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Kinsale's forgotten war memorial

Writes JJ Hurley

The historic Abbey graveyard, which lies hidden from the bustling streets of the busy tourist town of Kinsale, shelters a memorial to 12 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. Their deaths have to some extent become a mystery as like many other soldiers of the Great War they have become hostages to Irish history.

Arriving in Kinsale from Galway in August 1914, the 3rd Battalion was based at Crosshaven and Kinsale, as they offered the War Office the opportunity to move battalions quickly to the war's hotspots, through the busy port of Cobh. Ostensibly, a reserve and training battalion, drafts from the town's barracks filled the depleted ranks of the regiment's other battalions, who had suffered significant casualties at the opening engagement at Mons in August 1914.

Later troops from the town would make up the ranks of the Rangers fighting on the historic battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and many other fields of conflict now synonymous with the Great War.

Despite having two large barracks in Kinsale, it seemed the town was ill-prepared for the influx of soldiers. It was not until 1915 that the prefabricated huts arrived for the soldiers, with the first consignment's arrival at Kinsale's railway station resulting in an accident, claiming the lives of two female passengers.

However, the improved accommodation seems to have arrived too late for Private M Sanaghan (5036), who had died from pneumonia on 8/12/1914. A native of Stirling, he may have possibly joined the Rangers through family connections, as many people from that corner of Ireland emigrated to Scotland in search of work.

Of the other names inscribed on the memorial, erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the vast majority, including COMR P Maher (5788), Galway, Sergeant E. Malone (5/625), Cork St, Kinsale, Sergeant P. Bolger (4613), Dublin, Private M. Walsh (8398), Dublin, Private P. Casey (4247) Private A. McGuiggan (3/5083), Ballina, Co Mayo and Private J. McCann (7791) Clane, Co Kildare, all died from underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, pneumonia, rheumatic fever and bronchitis. Maybe this is not all that surprising as the menwere aged from their late 30’s to their late 40’s.

Evidence suggests a number of those stationed in the town had seen action early in the war. One of those men includes Sergeant P. Boulger (4613) (note the different spelling to that on the memorial). An experienced soldier, who had served previously in Ireland, and Egypt, he was wounded in April 1915 in France. Returning as a training NCO to Kinsale, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on November 1st 1917, leaving a young widow and daughter. Also believed to have been at the Western Front was Anthony McGuiggan, (3/5083) whose grandniece has confirmed that he'd returned from that theatre of war because of trench fever, having previously served in the regiment.

Many of these old stagers had found themselves at the sharp end of the conflict as the Allies scrambled to stop the early advance of the Germans, and finding themselves in horrendous conditions, soon succumbed to the associated medical conditions. Another old Ranger, who had returned to the colours in 1914, despite having left previously due to ill-health, was Sergeant Edward Malone, (5/635) who had received a distinguished conduct medal during the Boer War.

Malone's service record is unclear, serving as a training sergeant in Kinsale, he died of bronchitis in 1918. It is difficult, in fact to trace many of these men's records, as so many of them were lost in the Blitz of 1940.

The most poignant casualty was possibly 15-year-old Patrick O'Brien, a bugler boy, (10990). He had enlisted only a few weeks earlier when he drowned in a bath at Charles Fort. At the subsequent inquest, Corporal Ernest Holloway said: "He had discovered that the deceased was subject to fits, and that being so he could not remain in the army and was placed in the hospital for supervision." Private Ruscoe RAMC hospital orderly went on to describe how the boy had requested to take a bath unsupervised, which the orderly denied but later O'Brien was found drowned in a tub.

A native of Tuam, Co Galway, the jury returned a verdict of death by suffocation, arising from epilepsy. Private Thomas Campbell, (3/6021) also died as a result of drowning. Described as a strong swimmer, he regularly swam from the fort to the other side of the harbour. However, in the subsequent inquest - the coroner, John J Horgan, suggested the military should not allow men to swim on their own, unless accompanied by a boat. Another death recorded was that of Lance Corporal James O'Neill (7828) due to spinal injuries resulting from a training incident.

On November 10th 1915, the testing of a new type of hand grenade led to the deaths of two men and the injuring of three soldiers at the grenade range. In an attempt to relight the fuse on the ordinance, it exploded. Lance Corporal William Greenwood (3/5461) died of his wounds the following day, and Captain Frederic Lewin died a month later at 18 Patrick Place, Cork.

Lewin's remains were returned to Kilmaine, Co Mayo for burial, with Greenwood interred in the Abbey Cemetery in Kinsale. Ironically, the Commander in Chief in Ireland, Major General L. B Friend was to attend the demonstration later in the day and may have had a lucky escape.

The incident may well have sealed the fate of this particular type of grenade and heralded the way for the iconic Mill's bomb, with its safety pin, reducing the risk to the soldier throwing the grenade. Whatever effect the incident had on the future of warfare, the memorial serves as a timely reminder that when history marches on, the faces of those who were there to witness it are left obscured by the passing of time.

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