PRIVATE ROBERT HAMILTON

Name of Hamilton R. (Private) on panel 141 at Tyne Cot memorial. Our group visited the CWGC cemetery on July 25th 2019.

Pointing to the name of Pte Robert Hamilton

The panel with names of soldiers from the Royal Irish Fusiliers

Our group at the Tyne Cot Memorial following a short prayer service led by Canon Andrea Wills (Foxford)

Placing a cross at the Tyne Cot Memorial in memory of Pte Robert Hamilton of Ballinode

Private Robert Hamilton enlisted in Monaghan town in the Royal Irish Fusiliers (the ‘Faugh-a-Ballaghs’) when a recruitment party came to town in March 1915. He fought at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 and was invalided at some stage so he would have returned home to Kilmore East. He left Ballinode on Easter Saturday at the end of March 1918 and returned to his unit on the western front in France, only to be killed in action three weeks later.

Private Robert Hamilton picture from The Northern Standard April 1918
There is also a plaque in his memory in St Dympna’s Church of Ireland church, Ballinode which has provided the springboard for a talk I gave to Tydavnet Historical Society on Friday 21st November 2014 in Ballinode. The talk would not have been possible without the research and interest shown by Marie McKenna and two distant Hamilton relations Ruby Heasty and Heather Stirratt and I acknowledge their assistance.

Plaque in St Dympna’s Church of Ireland Church, Ballinode, Co. Monaghan

THIEPVAL VISITOR CENTRE

When you arrive at the CWGC memorial at Thiepval, there is a visitor centre you can enter. There is a museum with WWI artefacts, including a full scale replica of a Nieuport 17 ‘Vieux Charles V’ biplane piloted by Georges Guynemer, a famous French flying ace. He was reported as missing in action in 1917, after more than fifty successful combat missions against the Germans.

Replica of the WWI plane flown by Georges Guynemer

There are examples of ordnance including shells and weapons such as a Vickers machine gun. A helmet with the red hand symbol of the 36th Ulster Division can be seen in one of the exhibition cases.

Helmets including one from 36th Ulster Division

The visitor centre, built in 2004, also incorporates the Thiepval Museum. The museum opened in June 2016 to mark the centenary of the 1916 Battle of the Somme. The visitor centre and museum are located a short distance from the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme and the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery. The idea for a visitor centre museum was first discussed at the annual ceremony of Remembrance on 1st July 1998. Sir Frank Sanderson led a small group in the campaign to build this educational centre. The Anglo-French project was brought to fruition with the help of generous donations to meet the British fundraising target of £660,000.

The visitor centre has been imaginatively constructed at ground level so that it does not impact as an obtrusive building on the local area around the Thiepval Memorial. It welcomes many thousands of visitors to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing each year. At the centre the memorial is put in the context of the battlefield. Display panels in three languages — English, French and German — provide an overview of the course of the Great War from 1914-1918. Display panels focus on the events during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 which occurred at the small village of Thiepval and its surroundings.

Vickers machine gun

In British service, the Vickers gun fired the standard .303 inch cartridges used in the Lee Enfield rifle, which generally had to be hand-loaded into the cloth ammunition belts. There was also a 0.5 in calibre version used as an anti-aircraft weapon and various other calibres produced for foreign buyers. The gun was 3 feet 8 inches (112 cm) long and its cyclic rate of fire was between 450 and 600 rounds per minute. In practice, it was expected that 10,000 rounds would be fired per hour, and that the barrel would be changed every hour—a two-minute job for a trained team.

Vickers machine gun

Three films, each lasting approximately 10 minutes, have been specially compiled covering the subjects of Thiepval, The Battle of the Somme and Memory. The museum provides information, maps, photographs and audivisual experiences to help visitors understand the battles that took place in the Department of the Somme.

WWI shells at Thiepval museum

PTE THOMAS HUGHES VC

Private Thomas Hughes of the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers was born in Corravoo, Castleblayney, in 1885. He was 29 when the Great War began. He was awarded the V.C. for actions at Guillemont in France during the Battle of the Somme on 3rd September 1916. Plaques at the Catholic church in Guillemont commemorate him and two other holders of the Victoria Cross. Our group visited the church on the third day of our visit to World War One sites.

The citation read: “For most conspicuous bravery and determination. He was wounded in an attack but returned at once to the firing line after having his wounds dressed. Later seeing a hostile machine gun, he dashed out in front of his company, shot the gunner and single handedly captured the gun. Though again wounded, he brought back three prisoners”.

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King George V presents Pte Hughes with his VC in Hyde Park in 1917

Walking with the aid of crutches, Hughes was personally awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V at an investiture at Hyde Park in London on 2nd June 1917. He also received the 1914–15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal. Hughes was later promoted to the rank of Corporal. It was his custom each year to attend the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London. When he returned to Ireland, it was a very different country to the one he had left. Soldiers who had gone to fight in the British cause were often shunned and their exploits were largely forgotten.

Thomas Hughes died on 8th January 1942, aged 56, and is buried in the cemetery at St Patrick’s Church, Broomfield. His Victoria Cross medal is held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea in London.

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Grave of Pte Hughes in Broomfield, Co. Monaghan Pic. Monaghan Heritage

Speaking at the unveiling of a blue plaque memorial for Pte Hughes in Castleblayney in February 2017, Minister Heather Humphreys said she had travelled to Thiepval and Guillemont in July and September in 2016, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and to remember the many Irish men who died there from the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division. In the small, beautiful church in Guillemont, a tiny village in Northern France, she saw the plaques on the wall in honour of Thomas Hughes.

Hughes is one of 27 Irish holders of the Victoria Cross for whom the British government arranged a paving stone to be placed at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, paid for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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Stone for Pte Hughes VC unveiled at Glasnevin

Despite the romance sometimes portrayed in newspaper columns such as the Northern Standard, recruitment to the British Army remained very low for the county for the entire war. By October 1916 only 738 men from County Monaghan had answered the call to enlist, the majority being Protestants (although they represented approximately one-fifth of the population at the time). Slow recruitment was blamed several times on the prominence of agriculture in the county, with the farming classes accused of not wanting to go to war because they were prospering financially.

In total around 2,500 Monaghan men served in the Great War. There were notable contributions from some families. Seven Roberts brothers from Killybreen in Errigal Truagh all joined the British army at different stages. Seven sons of Sir Thomas Crawford of Newbliss served, and three of these were decorated for gallantry. Four Steenson brothers from Glaslough joined up and two were killed. In all, nearly 540 Monaghan men were killed in the war, about half of them Protestant and half Catholic.

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Blue plaque in Castleblayney for Private Thomas Hughes VC

The unveiling of the Ulster History Circle blue plaque for Private Hughes in Castleblayney was attended by his niece Josephine (Hughes) Sharkey from Dundalk, and her daughter Siobhan. Other relatives included PJ McDonnell, (originally from Broomfield), Chair of the Monaghan Association in Dublin. His father’s mother and the mother of Thomas Hughes were sisters. Other relations came from the Donaghmoyne area, including Ann Christy, a grand niece, Brian Conway from Castleblayney, Pauline McGeough (Broomfield), Rosemary Hughes-Merry (Castleblayney), Angela McBride from Carrickmacross and a distant cousin, Frank Hughes, originally from Laragh.

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Niece of Pte Hughes, Josephine Sharkey from Dundalk, with his portrait

The attendance included former members of the Irish Defence Forces from the Blayney Sluagh group, representatives of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the regimental museum in Enniskillen, members of the Lisbellaw and south Fermanagh WW1 Society (who also visited the grave of Private Hughes), and the curator of Monaghan County Museum, Liam Bradley, who had organised a number of events for the 1916 Somme centenary.

Siobhan (Hughes) Sharkey read a poem which had been specially composed for the occasion of the presentation of the Victoria Cross to Private Hughes in 1917. On his return to Castleblayney, the urban district council with Lord Francis Hope arranged an address of welcome for Hughes to celebrate his bravery on winning the “coveted trophy which is emblematical of the highest bravery on the battlefield”. Local dispensary Dr J.P. Clarke said it was with great pleasure he read in the press of the coveted decoration “being pinned to the breast of our hero.” He did not know whether it was time for poetry or not, but anyhow he could recite them a few lines he had composed for the occasion (in Castleblayney in 1917)…

POEM: THOMAS HUGHES V.C.

Before the Kaiser’s war began with frightfulness untold,

How many a peaceful hero worked in many a peaceful fold,

How many a valiant soldier strove to keep the home fires bright,

How saddened skies weep over their graves in pity through the night.

From Suvla Bay to doomed Ostend, from Jutland to Bordeaux,

They fought and bled and died to save these countries from the foe;

In Flanders, France and Belgium, from Seine to Grecian shore,

Brave were the deeds and bright the hopes of boys we’ll see no more.

‘Mongst them times forty thousand men picked out from Ireland’s sons,

Who went to fight the Austrians, the Bulgars, Turks and Huns,

How few returned with due reward their valour to repay,

But Thomas Hughes of Corravoo, V.C., is here to-day.

A Blayney man whose noble deeds uphold our country’s pride,

Who saved his comrades, took the gun, cast thought of self aside,

And changed defeat to victory in blood-soaked trenches when,

He ranked with bravest of the brave — the Connaught Rangers men.

Tom Hughes was reared where sun at dawn makes shadows lightly fall,

Across Fincarn’s ancient hill so sacred to us all;

For there tradition tells an Irish hero proudly rests,

Strong Finn McCool, the warrior, enshrined in Irish breasts,

Near by the road in Lackafin, beside lone Corravoo,

Remains of Irish chiefs are found in cromlech plain to view,

Among these scenes his youth was passed, no recreant was he,

For when his chance to fight arrived he well won his V.C.

He faced grim death while all around like Autumn leaves men fell,

He fought good fight and gained the day despite the raging hell

Of bullets, bayonets, shrapnel, Jack Johnson’s gas set free.

Now raise three cheers, and three times three, for Thomas Hughes V.C.!”

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Unveiling of plaque in Castleblayney by Minister Heather Humphreys TD (right) and relatives of Pte Hughes VC

IRISH PEACE PARK MESSINES

This was the second time I visited the WW1 Irish Peace Park at Messines, or Mesen as it is now known in Flemish, not far from Ieper. The first occasion was to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Battle of Messines on 7th June 2017.

With An Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Irish Peace Park on June 7th 2017 for the Battle of Messines centenary commemoration

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD and Britain’s Prince William joined Princess Astrid of Belgium and Lord Dunlop, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office to honour the soldiers who fought in the battle. They laid wreaths at the foot of the Round Tower memorial, before meeting invited guests including descendants of those who fought at the Battle.

The successful Allied offensive on June 7th 1917 was the first occasion the 36th Ulster and 16th Irish divisions fought together on the front line. The two divisions predominantly comprised men who were on opposing sides of the great political upheaval back in Ireland around whether the country should be granted self-governance from Westminster.

The Peace Park is dominated by a replica Irish round tower was intended as a symbol of reconciliation to bring together loyalists and nationalists, Protestants and Catholics, particularly from a younger generation in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It was the brainchild of the late Paddy Harte from Co. Donegal and Glen Barr, a former loyalist paramilitary leader from Derry. There is a plaque remembering their joint efforts on the wall beside the exit.

Plaque remembering Paddy Harte and Glen Barr whose vision of a project of reconciliation came to fruition in the Peace Park

Round Tower at the Irish Peace Park

The Peace Tower is dedicated to all those from the island of Ireland who fought and died in the First World War 1914-18. It was erected by ‘a Journey of Reconciliation’ Trust, with the support of local people from Messines. On Remembrance Day 11th November 1998, eighty years after war came to an end, President McAleese unveiled a plaque in the presence of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and His Majesty King Albert II of Belgium.

Details of the casualties suffered by the three Divisions from the island of Ireland

The words of ‘Navvy poet’ and soldier Patrick MacGill from Donegal

In memory of the 36th (Ulster) Division

Stone memorials in the grounds of the Irish Peace Park

HRH CHARLES LIKED DONEGAL

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Prince Charles at the Somme Centenary Service at the Thiepval Memorial  Pic. PA

PRINCE CHARLES HOPES TO MAKE ANOTHER VISIT TO IRELAND

President and Minister Humphreys Participate in Battle of Somme Centenary

Michael Fisher  NORTHERN STANDARD Thursday 7th July 2016 p.1

Britain’s Prince Charles has told Minister Heather Humphreys during an informal meeting at the Somme Centenary in France he would be happy to return to Ireland on another visit. The Minister who chairs the consultation group on commemorations said the Prince of Wales told her he had been very impressed with Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal.

Six weeks ago Minister Humphreys welcomed Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Duchess of Cornwall to Glenveagh. The Minister described it as one of the jewels of Ireland’s natural heritage. It is one of six national parks in Ireland and is run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which comes under the brief of Minister Humphreys.

The Cavan/Monaghan TD accompanied President Higgins at the Thiepval Memorial last Friday for a service marking the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916. The Minister said it was very important that the Irish Defence Forces led by Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett had been included in the ceremony along with British and Commonwealth servicemen and women.

ULSTER TOWER

Following the poignant service attended by 10,000 guests Minister Humphreys represented the government at a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Ulster Tower. It is beside Thiepval Wood where soldiers from the 36th Ulster Division including some Monaghan men left the trenches at 7.30am on July 1st 1916 to advance towards the German lines. She laid a wreath along with the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster MLA and the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers MP.

The previous day Heather Humphreys paid tribute to the 16th Irish Division who had entered the battle two months later at Guillemont and also sustained heavy losses. The Minister attended a special performance in Amiens by the Abbey Theatre of the play “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme”.

STATE COMMEMORATION

On Saturday, the Minister will attend the main state event to commemorate the Somme Centenary, which is being held in conjunction with the Royal British Legion. It will take place in the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin at 12 noon and will be televised live by RTÉ.

Invited guests will include members of the government, Council of State, elected representatives, members of the diplomatic corps and judiciary, and representatives of a large number of veterans’ organisations. It will involve a wreath-laying by the President Higgins. Ambassadors of the countries that fought at the Somme and the Presidents of the Royal British Legion from the Republic and Northern Ireland will also lay wreaths.

Speaking to the Northern Standard on her return from France, Minister Humphreys said the services in Thiepval had been very moving. She said the representation of the Irish government and Defence Forces at the Ulster Tower had been very much appreciated. She met representatives of the Orange Order there, building on contacts developed when she attended the visit by Prince Charles in May to a new Museum of Orange Heritage at Loughgall, Co. Armagh, which had been part-funded by the Irish government.

The Minister said she had wanted the programme of events for the centenary commemorations to be inclusive and respectful and it had been. It had opened up our understanding of events in 1916. It was not about one narrative, but concerned all the narratives and it was important to hear all the personal accounts from that era. People like 18 year-old Katie McGrane from Magheracloone, who in a letter to her mother dated May 2nd, 1916 had described the streets of Dublin city centre in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.

We had matured as a nation in our ability to accept and hear about the events and stories of one hundred years ago, the Minister said. We had reconnected with our history and there was now a great sense of pride, she said. She felt there had been great community engagement for the commemorative programme, including in County Monaghan. This included the distribution of the national flag to national schools with talks on civic duty and citizenship.

She believed it was important to keep the momentum going. She complimented the great work done for the 1916 Centenary by Monaghan County Council, the County Museum, the library service as well as local arts and heritage groups.

MOORE STREET SITE

Minister Humphreys also responded to criticism she was failing to protect buildings at Moore Street in Dublin city centre connected with the Easter Rising. Last month the government decided to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court over a High Court ruling which declared Moore Street to be a 1916 “battlefield site” and was therefore due to be protected. Earlier this year, a court action had been successfully taken by the 1916 Relatives Group which sought to prevent the destruction of buildings on the street.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD condemned the decision by the government to appeal the High Court judgement. He said it was scandalous that in the centenary year of the Rising the government would refuse to uphold a court judgement that would protect Moore Street and its environs that were part of the legacy of 1916. Instead of defending and protecting the historical legacy of the Rising the government was putting the rights of developers and profiteers first, Mr Adams claimed.

Minister Humphreys said she was the first Minister to do anything about purchasing the site at 14-17 Moore Street last year. They had then embarked on a programme of conservation for the four buildings, to show what they were like in 1916 with the holes between the houses used by the rebels to move from one room to another. This site was where the Rising’s leaders held their last council of war and decided to surrender.

The Minister argued that other buildings on the street had been constructed after 1916 and were not historically significant. The vast bulk of the surrounding properties were privately owned. Her remit extended to the National Monument, which was being preserved. These houses retained significant 18th-century elements, including staircases, partitions, plasterwork, doors, floors, fittings and fixtures. The development of the wider street was a matter for Dublin City Council, she said.

However in his High Court judgment, Mr Justice Max Barrett said the wealth of evidence before the court pointed to historical significance in some of the other buildings. These included number 10, a portion of the parting wall at number 13 and number 18, as well as the building at 20-21 Moore Street.

Minister Humphreys said owing to the potential widespread implications of the “battlefield” judgement for planning and development nationally, the government had decided to appeal the decision. If the whole street was a national monument, then how would this translate to other historical sites, she asked. She said she fully understood that Moore Street was a location that held great importance for many people.

The Minister said she intended to establish a consultative group on Moore Street with an independent Chair as a means to make positive progress in relation to the future of the street. The group would include cross-party Oireachtas members and other relevant stakeholders including the 1916 relatives. She hoped they would sit down and see how they could progress the situation and make sure the four precious buildings were restored.

The completed project would be a permanent legacy to the leaders of 1916. She hoped the group could chart a way forward. The government was committed to looking after the four buildings with their original fabric, she said.