Friday, 22 July 2016

Three Ballyshannon men died on opening day of the Battle of the Somme

Seven Ballyshannon men named on Thiepval Memorial 

On Sunday 28th June, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo in Bosnia. Their killings were the final act which led to a World War resulting in the deaths of over eight million servicemen and millions of civilians. Britain’s entry into the war in August 1914 led to recruitment drives in Ireland. Ballyshannon witnessed the arrival of large numbers of  soldiers to drill at Finner Camp in preparation for active service in the war. The military bands and recruitment campaign would have been very evident in the Market Yard in Ballyshannon. The British military presence in Ballyshannon for over 300 years also  resulted in many families having connections with the army. The sight of troops marching from the GNR railway stations at Ballyshannon and Bundoran to Finner Camp or on their way to the Western Front meant that the glamour and excitement of the war was on our doorsteps. National politicians, such as John Redmond, leader of the Home Rule Party were encouraging recruitment to the army and, in return for this support,  they believed that Ireland would be granted Home Rule. The lack of local employment would have encouraged some young men to join the army, as would the guarantee of a regular income. No doubt some were influenced by the medias condemnation of German atrocities and the desire to fight for the freedom of small nations,such as Belgium. Some young men would have been attracted by the perceived  glamour and sense of adventure, of a soldiers life, and the excitement of performing heroic deeds.The attraction for others would have been the fight for King and for country. Some supported Edward Carson and  the Ulster Volunteer Force and their opposition to Home Rule. For whatever reasons, young men  joined the British Army and landed in France, where the horrors of  trench warfare and poisoned gas were at variance with the glamourous propaganda of the recruitment campaigns. The war of attrition was to last from 1914-1918, with barbed wire, machine gun fire, poisoned gas, no man’s land, shell shock, injuries and death as constant companions.

Finner Camp-A Training Ground for World War I
Ballyshannon had been an English garrison town since the period of the Ulster Plantation. The Rock Barracks was the local headquarters for the British Army in the late 1800s but it lacked the space for drilling manouevres and a rifle range. The site for Finner Camp was purchased in 1896 from the Folliott family who had in earlier times resided at Wardtown Castle. The site had the advantage of space, water and a dry sandy base with ideal flat ground for a rifle range. This period saw unrest in South Africa and Finner became a training camp for soldiers destined to fight in the Boer War. A Ballyshannon native, Robert Johnston of “Laputa” won a Victoria Cross in the Boer War. The officers’ horses were stabled at Camp View House, Dunmuckrum and also at Portnason House during the early 1900s. Officers were billeted in Portnason House at the period of the Great War. Indeed Ballyshannon Golf Club was established as a nine hole course on the grounds above the house, overlooking the Erne in 1907.

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 saw an increasing use of Finner Camp by the 109th Brigade, of the 36th Ulster Division under Col. T.E. Hickman. The 109th  Brigade consisted of the 9th Battalion (Tyrone), 10th Battalion (Derry) and 11th Battalion (Donegal and Fermanagh) Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (Belfast). These were all volunteer battalions. The soldiers trained for forthcoming action in France and the weather was good during September and October. However subsequently a severe winter set in at Finner but despite this the soldiers trained and used the excellent shooting range in the sandhills. Afer their initial training at Finner, the 109th Brigade left in January 1915, destined for the trenches on the Western Front in France. By July of 1915 all elements of the 36th Division had let Finner on their way to fight in the World War.  Young men from the Ballyshannon area who fought in France, would have enlisted  in Finner, Enniskillen or other parts of Ireland. Emigrants from  Ballyshannon  joined the British, Canadian, Australian or American armies and in a variety of different uniforms fought in  World War I. A record of over 40 deaths  of men from the area exists but no doubt others died and their details have not come to light  as yet. Many more returned from the war wounded or shell-shocked. For a small community this must have been traumatic as each year brought further sad news from the  war front. The first to die was George Browne, a member of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, born in Ballyshannon, but who later resided in Duke Street in  Derry and in Hume Street, Clydebank in Glasgow. He died  on the 1st September 1914 and is remembered at the Verberie Communal Cemetery, Oise, France. Grave No. 7. His name is also on a monument in  the Diamond in Derry.

Three Ballyshannon men die on First Day of the Battle of the Somme
The Battle of the Somme in France is remembered as one of the bloodiest and most tragic in British military history, with some of the most horrific examples of trench warfare,with the gaining of little ground at great loss of life. The battle began on the 1st July 1916 and by the end of that day there were over 60,000 casualties. The Battle of the Somme was a war of attrition which lasted from July to November 1916. The Thiepval Monument was erected in memory of the Allied soldiers who died along the river Somme. It is forty four metres high and was constructed as a series of arches, in the shape of a pyramid. Erected on the 31st July 1932, the Portland Stone panels contain the names of 72,000 servicemen who lost their lives on the Somme and whose bodies were not located properly.At least seven men from the Ballyshannon area are commemorated on the Thiepval monument. Jim Melly was present last week at the centenary commemoration of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 2016, at the Thiepval memorial, to remember his great-uncle Patrick Melly who died on the 1st July 1916 and also to pay respects to the other Ballyshannon soldiers listed on the memorial
Three local men died in action  on the 1st July 1916 on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme:  Corporal Patrick Melly son of Peter and Margaret  Melly was born at Finner Ballyshannon. He was a career soldier who was a private in the First Battalion Royal Inniskiling Fusiliers and took part in the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign. In 1916 he joined the 87th Company Machine Gun Corps and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial at Pier and Face 5C and 12 C. The family still reside in the Finner area in Ballyshannon. Sergeant Christopher Laird, son of Alexander and Elizabeth Laird ( nee Funsten) , born Main Street Ballyshannon, 8th March 1895. He was a member of the 11th Battalion, Royal Inniskiling Fusiliers, (The Donegals), and is commemorated on Pier and Face 4D and 5B on Thiepval Memorial,  in France. He was killed in action on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. His brother Private John Laird emigrated to the U.S.A. and served in the American army on the Western Front in France. On his return to the USA he died of his wounds. The Laird family are well known in the commercial life of Ballyshannon and still reside there. Private Robert, Victor, Alexander Kearney, son of Adam and Frances C. Kearney of Beaufoy Lodge, Rossnowlagh was a member of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskiling Fusiliers, and is remembered at the Thiepval Monument Pier and Face 4D and 5 B. He was 19 years of age and was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Other Ballyshannon soldiers commemorated at the Thiepval Monument are: Private John Mc Donagh, son of William and Bridget Mc Donagh, 94 Erne Street, was a member of the  7th Battalion of Royal Inniskiling Fusiliers, formerly Leinster Regiment, who died on the 9th September 1916 , aged 29 years. He is remembered on the Thiepval monument at Pier and Face 4 D and 5 B. Private Patrick Gallagher formerly from Kilbarron, whose mother Annie was residing at 4 Fountain Street Strabane, was a member of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed on the 10th July 1916, aged 28 years. He is remembered on Pier and Face 4D and 5.B on Thiepval Monument. Private Frederick Armstrong was a member of the 8th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who died on the  9th September 1916. Remembered at the Thiepval Memorial Pier and Face 4D and 5B. Private John Joseph Mc Shea son of Terence and Kate McShea (nee McGowan). Born Rathmore 24th February 1894. Enlisted: Enniskillen. 1st Battalion. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. (Formerly Leinster Regiment). died 30th January 1917 aged 28. Remembered at Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, Pier and Face 4D and 5B. Private McShea was wounded at the Somme in 1916.
Major Myles and some other local survivors of the Somme
Major Sproule Myles was a member of a prominent Ballyshannon merchant family and he  fought at the Somme. He was company commander in the 11th Battalion of The Royal Inniskiling Fusiliers ( The Old Donegals):On the morning of 1st July 1916 their task was to support another Battalion in the attack at the Somme. It was their first big battle and they were full of fervour to prove their mettle. They had to attack one of the best defended German positions. It was reached at a terrible sacrifice of men. Nothing was won but glory.Captain Myles was severely wounded and was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry and leadership. Five hundred and seventy seven officers and men of the battalion were killed or wounded and the losses of that fateful morning brought mourning and sadness to many Donegal homes.Major Myles was a prominent politician in the Irish Free State and served in Dáil Éireann for a long period. Private W. Friel and Private Fred Vaughan were wounded at the Somme. Thomas Carberry 1889-1975 served in the 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Ulster Division) and was disabled on 1st July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. Rev. Wright, Presbyterian Minister on the Mall Ballyshannon from 1908-1925,  served as a chaplain  with the 36th (Ulster Division) in France during the Battle of the Somme. He was awarded the Military Cross. John Torrens R.I.F. Lisahully was wounded at the battle of the Somme. He was later captured by the Germans in the last few months of the war. He was repatriated after the Armistice and is buried in the Abbey graveyard. A War Memorial tablet was unveiled at St. Anne’s Church Ballyshannon on Sunday 23 September 1923 by Dr. Peacock Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. It contained the names of 51 survivors of the Great War.
Talk on Local Memories of World War One and the Somme

On Friday 4th November 2016 Anthony Begley, local historian, will present new research on Ballyshannon memories of the Battle of the Somme and World War One at the Annual Emerson Memorial Lecture in the Abbey Centre Ballyshannon. The talk organised by County Donegal Historical Society will be held in association with the Allingham Arts Festival.

A  Local History Book suitable for those at Home and Away

"Ballyshannon. Genealogy and History" reveals newly researched history and genealogy of the town, extending as far as the Rossnowlagh, Cashelard, Corlea, Clyhore, Higginstown and Finner areas. Includes the parishes of Kilbarron and Magh Ene. It contains the full story of  The Green Lady which  was recently performed in Ballyshannon  to great acclaim. The genealogy material provides detailed guidelines for anyone tracing their roots in the area or anywhere in County Donegal or Ireland. The book contains 500 pages and is richly illustrated with stunning colour, aerial photography, original illustrations and rare photographs of the area not seen before. Available in Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands, Clearys, O'Neills  in Ballyshannon and 4 Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

Also available from Anthony Begley for postal enquiries email

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