Thursday, 22 December 2016

Two Christmas letters sent from the Trenches to Ballyshannon families during World War One  

Anthony Begley speaking at a talk on
          local memories of  World War One  and the Battle of  the Somme 
to a capacity crowd in the Imperial Hotel Ballyshannon  November 2016   (Donna Martin)   

A Happy Christmas and New Year to you from Ballyshannon, wherever in the world you are reading this blog.

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery.

    Ideal Christmas Gift 

 "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon.Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Local Background

At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, hundreds of local men had enlisted in the British Army at places like Finner Camp, Enniskillen and different places in Ireland. Many who had emigrated to Great Britain, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada joined in their adopted countries. They joined for a variety of reasons including the opportunity to earn a wage, for a sense of adventure and following the advice of political leaders like John Redmond and James Craig. One hundred years later we have an opportunity to read and hear, for the first time, about what life was like in the trenches, how they felt about the war and tragically reports of how some of them died. Over 60 local men died in the First World
Postcard received by a Ballyshannon soldier Sergeant Caldwell Main Street Ballyshannon. Unlike the postcard most people thought the war would be over quickly.

Christmas Eve in the Trenches 1914- A letter to a mother in Erne Street

Before World War One began, Patrick McDonagh was an instructor in the Irish National Volunteers in his native Ballyshannon and also in the Belleek district. He would have enlisted in the army, on the advice of the Volunteer leader John Redmond. On the outbreak of war  in 1914 he served in the 2nd Division of the 4th Guards Brigade, British Expeditionary Force. He spent Christmas Eve in the trenches on the Western Front from where he wrote a letter home to his mother Bridget McDonagh 94 Erne Street, Ballyshannon.

I received your last letter all right. We spent our Christmas in the trenches, arriving at the firing line on Xmas Eve. I am sure that you all spent a good Xmas. It is hard on us out here, but these things cannot be helped. Hugh Moan is out here and in my Company. He was wounded early in the war and is out again. Paddy Fleming is here too, he came out from London and joined us while we were having the rest. The country is in a terrible state from heavy traffic. Thank God I am living and well and I shall hope to come out safe. I don’t think that the Germans will last much longer, let us hope so anyway. You can send me a tidy little parcel and make it as secure as possible and put my full address on it. Tell Tommy Moan that Hugh is doing fine and that he and I are together. Let me know how you all spent Christmas and tell me all the news. I had a narrow escape on Christmas Day. A German bullet struck the top of my rifle breaking the top off clean and wounding a sergeant behind me in the trench. I am more than lucky when I was not killed at different times. I am writing this letter in the firing line and hope that you will receive it safe. Tell all the people I am asking for them and hope to see them soon again. We have our priest and doctor with us and the wounded are well looked after, every man receiving the Last Rites of the Church. Isn’t that a great blessing? Good-bye and God bless you all and pray for us out here suffering terribly to save our country from ruin.

                                                                                                P. Mc Donagh

Patrick’s brother, John McDonagh, was in the 7th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers and was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial along with seven other Ballyshannon men, as their bodies were not located. Those named on the Memorial  include; Corporal Patrick Melly, Finner, Sergeant Christopher Laird, Main Street, Private Robert Kearney, Rossnowlagh, Private Patrick Gallagher, Kilbarron, Private Frederick Armstrong, Private John Joseph McShea, Rathmore, and Private Hugh Moan. Hugh Moan who later died at the Somme, is mentioned in the letter from Patrick McDonagh, above, He was also in the Irish Guards and, as indicated above, he was wounded and returned home for a time. During his recuperation in Ballyshannon, he visited his former workplace at “The Donegal Vindicator” newspaper on East Port, where he indicated to the editor that he didn’t think he would be killed by the Germans. On the 23rd December 1916 Private Hugh Moan was killed in an accidental explosion in the trenches on the Somme.

Troops at Finner camp preparing for the Western Front in France

A letter to a mother in Sheegus on the death of her son

Edward J. Mcintyre was born in Sheegus, Ballyshannon on the 9th August 1891, the son of Denis and Maria Mcintyre. Denis was a local fishermen like many of his neighbours in the Abbey. Edward had worked at the building trade in Ballyshannon before emigrating to the United States in 1912. When America entered the war he joined Company B, 306th Infantry and served on the Western Front in France. He was killed in action in the Argonne Forest region north-west of Verdun  on 27th September 1918. Corporal McIntyre is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. A family anecdote recalls that the McIntyre family at Sheegus first heard about his death from a neighbouring family called Tunney from the Legaltion area. The Tunney family had received a letter, from one of their family, who was in the same regiment as Edward McIntyre and who witnessed his death. The Tunney family went down to the McIntyre’s home and told them the sad news. Later Mrs. Maria McIntyre received the following letter from the American Army.

  Co. B, 306 Inf.

    6  Dec. 1918

My Dear Mrs. McIntyre,

It is with a heavy heart that I answer your letter of Nov. 15th to inform you, if you have not already been told, that your son, Edward, was killed in action on Sept 27th, apparently the very day upon which you last heard from him. He died the death of the brave, fearless, manly soldier that he was in leading his men against a German machine gun position. A bullet killed him instantly and he was later buried where he fell, upon  the ridge west of the “Baricade Pavilion” in the depth of the Argonne Forest.

I was personally very much attached to Corp. McIntyre. He was the finest type of clean, vigorous, good-natured Irishman. On the march, in  quarters, in trenches, or in action, he was always the same reliable, quick-witted, fine-appearing soldier, loved by his comrades and his officers, the life of the platoon, and one of the best non-commissioned officers in the company.  I miss him as much as any of the dear lads that this ghastly war has taken from us.

God help and comfort you. If this letter is the first means of your knowing of your great loss, I hope it may also convey to you a sense of the homage that we feel toward his mother.The men of the old company join me in extending to you, our sincerest sympathy and good wishes.

Your servant,

Theodore S. Kenyon, Capt. 306 Inf.

Ballyshannon woman Kathleen McFadden (nee McIntyre)  at the grave of her
                uncle Corporal Edward   McIntyre who died in the First World War while serving
in the American Army in France.

Footnote. On the 4th November 2016 Anthony Begley, Jim Melly and Conor Carney, remembered those from the Ballyshannon area who had died in the First World War, at an illustrated Emerson Lecture in Dorrian’s Imperial Hotel ,which was attended by upwards of 200 people. This was possibly the first local remembrance of the First World War in the past one hundred years.The event was organised by County Donegal Historical Society in association with The Allingham Arts Festival. In August 2016 large crowds attended a centenary walk through Ballyshannon which  remembered the independence struggle during the 1916 period. During 2016 "The Donegal Democrat" and "The Donegal Post" in a series of newly researched articles , recorded the memories of local involvement in both major events , which occurred one hundred years ago .These articles by Anthony Begley can be found  (or will be posted) as local history blogs on the internet at 

3 Images of Ballyshannon at Christmas 2016 thanks to Ballyshannon Business Chamber

(l.tor.) Anthony Begley.Jim Melly
and  Conor Carney at "Local Memories of World War One and the Battle of the Somme" talk in Dorrian's Imperial Hotel 2016.

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