I first came to Lt Col Francis Clere Hitchcock, OBE, MC via his brother Reginald (Rex). I was writing my biography (Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Hollywood Screen) about the older Hitchcock, and soon realised that one of the defining influences on his life and work was his close relationship with his brother.
The Hitchcock family and Kinnitty
The Hitchcocks were born in Dublin, Rex on 18 January 1893, Frank on 15 March 1896. The family moved to Nenagh in 1898, to Borrisokane in 1901, and to Kinnitty in 1903. Their father, Rev. Hitchcock, was a Church of Ireland rector, whose appointment to Kinnitty was prompted by concerns for the health of his delicate wife. Kathleen. Rev. Hitchcock was a man of firm character; alongside his normal parochial duties he was an aficionado of military affairs. He wrote numerous books, some on predictable ecclesiastical matters, others in the vein of the Cultural Revival celebrating old Irish folktales and a pre-colonial past of magic and superstition. He was also a keen boxer, and rigged up a boxing ring in the stables of the rectory at Kinnitty to toughen up the boys. Kathleen, by contrast, was artistic and dreamy, much loved in the parish for her caring manner. Her early death in 1908, when the boys were barely in their teens, threw a pall over the Hitchcock home that Rex for one never fully recovered from. She left behind a material legacy, too, the wonderful wooden carvings on the panels of the pulpit in the Church of Ireland.
The Brigade Activity Reports (BAR) series of the Military Service (1916–1923) Pensions Collection, released by the Military Archive recently were compiled from 1935 onwards to assist in the verification of individual applications for pensions; nearly all of the reports include brief descriptions of particular operations undertaken or planned including some in Tullamore, the attacks on Clara barracks, Kinnitty, Raheen and more. A new publication, a Guide to the Brigade Activity Reports is available from the Military Archive and a copy can be downloaded there free of charge (hard copy in Offaly History Centre Library). The published guide contains useful essays together with listings of Brigade activity in Offaly, the diversionary attack at Geashill, the killing of Sgt Cronin and the death of Matthew Kane, IRA Volunteer. Last week we looked briefly at the killing of Sergeant Cronin and this week the aftermath. But first a mention of what else is contained in the BAR for Offaly.
Offaly had a small but significant part in the early years of military aviation. In September 1913 Offaly was an important base for some of the earliest uses of aircraft in the annual British Army manoeuvres; some of the Royal Flying Corps’ earliest crashes took place in Offaly during those operations. Approximately 85 men who served in the Allied flying services were born or from Offaly, but their impact was far greater than would be expected. Ferbane hosted an operational wartime base at ‘RAF Athlone’, and there was a landing ground at Birr during the 1918-1920 mobilisation period.
At the beginning of the centenary commemorations for the War, at the Theatre of Memory Symposium at the Abbey Theatre in 2014, President Higgins spoke of the commemorative activities in terms of myth-making and ethical remembering. He remarked that ‘for years the First World War has stood as a blank space in memory for many Irish people – an unspoken gap in the official narratives of this state’. He suggested that ‘literary memoirs written during or after the War can be enabling sources for ethical remembering’ and advocated using the commemorative period to create ‘opportunities to recollect the excluded, to include in our narratives the forgotten voices and the lost stories of the past’. In the aftermath of the death in the last few years of all the veterans of the War, to find these stories and these voices we must go back to the archives and seek out the diaries, memoirs letters and photographs of those who served. The Library in Trinity has a fascinating collection of this kind of material, gifted and bequeathed over the decades and, to mark the centenary of the War, the Library decided to publish this material online.
Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails is the name given to the online project which allows free access not only to digitised images of over 1500 pages of WW1 letters and diaries from the Library’s special collections, but transcriptions of the texts are also provided. There are nine war-time authors involved – almost all officers – and altogether they produced three sets of letters, four diaries (including a very brief home-front diary by the single female author among them) and three memoirs (two of which are prisoner-of-war accounts). The authors served on both Western and Eastern fronts, and ranged in age from twenty years of age to thirty-three. Two of them won Military Crosses, and one of them received the DSO having been mentioned in despatches seven times. This was Charles Howard-Bury – the oldest of our authors; he was born in Charleville Castle, Co. Offaly in 1881 and was a career military man who went with the British army to India in 1904. He was present at the Battle of the Somme and was eventually taken prisoner in 1918.
Congratulations to the people of Offaly in having secured as their member Ireland’s Ambassador to America. Their unanimous endorsement of his mission is particularly opportune. Dr McCartan will voice a united Ireland’s demand that the Irish people be given the right of self-determination and will tell the world that Irishmen will not fight as England’s slaves.
De Valera telegram to Dan MacCarthy, Dr Patrick McCartan’s election agent for the North King’s County by-election, April 1918. Irish Independent, 20 April 1918.
This week we publish a day earlier to mark the 100th anniversary of the General Election of 14 December 1918 – a watershed in the history of politics in Ireland. It should be noted that apart from the by-election of 1914 in North King’s County (Banagher-Tullamore-Edenderry district) no opportunity arose for the north King’s County parliamentary voters to go to the ballot box between 1885 and 1922. Notwithstanding all the excitement in 1918 for both the by-election in April and the general election in December Dr McCartan was unopposed. Women who had fought so much for the vote in the pre-war years did not get a chance to exercise the parliamentary franchise in north Offaly until 1922.
The conversation about the 100th anniversary of World War 1 this last month is on-going, with reference to poppys and Easter lilies, as part of the story. It should be a lot simpler as it has always been about remembering the people who died or who were injured in World War 1 and during the 1916-21 period in Irish history, without exclusion. In Kilbeggan we have two small memorials on the Green remembering World War 1 and Ireland between 1916-21, almost beside each other, as it’s the same history, the same nation, and in many ways the same ideals.
Living just beside the cemetery, we often walk there and I have been struck by the informative and often moving inscriptions on the
tombstones of the graves there. It struck me that these throw a
valuable sidelight into the pattern of life and death in Tullamore.
Some are very sad, especially those on the graves of infants and the
very young. There are others that make you reflect on how strange
attitudes are. For example, when we came to live here in the summer
of 1983, you never saw tombstones commemorating any of the thousands
of Irish volunteers who fell in the two World Wars. We know that
until very recently it wasn’t politic (except in the North) to admit
that any member of an Irish family had served in what was regarded as
British regiment. But one day, not so long ago, I noticed that a
number of War Grave Commission tombstones had suddenly appeared like
mushrooms in St Joseph’s Cemetery. I list them below:
War Graves in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Tullamore Continue reading →
The Parker Brothers of Clara and John Martin of Tullamore. One of the Parker boys was killed as was John Martin on 8 October 1918.
There was very little published work relating to Offaly in World War I until recent times. The 1983 essay by Vivienne Clarke was a first and rare examination of the period in Offaly, until Tom Burnell’s Offaly War Dead in 2010, and 2014’s Edenderry in the Great War by Catherine Watson. And so nearly every essay published in Offaly and the Great War which was launched to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War represents new and original historical research and findings, a very exciting prospect in the world of history publishing.The seventeen contributors have submitted essays that cover every aspect of the war and from almost all corners of the county.
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.
In July 2018 an interesting Great War campaign medal appeared on eBay, a single 1914–15 Star awarded to Private Frederick McDonald of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The description provided by the seller stated that Frederick was born in Birr, and that he had been killed in action during the war.
Further research unravels a forgotten story, which gives insight into the life of Frederick and his family. It is a story not too dissimilar among the many working class Catholic families in Birr, because serving in the British Army was a source of steady employment and a means to support a family.