The people of Lorrha were delighted this week when they heard that it’s planned to return Martin O’Meara’s Victoria Cross for a limited period and they hope the medal will be allowed to travel to their area for at least a day or two.
Cllr Michael O’Meara told the Tribune that the local community was very pleased to hear that the medal will be repatriated to Ireland on loan to the National Museum of Ireland from July for a period of 12 months.
“We are hoping,” commented Cllr O’Meara, “that we might be able to get the medal down to us from the National Museum. The medal is very valuable and the security would have to be very tight as it travelled and when it was on display in Lorrha, probably in the Community Centre. It’s only because of new Australian legislation that it’s able to come to Ireland at all.”
The councillor added that Martin is greatly admired and cherished in Lorrha. “We are very proud of what he did. Such selfless heroism is incredible and inspiring. The suffering that he endured after the war is also a reminder of the terrible cost of warfare.”
A memorial to Martin was unveiled in 2013 in Lorrha. There’s also a small brass plaque in the village’s Parish Church.
He was born in the townland of Lissernane, Rathcabbin, in November 1885 on a small landholding of 16 acres, one of 11 children of Michael and Margaret. He emigrated to Australia in 1914, where he worked as a sleeper-cutter for the railway system of Western Australia.
Local historian Gerard O’Meara published an excellent book a couple of years ago called “Lorrha People in the Great War”. When he was researching the book he visited the Military Museum of Western Australia and was allowed to handle the medal.
“Many important medals like this,” commented Cllr O’Meara, “are kept in vaults and only handled with gloves. It is their replicas which are on display. Therefore, it is very unusual and special that this medal is being allowed to come to Ireland.”
Martin won his medal for actions during August 9 to 12, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The VC citation read: “During four days of very heavy fighting, he repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from No Man’s Land under intense Artillery and Machine Gun fire. He also volunteered and carried up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches which was being heavily shelled at the time. He showed throughout an utter contempt of danger and undoubtedly saved many lives.” It was stated by one Lieutenant in dispatches that Martin rescued more than 20 soldiers during a barrage of high explosives and machine gun fire that was “intense beyond description.” Another Lieutenant described him as the “most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen.”
Rose Mannion of the Lorrha Development group also warmly welcomed the news. “It’s massive because it’s the first time that a Victoria Cross owned by the Australian Government has been allowed to leave Australia. It was Lorrha Development which brought Martin to prominence in his home village of Lorrha when we erected the memorial to him back in 2013. We are very proud that we have put Martin on the map, so to speak, in this part of the world. It’s also very significant for Lorrha Development given that we are a small group of people. He is very popular in Australia where he is buried, in particular with the Irish over there, but little or nothing was known of him here in his native parish until Lorrha Development erected the memorial. The memorial has drawn huge attraction to the village already and will certainly continue to do so. When the Medal is in Ireland, and hopefully Lorrha too, this will draw huge attention to the village without doubt.
“In 2015 when Cllr. Wayne Sanford, President of the Shire of Collie, Western Australia visited Lorrha and laid a wreath at the monument of Sgt O’Meara, he spent the day in the parish visiting the birth place of Martin as well as other sites. Cllr Sanford and myself did discuss the possibility of bringing Martin’s VC medal to Ireland and in particular to Lorrha in the future.
“In 2016 when the Australian Ambassador to Ireland Richard Andrews unveiled a plaque to Martin in Glasnevin Cemetery, I again had the chance to discuss with him the possibility of having Martin’s medal visit his native parish.
“102 years after Sergeant O’Meara last visited his family in Lorrha, his VC will be coming to Ireland. We are very grateful to the Australian government for allowing this thing to happen, we are very grateful for their kind gesture.”