Waterloo and some Birr connections. By Stephen Callaghan

Those not overly familiar with military history will be still aware of famous battles, probably none more than Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington and his allies in 1815. As today is the 207th anniversary of this decisive battle, we will look at some of the men who were present at this battle who now lie buried in Birr. There are at least four men buried in the town who were present at the battle with many more who fought during the Peninsular Wars, which is a topic for another post. A sad observation is that other than the officers, the other brave men mentioned below are all buried in unmarked graves.

St Brendan’s Old Graveyard

Major George Washington Holmes, 92nd Foot

Born in Dublin around 1770. In this early life he visited North America where he worked in civil employment for a number of years. He returned home to Ireland and shortly after received a commissioned as an Ensign in the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment of Foot. He was promoted to Lieutenant in October 1799.

Present in Egypt in 1801, he fought during the unsuccessful Walcheren Expedition. This followed on with service during the Peninsular War (1795 – 1814). He was severely wounded during the Battle of the Pyrenees (25 – 30 July 1813) and then again at the Battle of Nive (11 December 1813). Captain Holmes was present at the Battle of Waterloo where yet again he was severely wounded. The 92nd Regiment of Foot suffered heavy casualties during the battle. On the 20 July 1815 he was promoted to Major.

Major Holmes impressive service entitled him the Sultan’s medal for Egypt, the Military General Service medal with the clasps Egypt, Vittoria, Pyrenees and Nive and the Waterloo medal.

Box tomb of Major George Washington Holmes, St Brendan’s old cemetery, Birr

After leaving the army, Major Holmes settled in Parsontown. He is recorded in the 1821 census as residing in a two-storey house at 4, Oxmantown Place, with his wife Mary and their two daughters Jane aged 14 years and Georgina aged 11 years along with their indoor servant, Margaret Delany. Major Holmes was the local director of the Provincial Bank since the first establishment of the its branch in Parsonstown. He was also treasurer of the Savings Bank and a trustee of the Parsonstown Loan Fund Society.

Major Holmes died on 1 January 1852 at the age of 82 years. The local newspaper, the King’s County Chronicle, published a substantial obituary in which it referred to him as ‘a lion on the field of battle, yet as mild and benevolent in peace as a lamb’. The paper also noted how when leaving his house, he would take fruit and a halfpenny, the fruit given to his neighbours’ children and the halfpence to charity. The day of his funeral every shop was closed, and the funeral itself was attended by almost every inhabitant of Parsonstown.

Bully’s Acre

Private James Stirling, Coldstream Guards

Various newspapers around Ireland recorded the death of James Stirling in Parsonstown, King’s County in October 1875. The papers all mention he was a veteran of Battle of Waterloo, however don’t substantiate too much more on his military career or personal life.

Searching the medal roll for the Waterloo medal, we find two men with that name. The first is a Captain in the 42nd Regiment of Foot, however he was not present at the battle, and doesn’t match up with the few details we have from newspaper reports. This is unlikely to be our man. Our man has to be Private James Stirling of the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards.

During the battle of Waterloo the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards served as part of the 2nd Guards, Brigade at Château d’Hougoumont. Members of the regiment were responsible for closing the gates of the farm after the French attack. Wellington crediting the closing of the gates as a turning point in the battle.

Further research reveals little to nothing about James. His burial in Birr is recorded in the Church of Ireland parish records. He was buried on 26 October, the ceremony being performed by Reverend William Ewing. The Midland Counties Advertiser published an obituary for James on 28 October 1875 which sums up this old warrior in a very fitting manner.

Defence of Hougomont by the Coldstream Guards – copyright National Army Museum


TOWN. – The air of Parsonstown appears to be par-

ticulary favourable to the old war worn veterans of

our army. One by one, however, they are dropping

off and on Tuesday last the grave opened to receive

one of the last of the Mohicans in the person of a

diminutive Waterloo hero named James Stirling.

The departed warrior, who reached the ripe age of

98, was, it is stated, in receipt of a small pension

for upwards of 60 years, in consequence of a wound

received during the Waterloo campaign. Up to a

short time before his death he was almost daily to

be seen trotting through the streets, ready at any

moment to fight his battles o’er again for the grati-

fication of his hearers.

Private Hugh Leonard, 6th Inniskilling Dragoons

Hugh was born in parish of Kilsaran, Drogheda. A weaver by trade, he joined the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons on 9 January 1813. Upon enlisting he was described as 24 years old, 5 foot 7 inches tall and having fair hair and grey eyes. The Inniskilling Dragoons were sent to France in April 1815. The unit was called into action on 16 June and then on 18 June for the Battle of Waterloo where the regiment charged French lines. The regiment suffered 86 officers and men killed and 107 officers and men wounded. Hugh was one of these wounded men, a French lance had passed through his lung and hip. He settled in Birr after being discharged from the army and seems to have spent the rest of his life here.

Hugh had a run in with the law in 1847, having accepted a stolen bank post bill, which belonged to Simpson Hackett Esq. This resulted in the suspension of his pension and a 12 month prison sentence for the felony. Griffiths Valuation of Ireland records Hugh as living on Barrack Street, Crinkill in 1854.

Hugh died in Crinkill on 14 June 1876, aged 90, from bronchitis. His death was recorded in the local newspapers.

‘A WATERLOO VETERAN, – One of these heroes named High Leonard, died on Monday in the village of Crinkill, within a mile of Parsonstown, Our informant say Hugh was in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and wounded twice, one having been a bayonet and the other a gunshot. At 28 he was discharged on a pension of 6d. a-day which was increased afterwards to 1s. 6d., and dying at the age of ninety he must have been drawing a pension for a period of 62 years. Not the least strange point is the fact his wife, who survives him, followed him to the war as far as Flanders, where it seems she was cared by an officer’s lady. If rumour be correct the venerable female supposes that the Queen would like to get a letter from her; and on hearing of Hughey’s death will sympathies with the sorrowing aged widow of the old Inniskilling Dragoon. The remains of the last of the Inniskilling Dragoon. The remains of the last of the Inniskillings were interred in Drumbane graveyard (better known as Bully’s Acre) on Tuesday afternoon’.

6th Inniskillings at Waterloo

Corporal William Butler, 54th Foot and Rifle Brigade

William was born around 1785 in Parsonstown. He worked as a weaver before he enlisted for service in the 54th Regiment of Foot on 4 July 1812. He was present with this regiment at the Battle of Waterloo where they captured Cambrai in the aftermath of the battle. Corporal Butler continued to serve with the 54th Foot until 10 November 1818. He reenlisted for service in the Rifle Brigade from 24 May 1819 until 31 May 1826 until chronic rheumatism resulted in his discharge from the army. Upon his discharge at Tralee, he was recorded as being 45 years old, 5 foot 9 ¼ inches tall and having brown coloured eyes and hair.

The King’s County Chronicle featured an article about him on 30 July 1874:

“A WATERLOO VETERAN – Birr has the distinction

of being, in 1874, the residence of a soldier of the Waterloo times. Old Butler, of Burke’s Hill joined

the army in 1811. Served under Wellington and

other bygone general in the Peninsula and at

Waterloo; and after serving King and Country had

the strength to work at farm labour for the success-

sive Earls of Rosse, his toil in the farm field after

his toils in the battle field having extended over a

period of 34 years. He is now, at 90 years, vigorous

in memory, though weak in body, living in Burke’s

Hill, and appears to take comfort in recalling his

experiences and observations of days when most of

the present generation were unborn.”

William died the day after the article was published, his cause of death given as old age. He newspaper issued a mention of his death the following week.

Thanks to Stephen Callaghan for his recent lecture on Birr Barracks. It will be posted shortly. If you would like to contribute an article email us, info@offalyhistory.com