Compiled by Gerry Cody. Research: Larry Scallan and Mary Ann Maher
They say every day is a school day – and there is no doubt but the older you get, the more inquisitive you are, the hungrier for information and knowledge. When it comes to family and ancestors, the curiosity sensors ignite all the more.
So it was for Callan Road resident Joan Campion.
During Heritage Week, Joan was taking a ramble past the Closh when she noticed Commandant Larry Scallan conducting a military history tour of the city.
The excellent tour, which I had the pleasure of attending, discussed Ireland’s troubled times from 1916 through the War of Independence and the Civil War, from a Kilkenny perspective.
Curiosity got the better of Joan and she tagged along, accompanying the tour to its final stop, at Saint Rioch’s Cemetery in Walkin Street.
There, Larry Scallan spoke of the three Free State soldiers – Lieutenant Thomas Jones (Dublin), Sergeant Edward O’Gorman (Chapel Lane, Kilkenny city) and Private Patrick Horan (Callan) – who were executed in Wexford in April 1923. Sgt O’Gorman is buried in St Rioch’s Cemetery.
Death was a mystery
Joan revealed that a relative of her own, Michael Walsh, a sergeant in the National Army, was also buried there. Unfortunately, that was as much information as she had. How and where he died was a mystery.
Enter Mary Ann Maher, a colleague of Larry Scallan, who offered to research the story. What she and Larry uncovered was a tale as tragic as any in that fratricidal struggle that pitted comrade against comrade.
The Civil War officially ended in May 1923 with General Frank Aiken’s “Dump Arms” order to his anti-Treaty forces. But many individual republicans refused to give up and there were sporadic killings on both sides for months. Nevertheless, Sgt Michael Walsh was almost certainly the last military casualty in Kilkenny.
However, little is known of the man who began his life on Stephen Street.
During the census of 1911, Michael is listed as aged 21 and is residing at Motty Lane, the second eldest of eleven children, the youngest being twin boys aged seven months.
A butcher by trade, Michael was a volunteer in Kilkenny in 1916, and would later become a member of the 1st Battalion of the Kilkenny Brigade during the War of Independence.
Captured while on the run
Like many others, Michael had to go on the run but was captured by Crown Forces on November 27, 1920. His court-martial in Waterford sentenced him to two years in prison.
After eight months in Waterford prison, his health failed considerably and he was transferred to the sanatorium on the Kells Road, Kilkenny, where he remained for three months. On his discharge from hospital, he was unconditionally released.
His service was certified by Martin Medlar and Martin Kiely, both very active commanders in the Paulstown area.
In April 1922, Michael joined the National Army, receiving the service number 19095 (1922 Army Census). He was posted to Kilkenny Military Barracks which had been taken over from the withdrawing Devonshire regiment in February 1922. He is recorded in the census as holding the rank of sergeant.
After the National Army was reorganised in early 1923, Michael Walsh was posted to the 25th Battalion where he was employed as Battalion Butcher. The battalion was posted to Waterford city, headquartered in the Infantry Barracks in Ballybricken.
On November 27, 1923, a ration party left Sean Treacy Barracks, to resupply outposts being manned by the battalion. The party, comprising BQMS James Lynch, Sgt Michael Walsh and Pte William Hennessy, left barracks around 4pm and returned around 9.30pm. They decided to head over to Mrs White’s pub on Barrack Street to have one drink before supper.
In the pub, they found Sgt Ryan, the battalion cook, as well as Ptes O’Connell and Barrett already in the back kitchen. BQMS Lynch called a drink for everyone and five small bottles and one pint of Guinness were ordered from Miss Agnes McEvoy and delivered by her to the kitchen.
A fatal shot
The soldiers sat around the fire, with Michael Walsh leaning his left shoulder against the mantelpiece. Several songs were sung and then Michael sang The Third Tipperary Brigade. As he finished the song, BQMS Lynch shook his hand and then brought his right hand down and – fatally – slapped it off his right leg.
The action caused the Colt revolver in his right pocket to discharge. The bullet entered Michael’s throat and he slumped to the floor.
Miss McEvoy heard a sound that she described as being like a bottle smashing and she returned to the kitchen and found five of the soldiers on their knees praying around their stricken comrade.
She sent for a priest and within a few minutes a doctor also arrived and dressed his wound.
Captain Louis P. Hayes took a statement from Michael Walsh, who was still conscious.
BQMS Lynch was arrested by Captain Joseph Farrell. His Colt revolver was taken as evidence. On inspection, there were five rounds in the chambers and one empty casing.
Michael was moved to the barrack hospital, where he was tended to by the medical officer, Lt Patrick Mullany. He realised that paralysis was extending into Sgt Walsh’s lower limbs and he had him transferred to St. Bricin’s Hospital Dublin the next morning, where he was put under the care of duty medical officer, Lt Buckley.
It was to no avail. Michael died, aged 34, on November 29, 1923.
Full military honours
Sgt Walsh was returned to Kilkenny by train on November 30. His funeral cortège followed a route to St Canice’s Church, where his funeral Mass was celebrated the following day by parish priest Mgr Doyle, curate Fr. Brady and army chaplain Fr. Martin Drea.
He was buried with full military honours, provided by the 63rd Infantry Battalion, under the command of his cousin Cmdt’ McEvoy in St Rioch’s Cemetery.
The chief mourners were his parents, Michael and Kate Walsh; brothers, William, John and James; and sisters, Mollie and Bridie. Aunts, uncles and cousins from the Walsh, Dollard, Butler and McEvoy families were there too.
The coffin was dressed in the Tricolour and as the remains were lowered into the grave, three volleys of shots were fired and the Last post was sounded.
BQMS Lynch was court-martialled and was found to have been negligent in the way he handled his revolver. However, the death was found to be accidental.
The story only starts now for Kate Walsh who was very dependent on the money she was allocated every week by her son while he was in the army.
In December 1923, she applied for a pension and was awarded 15/- a week from August 24, 1924, until May 2, 1925, when her claim was suddenly ended.
For even though there had been a steady trickle of Civil War-related deaths throughout 1923, the Government had decided on an arbitrary cut-off point of September 30: people whose next of kin had been killed after that date would no longer be entitled to a pension.
Having been killed in late November, Sgt Walsh was almost certainly the last military casualty in Kilkenny in 1923. Mrs Walsh sent many letters requesting the reinstating of her pension, but to no avail. It was noted that Peter de Loughry, Irish nationalist and who was a leading figure in Kilkenny was helpful and supportive to Mrs Walsh .
As we approach the centenary of his death, family members are delighted to have been presented with such a wealth of detailed information.
Sergeant Michael Walsh will be prayed for at the 11a.m Mass in various churches on Sunday, November 26, followed by a brief ceremony at 12 noon in St Rioch’s cemetery.
Speaking to The Kilkenny Observer Newspaper, Commandant Larry Scallan said: “It is important that the service given by men and women like Michael are remembered as we approach the centenary of his death”.