When the great historian and first ‘telly don’ A.J.P. Taylor published his short history of the First World War just in time for the remembrance days of fifty years ago he wrote that the war reshaped the political order in Europe. That its memorials stood in every town and village and that the real hero of the war was the Unknown Soldier.
The launch on Sunday 11 November 2018 at Tullamore Central Library of Offaly and the Great War brings us one step closer to recalling those who fought in the war from this county and those who died. It is difficult to believe that a war that killed perhaps 40,000 Irishmen and upwards of 700 from or connected with this county should have received such little attention over the 100 years. Offaly and the Great War is the first such publication to provide more than listings of those who died.
The pioneering work of Vivienne Clarke, Tom Burnell, Ciarán Reilly Raymond Metters and Catherine Watson in helping us to establish just who those pioneering soldiers were was all important. Their work and this new book will help to establish a biographical dictionary of all who enlisted, were casualties or were lucky enough to survive. Research work is not to glorify or pity but to seek to comprehend. Why did people join is often asked. If it was solely for wages it was no bargain for many. Propaganda and peer pressure must have played a part. Research work will lead on to analysis of the participants in terms of geography, social class, occupations, wartime experience and the aftermath in a changed Ireland. How did the war impact on Ireland? We know that without the war there would not have been a rebellion in 1916. Perhaps it would have come later or perhaps not at all.
From Offaly up to 2,500 went to the war (enlisting not just in Birr at Crinkle Barracks (home to the Leinster Regiment) but all over Ireland, England the Empire and the United States) and up to 700 connected with the county died in the war. The exact number who died may never be known. It may have been as low as 550, but when those associated with the county through work, or having migrated, the figure may be as much as 700. Some such as Gerard Sherlock of Rahan Lodge, Tullamore were already part of the regular army while others, such as Patrick Boland of Puttaghan, Tullamore enlisted in the course of the war.
Both deaths, that of Sherlock and Boland, were typical of the make-up of the soldiers who went to war from Protestant and Catholic well-to-do people, to working men, often from the same family and street, in the towns and villages of Ireland.
Gerard E. Sherlock of Rahan Lodge
The first to be killed in the war from County Offaly was almost certainly Gerard L. E. Sherlock, who died in action on 25 August 1914 in Togoland, a German protectorate in West Africa. He was the second son of David Sherlock, D.L. of Rahan Lodge, near Tullamore. The Sherlocks were a well-off Catholic family with land and legal interests and Gerard and his two brothers were educated at Clongowes Wood College in Kildare. All three fought in the war. Gerard Sherlock was also the first Clongownian to be killed in the war – John Redmond’s own school and that of his brother Willie (killed Flanders 1917).
The Burrowes brothers of Clara
The first reported death in King’s County evoked sympathy which would be less obvious as the war continued into its third and fourth years. The local Independent noted on 19 September 1914 that no other causalities had so far been recorded. ‘Most of the men from the district are serving with the Leinster Regiment – believed to be attached to the second army which has now reached France.’ One who was said to have been killed on 22 August was Frank Burrowes of Clara, a corporal in the 2nd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. He was killed in the first few weeks of the war at Mons at the age of 31 and was one of four brothers from Clara – three of whom were killed Tom Burnell states that it occurred on 26 August and the Tullamore Tribune (10 Oct. 1998) on 22 August. However, the Mons battle was fought on 23–4 August and was the first major battle the British fought in the war. It was in the same district that the last shot was fired on 11 November 1918. The first known Irish casualty that day, 23 August 1914, was Maurice Dease who was also the first Irishman to be awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
Private Patrick J. McEvoy, Geashill
Another early death in the war was that of Private Patrick J. McEvoy who was born in Geashill, enlisted in Tullamore and lived in Waterford. He was said to have died on 14 September 1914. A press report states that he was from Kilbride, Portarlington.
A more detailed report of Sherlock’s death was provided in the King’s County Chronicle in November 1914:
‘How a Brave Young King’s County Man Died.
We previously informed our readers of the death of Lieut. G. L. E. Sherlock, 3rd Hussars. He had been seconded for duty in Africa, and immediately after the outbreak of the war his detachment was engaged. A brother officer belonging to the Yola Column of the Nigerian Field Force, has sent home an account from the Cameroons. “We reached Yola by forced marches … and we at once crossed the river heavy fighting Germans evidently had orders to pick off the white men … It was very sad about poor Sherlock. The action was practically over and he had just come up in time to save a German officer’s life. He turned away and the officer’s orderly let drive and got Sherlock through the throat. Needless to say, both officer and orderly didn’t survive half a minute. . . . Togoland fell to the British the following day – 26 August.”’
Another brother, Capt. Edward W. Sherlock, received the Military Cross in 1916 and got a hero’s welcome in Tullamore in February of that year organised by the town council and held in the Foresters Hall (at that time located Tullamore Youth Club is today).
Corporal Patrick Boland, Puttaghan, Tullamore – ‘one of the tragedies of the Great War’
The last Offaly person to be killed in the war may have been Patrick Boland of Puttaghan, Tullamore, aged about 26 the son of a farmer. The war fizzled out in November 1918 with cessation announced for 11 November at 11 a.m. It had started for Britain and Ireland at 11 p.m. on 3 August – midnight in Germany.
Patrick Boland’s enlisted in Tullamore in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 5th Battalion (service no: 27067) in 1915 during the time of Major O’Connor’s recruiting campaign in Offaly. Boland saw two years of action, fighting in the Dardanelles, Serbia and was in Palestine up to June 1918 when part of the army moved to the Western Front. He had been allowed home in August 1918 for ten days and then returned to France. He was killed in action and his date of death was 8 November 1918. The Independent states it was 9 November, two days before the ceasefire. Boland was almost certainly the son of Patrick and Elizabeth Boland of Puttaghan, Tullamore. He may have had a brother James in the war. James Boland was a brother of Patrick Boland, He served in the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia. Severely wounded, he was invalided home and eventually discharged. Photograph in Tullamore, no. 2 from TKI of c. mid-January 1916. The Independent reported on 30 November 1918:
Two days before the “cease fire” Corporal P. Boland, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 2nd Batt., youngest son of Mr Pat. Boland, Tullamore, was killed in action in France. His father, with whom the boy was a great favourite, and the other members of the family, were greatly distressed by the sad news which came from Secd-Lieut, Gibson, who stated that he fell gallantly. Deceased soldier and his chum, an Ulster chap, named McKenna changed home addresses prior to going into action with the promise that should one survive the other would correspond with the parents. McKenna survived and kept his promise, his letter arriving by the same post as Lieut Gibson’s. ‘The late Corporal Boland joined the Inniskilling Fusiliers about three years ago during Major O’Connor’s recruiting tour in the King’s County. He joined along with some other Tullamore men and had two years active service. He visited his parents on a short furlough in August last and was then in robust health. He took part in several engagements, in the Dardanelles, Serbia and Palestine, and never received a scratch in any of them. His fall within a few hours of the ceasefire is particularly tragic. Deep sympathy is felt for his parents in their sad bereavement. His uncle, Stephen Boland of Tullamore, predeceased him by a few days. Patrick Boland is buried at Avesnes-Le Sec Communal Cemetery Extension in France. His brother-in-law, Luke Walsh of Ballycowan, was also killed in the war.
‘The anguish of Patrick Boland’s parents is more easily imagined than described. . .It is indeed one of the terrible tragedies of the Great War, which, thank God has come to an end.’
There was nothing glorious about the deaths of Gerard Sherlock or of Patrick Boland. As for so many in the Great War theirs were sad and stupid deaths.