By Gerry Cody
Photos: Claire Stack, Cobh animation Team.
Over 3,000 from Kilkenny served and almost 900 died
In Kilkenny’s MacDonagh railway station, there is a memorial to the 3,271 men and women from County Kilkenny known to have served in World War 1. Over eight hundred of these soldiers died during the conflict. These numbers include representatives from almost every parish in County Kilkenny.
Since the memorial was erected in 2018, the Great War Memorial committee, through diligent research, has unearthed further names of local people who fought in the war.
The Kilkenny Observer met two leading members of the Committee – Donal Croghan and John Joe Cullen for an update.
According to Donal, thirty new names have been forwarded as people from Kilkenny who took part in the war but who are not listed on the memorial.
John Joe took up the story. “We always knew that we didn’t have the full list of people and it would have been a miracle if such was the case. Having discovered the extra thirty names, we feel honour bound to include them on the memorial.”
However, both Donal and John Joe acknowledge that raising sufficient funds for the project is a major undertaking.
The committee is asking the people of Kilkenny to ‘Adopt a Soldier.’ This will allow for that soldier’s name, rank and his or her area of residence to be engraved on the monument.
Both men agree that the people of Kilkenny have been very generous in supporting the War Memorial projects and they are hopeful that their innovative project will see this munificence continue.
We reflect on Kilkenny’s connection to The Great War to remind ourselves of the bravery, heroism and sacrifice of fondly remembered family and friends, whose actions still resonate.
NO DENYING THE HARDSHIP AND ANGUISH
In September 1918, American troops led the allied offensive to the north west of Verdun.
Early in October the British broke through the German front line. By November, an armistice had brought fighting to an end.
On November 9, the Kaiser abdicated, and at 5.a.m on November 11Germany signed the terms of surrender. Six hours later, at 11a.m, the terms came into effect. The Great War, or the First World War as it had become by then, ended at 11a.m on the 11th day of the eleventh month, 1918.
There was great rejoicing worldwide with the announcement that hostilities had ceased.
However, there is no denying the anguish and hardship experienced because of this turbulent period in world history. Kilkenny shared in the desolation and the grief.
Down the years, the Kilkenny train station, later named in honour of Thomas MacDonagh, experienced much sadness and heartbreak as young men and women departed to fight on foreign fields.
The train station was used extensively to transport troops to various conflicts: The Crimean war (1854/1856), The Anglo Boer War 1899/1902 and The Great War 1914/1918. Many thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses and chaplains, departed from this station to join in the great uncertainty of war.
TRAVELLING TO THE GREAT UNKNOWN
During The Great War over three thousand men and women from Kilkenny city and county enlisted and filtered through the railway station to the great unknown.
The young recruits going to war were filled with bravado, enthusiasm and excitement.
At that time this small station, comprising of four lines, became a bustling mass of heaving humanity.
Bands played, flags waved as family and friends gathered. A cacophony of chaotic noise reverberated. But in the midst of the revelry, parents, siblings and sweethearts were in a quandary. Aware that this could be the last time they would ever see their loved ones, tears mingled with the parting hugs and kisses.
For many there would not be a return journey.
These young men and women were leaving to fight in foreign places with strange sounding names.
Names, that families at home, located on maps and this knowledge helped to maintain a sense of unity. The frequent use of these place names helped them become part of family life.
Today, over a hundred years since the cessation of the great conflict, these names remain part of Kilkenny’s history.
Trailing tales of darkness and bringing memories of past generations they whisper to us across the silent years, Le Pilly, Ypres, Flanders Fields, The Somme, The Dardanelles.
With the armistice in 1918 the train station once more became a hub of military activity as those who survived the awful terrors returned to seek the sanctuary of home.
Though the soldiers returned to the joyous welcoming arms of families it was not always an occasion of celebration.
Often waiting families were devastated to see their loved ones dramatically changed.
The ebullient young soldiers were now morose world-weary veterans.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL SCARS WOULD LAST A LIFETIME
Some of those returning were unrecognizable even to waiting family members.
Many were physically disfigured, some minus limbs, others blind. Even those physically unmarked carried mental scars that would remain with them always.
Perhaps the most poignant scene enacted at Kilkenny railway station saw twenty- five returning soldiers, all in their twenties, each dressed in new suits and carrying cardboard suitcases.
These men were marched under guard to the ‘lunatic asylum’. All were suffering from shellshock. None of them would ever leave the asylum alive.
The human spirit is resilient and families learned to cope, the country learned to cope and indeed the world learned to cope. For despite the human tragedy and the horrendous cost, peace had come to a devasted world.
Though the sacrifices were colossal the world was grateful and hopeful.
The future would be a better place and mankind would never have to witness such barbarity again. Thankfully, this great conflict was ‘the war to end all wars.’
WESTON’S WORDS SEEM APT
The words of Falklands War veteran Simon Weston seem apt “people must keep the legacy of the First World War alive and remember those that fought didn’t just sacrifice their life – they sacrificed their future”
If you wish to support this remembrance endeavour please make your donations payable to:
The Kilkenny Great War Memorial Group.
Bank of Ireland, Parliament St, Kilkenny, Ireland.
Donations may also be posted to, or dropped into:
The Kilkenny Great War Memorial Committee,
48 John Street Upper, Kilkenny.
*FÓGRA: Photos are from 2018, so title references to people from Council and Military were apt at that time.