The men from Ferbane and Belmont who fought in World War One

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The men from Ferbane and Belmont who fought in World War One thumbnailPictured at the fascinating talk by PJ Dooley about some of the men from Ferbane and Belmont who fought in the First World War were (l. to r.) Eimhin Boland, P.J. Dooley, Tom Wright and Aidan Doyle. MT49712DF

ON NOVEMBER 25 the West Offaly Historical Society hosted a talk in the Mary Ward Heritage Centre, Ferbane entitled "Lost Lives, Men from Ferbane & Belmont who fought & died in World War 1" which was presented by P.J. Dooley. Despite the cold November evening, which would have been all too familiar to the Ferbane and Belmont men serving in France and Belgium 100 years ago, there was a good turn out of 30 plus attendees.
 Aidan Doyle introduced P.J. Dooley. P.J. said that his initial interest was family history, but the information made available in recent years by the In Flanders Field museum sparked his interest in the Great War and the local connections with Ferbane. 
  P.J.'s talk began with the outlining of the causes of the Great War, which was a conflict the world had not seen the likes of before, with the introduction of machine guns, tanks and airplanes. Ireland's role in the war was also highlighted with some 200,000 Irish men who enlisted in the British Army to fight, 30,000 of whom wouldn't return. These men joined for various reasons such as those who answered John Redmond's call for Home Rule, or the opposing Ulster Volunteers, or simply for economic reasons or even adventure. P.J. was able to illustrate this with examples of Ferbane and Belmont men who paid the ultimate sacrifice. 
 Patrick Gilligan, who had been killed in action on 5 April 1916, serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers had been a prominent member in the Belmont Corps of the Irish Volunteers. On the other hand P.J. suggested the reasons for Kieran Duncan of Aghaboy, Ferbane for enlisting were likely economic. Kieran had six children. His wife and sister had been prosecuted by the local landlord for trespassing while collecting fire wood. Kieran died from wounds he received during the Battle of Messines Ridge on June 20 1917. Sadly five of his six children were sent to industrial schools after his death. 
Some of the men were also professional soldiers. James Cassidy from Belmont had joined the South Lancashire Regiment in Birr prior to the war and was part of the British Expeditionary Force to go to France in the early stages of the War in 1914. He was killed aged 29 on October 24, 1914. The memorial plaque issued to James' next of kin was on display during the talk, kindly lent by his grandnephew Tony Cassidy. 
 P.J. finished his talk with one final interesting Gallen man, Owen Joseph Donlen. Owen had immigrated with family to Australia at a young age and later fought with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) during the war. Sadly a month after the War had ended he accidentally drowned in the Meuse River on December 22, 1918. The Australian village he lived in, Mareeba, Queensland even honoured Donlen by naming a road after him. In total P.J. provided the details of 14 men from Ferbane and the surrounding area who died during the Great War.
 Throughout the presentation Eimhin Boland provided solemn narration of period newspaper reports regarding the fate of the Ferbane and Belmont soldiers from the Midland Tribune and King's County Chronicle, which was quite poignant and a fitting touch. 
 The talk ended with hearty congratulations for all of P.J.'s hard work and research putting the talk together. Tom Wright read the lament for Thomas McDonagh by Francis Ledwidge and Aidan Doyle concluded with a presentation of a book to P.J.


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