a short talk by Donnchadh Ó Ceallacháin of Waterford Treasures on the Museum’s artefacts relating to the war followed by a short tour of the exhibits in the Museum.