In 2012 Kilkenny Families in the Great War was launched in Kilkenny. The book documented the careers of nearly 3000 men and women of Kilkenny city and county who were involved in the ‘war to end all wars’.
It had taken the authors seventeen years to do the research. No other Irish county has such an easily accessible record under one cover. Partly as a result, two Great War memorials now exist in the city. One in the Peace Park lists all those who died in battle while the second at MacDonagh Junction lists all the known participants.
On the 11th November , during the commemoration service in the Peace Park, Kilkenny Voices from the Western Front, edited by the same authors, Niall Brannigan and John Kirwan was launched. Niall’s grandfather Lt. Col. Joseph Brannigan, a County Monaghan man served all his working life in the Irish army retiring in 1958 or 1959. His grandmother was Nellie Kirwan, the authors father’s oldest sister.
Here we have three primary documents written by three native born Kilkenny men, one of whom did not survive the war. Of the two survivors only one managed to live out his life in his native place.
The book opens with an overview of the three men’s lives.
Private Anthony Brennan was from the High Street area of the city. His widowed mother had a boarding house and newsagents business between what is now Walls Man’s shop and the Harp Bar. Tony, as he was known, was just sixteen years of age when, without his mother’s permission, he enlisted.
Mrs Brennan subsequently protested at the enlistment of her teenage son through her local MP.
The matter was raised by the same MP in the House of Commons and assurances were given to Mrs. Brennan by the War Office that her young son would not see active service at the Front until he had reached his eighteenth birthday. Within a year of his enlistment Tony saw active service against the Germans in France.
Return to Kilkenny City
After the war he returned briefly to Kilkenny city where he participated for a time on a training course for veterans run at Talbot’s Inch by Ellen, Lady Desart. Subsequently he emigrated to the London area where he got a job in the English civil service.
He wrote his ‘memoir’ many years after the fighting had ceased. A copy of the memoir was presented to the Imperial War Museum by his second wife who survived him. Grandchildren survive in England.
Edward Ned Dowling
The second man of the Kilkenny trio was the Rev. Edward ‘Ned’ Dowling, whose diary is the second document, was the son of two Slieverue National School teachers.
At the time war broke out in August 1914 he was on the teaching staff at St. Kieran’s College.
Against the wishes of his superior, Bishop Abraham Brownrigg he volunteered to serve as a Roman Catholic chaplain in the British army.
The British army at the time was desperately short of catholic chaplains.
His diary was kept for the early part of his service. It was a document never meant to see the light of day as he left instructions at his death that all his papers were to be destroyed.
By chance this diary was overlooked and was found many years after the ‘Colonel’s’ death by Archdeacon Sean O’ Doherty, who was then serving as curate in Ballycallan.
A Series of Letters
Lt. Christopher Prior-Wandesforde is the author of the third document presented in this book. This document is in fact a whole series of letters which he wrote to his parents and siblings at Castlecomer House, from 1915 until his death in June 1917.
After their son’s death, his parents carefully annotated the letters and preserved them in the family archive.
It includes the last letter written by Christopher to his mother which arrived a few days after the family received the dreaded telegram from the War Office notifying them of their son’s death.
Geoffrey and Peter Prior-Wandesforde, with the active encouragement of their first cousin Desmond Townshend, all nephews of Christopher, presented the collection to Kilkenny Archives Ltd, some years back.
Irish Great War Sources
Tony Brennan, Ned Dowling and Christopher Prior-Wandesforde’s writings are rare enough Irish Great War primary sources. The documents give us some hint of what the Irish men and women who served during the ‘Great War’ endured for over four years.
Brennan’s and Dowling’s documents also tell us something of their subsequent lives.
Brennan became a successful English civil servant while Dowling returned to his priestly duties in Ossory.
Only three hundred copies are available for circulation through the local bookshops.