RTE History Show and Hay Festival (Kells) combine to stage Gallipoli100, 24-26 April 2015, Kells, Co.Meath.


The weekly RTE Radio 1 programme The History Show and the organisers of the annual Hay Literary Festival in Kells have joined forces to launch a centenary commemorative event to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the ill-fated WW1 Dardanelles campaign   The event, which will be funded, in part, with the assistance of the Reconciliation Fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs, will take place on the centenary of the first landings by troops from Ireland, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

The Gallipoli campaign is part of the ‘foundation myth’ of Australia and New Zealand. This is clearly not the case in Ireland. However, almost 4000 Irish soldiers died at Gallipoli, three quarters of those in the volunteer 10th (Irish) Division. This compares with 8700 Australians. However, while the Australian fatalities came from a complement of over 60,000 soldiers (a death rate of 14.5%) the numbers of Irishmen serving in the Gallipoli campaign was closer to 15,000. This is a staggering fatality rate of almost 27%.

The three-day event will commence on the evening of Friday, 24 April with the delivery of the Francis Ledwidge Memorial Lecture by the distinguished Irish World War 1 historian Philip Orr, author of Field of Bones: An Irish Division at Gallipoli).

This will be followed on 25 April by a conference on the journalism and poetry of World War 1, entitled ‘The first draft of history?- journalism and poetry in the Great War’. Among the speakers will be Heather Jones, of the Department of International History at the London School of Economics, and author of Violence Against Prisoners of War in the First World War: Britain, France and Germany, 1914-1920: Myles Dungan, presenter of The History Show on RTE Radio 1 and author of Irish Voices from the Great War: and Mark Duncan, of the Century Ireland project.

On Saturday evening singer-songrwiter Declan O’Rourke will perform WW1-related songs in a show entitled ‘Poems of War, Songs of Peace’. World War 1 poetry will be read by Kells-based Welsh poet Nerys Williams (Sound Archive, 2011) while Declan will perform a repertoire that will include Irish anti-war songs The Recruiting Sergeant and Salonika, as well as the Eric Bogle trilogy of WW1 songs.

On 26 April a day of lectures will be devoted to the Gallipoli campaign. This will include short talks by Tom Burke of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, Donal McAnnallen of the GAA, Conor Mulvagh (UCD), Tomás Irish (TCD), John Borgonovo (UCC), Jennifer Wellington (UCD) as well as a Turkish perspective from Murat Balandi.

Also involved in the weekend activities will be military archaeologist and historian Damien Shiels, who will lead a walking tour of WW1 sites of memory in Kells: Tom Burnell, author of a number of works on Irish War dead and military genealogist Gordon Power, both of whom will be available for consultation should members of the public have questions on their areas of expertise.

All events will take place in St.Columba’s Church of Ireland church, Market St, Kells.

Tickets for all events can be purchased by contacting the booking office at 046 9240055 or kells@hayfestival.org

For media inquiries contact 046 9240055 or kells@hayfestival.org.





[Note: This survey is intended as a supplement to some conclusions drawn on fatalities in the afterword of the new revised edition of my book Irish Voices from the Great War]




To ascertain how many Irish-born names are included who fought with non-Irish units and to deduct these from the Irish-born total of 30,986 (source: www.findmypast.ie)



To establish how many fatalities occurred among those whose service originated in Ireland. To establish a fatality / enlistment ratio for purely Irish recruits – i.e. those Irishmen who joined up in Ireland or those Irishmen already in Irish regiments like the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, i.e. in the regular army or reserve.


A caveat – some of the Irish-born soldiers who died in British or non UK units may also have enlisted in Ireland. In, for example, a random sample of 1000 deaths of Irishmen who died serving in English regiments c.3.5% had transferred from Irish units and may well have been recruited in Ireland.


An additional caveat – the numbers recorded in the INWMR of those Irish-born soldiers who died in British units may not be exhaustive. There may be other Irishmen who died in British regiments whose names are not recorded.



Use of the invaluable Ireland’s Memorial Records page on the ‘In Flanders Fields’ website [imr.inflandersfields.be/search.html]


Basic search terms such as ‘Canada’ ‘USA’ ‘Lancashire’ ‘Royal Engineers’ etc. were entered and these were used to identify the numbers of Irish-born soldiers in British, Colonial and American units who have been included in the Irish memorial records


In the records of some soldiers there is an indication of previous units in which they served. Only units with which soldiers were serving at the time of their deaths were counted – this was to avoid the risk of double-counting


Where no place of birth was indicated [7405 instances] the soldier in question was not included in any count.








ENGLAND                              6044

SCOTLAND                             1290

WALES                                280

USA                                  13

CANADA                               53

INDIA                                11

AUSTRALIA                            20

NEW ZEALAND                          14

SOUTH AFRICA                         10


TOTAL                                7735


This means that 7735 names must be deducted from the total of 30,986 names in the Irish National War Memorial Records, designated as having been born in Ireland, in order to arrive at a tentative figure for Irish dead whose service actually originated in Ireland itself. As noted above this figure could err on the low side by around 3.5%.







However, it should also be noted when arriving at a tentative figure (no definitive figure is possible) that a significant percentage of the 7405 names in the INWM Records whose place of birth is not noted, were actually born in Ireland. On the basis of a ratio of 3:1 (Irish:Non Irish) for those whose country of origin is known we might well surmise that three-quarters of those 7405 men (5554) were born in Ireland.


This would give us an actual total of Irish-born of around 36,540 (30,986 + 5554)


From this we need to subtract 7735 – giving us a total of Irish-born serving in Irish units who died in the Great War of 28,805 – in other words an Irish fatality ratio of 1:7 – somewhat higher than the UK average of 1:8 (720,000 dead out of a serving complement of 5.7 million). It is worth noting that this figure is not far removed from the statistic of 27,405 given by the Irish Registrar General in the 1926 census as the number of Irish soldiers, excluding officers, who died on active service outside the UK between 1914-18. If deceased officers are added in the figure of 28,805 becomes even more plausible.


This of course does not take into account Irish fatalities in ‘colonial’ forces or in the US forces. The only figure that has, thus far, been independently researched, is that of Irish enlistment (c.6,000) and fatalities (c.900) in Australia undertaken by Prof Jeff Kildea. Work yet to be verified by this writer suggests that the equivalent US figure is 1200.





(SOURCE: WWW.FINDMYPAST.IE –   http://www.findmypast.ie/articles/world-records/full-list-of-the-irish-family-history-records/military-service-and-conflict/irelands-memorial-record-world-war)


IRISH                      30,986

ENGLISH                    9,162

NONE GIVEN                 7,405

SCOTTISH                   1,357

WELSH                      314

INDIA  N                   82

USA                        41

CANADIAN                   36

AUSTRALIAN                 21

SOUTH AFRICAN              12



This is my grand-uncle Pat O’Reilly, Baileborough, Co.Cavan – died on the Somme in September 1916 – his Lives of the First World War Site is here

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this – I’m no expert but I hope this helps.

If you are too daunted to do the work yourself I can recommend Gordon Power, military genealogist as one of the best researchers in this area. I have only met the guy once (last Saturday in Waterford Library at our Great War Roadshow) where he gave an amazing presentation) so I have no agenda and I’m not on a percentage of whatever fee he might charge. He can be emailed at gordonpower@yahoo.com




CAVEAT: 70% of the actual service records of WW1 soldiers were damaged or destroyed in the Blitz – so you may be disappointed in the quality and quantity of information available.


There is currently a plethora of websites willing to sell you information on your ancestor(s) who served. Often, however, there is no additional information available than details you can accumulate free of charge.







  1. Search under ‘Find War Dead’ – also select ‘war’ and ‘service’ (ie ‘Army’, ‘Navy’ etc) – [Smith, J]
  2. 2079 records match your search – here you will need to know the name of his regiment and, if possible, his service number – Click on name – more information available on cemetery







Imperial War Museum project. Essentially they are inviting you to add information to the personal web page they have created (one of 4.5 million so far) for a ‘remembered’. However, there is already some basic information on each soldier on their webpage.


  1. Search by name, unit or service number – ‘John Smith’
  2. 6552 results for ‘John Smith’ – choose the most likely one and click on the name – [British Army Royal Engineers Inland Waterways Transport, Service #220]
  3. Click on ‘Search Official Records’ – this may give date and place of birth
  4. Return to ‘Private John Smith’ homepage – click on Medal Index Card
  5. Select ‘? Facts were added in this source of evidence’


If you do have additional information / images of your ancestor do the world a favour and upload it onto this site for posterity.










NOTE: All the files below are available for inspection in The National Archive Reading Room in Kew in London


Unit War Diaries. (WO95)


These can be a mine of information [mostly typed and readable] or skimpy beyond belief. It’s the luck of the draw.


The good news is that some of this particular record series (WO95) has been digitized so the war diaries of battalions within the first 33 divisions of the army are available online. [Not much good if you want to research a relative in the 36th (Ulster) Division]


Search by going to http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/war-diaries-ww1.htm and entering the regiment, battalion, brigade or division number in the box provided.


There may be a charge for downloading.



Medal Card Index (WO 372)


All soldiers who served overseas were entitled to a service medal of some description. In addition many earned medals for gallantry. Each of those who served overseas (male or female) had a dedicated medal card. There are over 5m of these in the British National Archives in Kew


A charge of £3.30 is incurred if you wish to view a .pdf of the actual card. This may contain additional information on the soldier who is the object of your research.



A full list of TNA digitized WW1 collections can be seen at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war/centenary-digitised-records.htm



Silver War Badge records


The badge, which came into being in September 1916, was awarded to all of those military personnel who had served at home or overseas during the war, and who had been discharged from the army under King’s Regulations. This generally meant that the soldier had been released on account of being permanently physically unfit.


If your relative was discharged before September 1916 he may still have received a badge retrospectively.


The badges were useful for deflecting the grim attentions of members of the Order of the White Feather (who once presented a white feather to a sailor in civilian clothing on his way to accept the Victoria Cross). Wounded veterans could point to their silver war badge as evidence that they had not avoided enlistment. Badges bore the inscription ‘For King and Empire – Services Rendered.


The ‘Long Long Trail website gives an excellent rundown on the nature and scope of the records.








In some instances you will be re-directed from sites like The British National Archives to ancestry.com become this company has digitized many of the WW1 holdings of TNA. So I figured it was better to cut out the middleman here.


Some records may be hard to track down if they have been misfiled in the first instance and if names can not to read properly by the optical character recognition equipment.


Access to this service may be available free of charge through your local library


British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 (WO363) ‘The Burnt records’




This database contains the surviving service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who served in WWI and did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. With the final release, this database now contains the entire service records collection.


These records contain a variety of forms, including:


Attestation forms – the form completed by the individual on enlistment

Medical history forms

Casualty forms

Disability statements

Regimental conduct sheets


Proceedings on Discharge

Cover for Discharge Documents

Index Cards


Information available in these records includes:


Name of soldier




Marital status

Regimental number

Date of attestation

Physical description


An absolute goldmine if your man’s records survived the German bombs AND the fireman’s hoses. But only a 1:3 chance that you will turn up the relevant file.



British Army WW1 Pension Records (WO364)




Known as ‘The Unburnt Records’. Potentially useful where WW1 survivors are concerned


This database contains service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the Army and claimed disability pensions for service in WWI. These were also men who did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. Approximately 5 million men served in the British Army in World War One (WWI) and these records contain many of them, especially if they claimed a pension.


These records contain a variety of forms, including:


Attestation forms – the form completed by the individual on enlistment

Medical history forms

Casualty forms

Disability statements

Regimental conduct sheets



Information available in these records includes:


Name of soldier




Marital status

Regimental number

Date of attestation

Physical description


NB: Don’t bother if your soldier was killed in action or was not entitled to a disability pension











1901 and 1911 CENSUS


In the absence of conscription in Ireland the two digitized Irish censuses are not quite as useful as their British equivalents. However, they can certainly indicate whether the name for which you are searching was a male of military age (18-41 18-51 from 1918)


Soldiers Wills


To circumvent the necessity for a will to be witnessed legislation allowed soldiers to make wills on forms included in their paybooks.


At least 9000 of the 30,000+ Irish soldiers who died chose this option and their wills are preserved in the National Archives of Ireland. The wills have also been digitized and can be read online at http://soldierswills.nationalarchives.ie/search/sw/





The Irish Military Service Pensions are likely to become an increasingly useful source in years to come. At the moment the only information available is on 1916 veterans but as time goes on the files of Irish WW1 veterans who went on to join the IRA and fight in the War of Independence should also become available. There were at least 116 WW1 veterans in the IRA during the Anglo Irish War. Your grandad might have been one of them.


For the same reason it would be useful to consult the Bureau of Military History witness statements. Many names appear of men unconnected with the IRA. Perhaps your ancestor was an IRA target because of their WW1 service.






Irish National War Memorial Records – compiled in the 1920s and giving rise to the myth that 49,500 Irishmen died in the war – now searchable via

http://imr.inflandersfields.be/search.html – in some cases there is more information than on the CWGC website


The Long, Long,Trail: The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918

http://www.1914-1918.net . This site includes a useful tutorial page on how to go about researching a soldier – http://www.1914-1918.net/soldiers/research.html




Forces War Records is the sister site of Forces Reunited, the leading British military community on the web with more than one million members and reuniting veterans since 2001, part of Clever Digit Media Ltd.

This is a commercial site but is useful and user friendly.


www.rootschat.com – other people might be able to suggest avenues of research if you are facing dead ends




www.findmypast.ie – a commercial site but often accessible FOC via your local library





The Irish Times digital archive is a very useful source, especially for Dublin-based soldiers – however, it is likely to have more information on deceased soldiers than on those who survived – searchable


The Freeman’s Journal and Irish Independent for the Great War period are available on the Irish Newspaper Archive website – as are many local newspapers of the period (eg Kerryman, Limerick Leader, Meath Chronicle etc] – you can subscribe yourself to search and download but your local library may have an account with INA which will allow you to access the site FOC on library computers.


It may also be worth checking the London Gazette for details of military honours awarded




Irish regimental/museum websites



Some additional information can be found on the following websites, mostly maintained by dedicate enthusiasts who are willing to help you in your searches.






http://homepage.eircom.net/~tipperaryfame/leinster.htm- Leinster Regiment


http://royalirishrangers.co.uk/irish.html- Royal Irish Fusiliers

http://www.inniskillingsmuseum.com- facility to ‘trace a relative’ at a cost of £28








These will often give general ‘feel’ for the experience of your relatives and might even mention them specifically. I came across a reference to my own granduncle’s death (he was a mere rifleman/private) in Taylor’s history of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War.




Cooper, Bryan, The Tenth (Irish) Division in Gallipoli (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1993).

Cunliffe, Marcus, The Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1793-1968 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1970).

Denman, Terence, Ireland’s Unknown Soldiers: the 16th Irish Division in the Great War (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1992).

Doherty, Richard, The Sons of Ulster (Belfast, Appletree, 1992).

Dooley, Thomas, Irishmen or English Soldiers: The Times and World of a Southern Catholic Irish Man (1876-1916) Enlisting in the British Army in the First World War (Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1995).

Dungan, Myles Irish Voices from the Great War (Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1995)

Dungan, Myles, They Shall Grow not Old: Irish soldiers and the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1997).

Feilding, Rowland, War Letters to a Wife (London, Medici Society, 1929),

Fox, Sir Frank, The Royal Inniskilling Rifles in the World War (London, Constable, 1928).

Grayson, Richard S., Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together in the First World War (London, Continuum, 2009).

Hanna, Henry, The Pals at Suvla Bay (Dublin, Ponsonby, 1916).

Harris, Henry, Irish Regiments in the First World War (Cork, Mercier Press, 1968).

Hitchcock, Frank, Stand To: a Diary of the Trenches (Norwich, 1988).

Hogarty, Patrick, The Old Toughs: A Brief History of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion (Dublin, Private publication, 2001).

Horne, John, ed., Our War: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 2008).

Kipling, Rudyard, The Irish Guards in the Great War, Vol.1. (London, Macmillan,1923).

Laird, Frank, Personal Experiences of the Great War (Dublin, Eason, 1925).

Lucy, John, There’s a Devil in the Drum (London, London and Naval Military Press, 1992).

Johnstone, Thomas, Orange, Green and Khaki (Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1992).

McCance, Captain S., History of the Royal Munster Fusiliers: Volume II – from 1862-1922 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden,1927).

MacDonagh, Michael, The Irish at the Front (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1916).

MacDonagh, Michael, The Irish on the Somme, (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1917).

Orr, Phillip, The Road to the Somme (Belfast, Blackstaff Press, 1987).

Orr, Philip, Field of Bones: An Irish Division at Gallipoli (Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2006).

Quinn, Anthony P., Wigs and Guns: Irish Barristers in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2006).

Rickard, Jesse Louisa, The Story of the Munsters at Etreux, Festubert, Rue du Bois and Hulluch (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1918).

Robertson, David, Deeds not Words: Irish Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in Two World Wars (Multyfarnham, Privately published, 1998).

Taylor, James. W., The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2002).

Taylor, James. W., The 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2005).

Walker, G.A.C., The Book of the 7th Service Battalion – The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – from Tipperary to Ypres (Dublin, Brindley, 1920).

Whitton, Col.F.E., The History of the Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment, Vol.2 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1926).

Wyly, Col. H.C., Crown and Company – The Historical Record of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, vol.2 1911-1922 (London, Humphreys, 1923)

Wylly, Col.H.C., Neill’s Blue Caps – Vol.3, 1914-1922 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1923).


A number of counties (Cork, Louth, Cavan, Dublin, Donegal etc) have also now published ‘Roll of Honour’ books with information on those who died from that county.








New on Kindle – The Stealing of the Irish Crown Jewels


1907. The Irish Crown Jewels are stolen from under the noses of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in Dublin Castle a few days before the royal visit of King Edward VII. The stumped DMP send for Scotland Yard. The crime is never solved, perhaps because if the thief was ever identified a huge scandal would follow? This is the tale of an audacious robbery, an outrageous heist, blackmail, murder and political intrigue at the highest level.

The Stealing of the Irish Crown Jewels by Myles Dungan is now available on Kindle at $6.99 (+VAT) or under €6.00


On This Day – 27.3.1839 Birth of Antrim-born John Balance – PM of New Zealand


If I told you that an Irish Prime Minister was born in 1839 you would doubtless respond, correctly, by pointing out that a) we don’t have a Prime Minister we have a Taoiseach and b) that anyone born in Ireland in 1839 would have spent his entire working life as a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland of which there nearest thing to an Irish Prime Minister was the Duke of Wellington in the early 19th century.

Except, of course, that John Balance, born in Co.Antrim in 1839 went on to become 14th Prime Minister of New Zealand. Born into farming stock Balance wanted to do anything but farm and left for Belfast at the age of 18. From there he migrated to Britain, working in the ironmongery business in Birmingham. At the age of 24 he married Miss Frances Taylor and migrated to New Zealand in 1866 for the betterment of her health. The move had little effect as, tragically, she died two years later.

An educated and bookish man he indulged his literary side by establishing a newspaper, the Herald, in the town of Wanganui, where the couple settled. He was man of independent views. For example, while participating in a military campaign in 1867 against a local Maori uprising he criticized the conduct of the same campaign in his newspaper.

From campaigning journalism he moved inexorably into politics – elected for Wanganui from 1879 as an Independent he quickly entered the New Zealand cabinet as Minister for Customs and then Minister for Education. Balance had witnessed religious riots in Belfast. The spectacle turned him into a life-long secularist. He inherited his politics from his mother, a Quaker, and went on to found the New Zealand Liberal party – the first organized political party in that country.

In 1881 he lost his seat by four votes after a carriage containing 7 of his supporters broke down and they were unable to vote. Re-elected in 1884 he held three further ministerial positions until the government he supported fell. In 1889 he became leader of the opposition and in 1890, after a successful election campaign he became Prime Minister at the head of a Liberal Party government.

Ballance was responsible for introducing highly progressive systems of income and property tax and under his leadership the New Zealand economy expanded. He also cultivated good relations with the country’s Maori population, settling a lot of their nagging land issues. He was also responsible for the introduction of female suffrage. New Zealand was the first country in the world to allow women to vote.

He was at the height of his powers and popularity in 1893 when, tragically, he died after an operation for an intestinal ailment at the age of 54.

Balance has been described as ‘unassuming and unpretentious’ in style and personality, quiet, polite, tolerant and patient. How he ended up as a politician, therefore, is a complete mystery.

John Balance, the Antrim-born 14th Prime Minister of New Zealand, was born, 176 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – 20.3.1919 The birth of Cairbre, the MGM lion, in Dublin Zoo


They used to boast that they had ‘more stars than there are in the heavens’ though their official motto was the lofty ‘Ars gratia artis’ – which translates from bog Latin as ‘art for art’s sake’. Their first mascot was re-named Slats and was succeeded by, among others, Jackie, Tanner, George and Leo.

What am I talking about? This! [roar of a lion]

The boastful organisation told not a word of a lie – MGM in the 1930s and 40s had some of the biggest names in Hollywood under contract, stars like Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire – need I go on? As regards the motto, don’t believe a word of it – it was art all right, but it was purely for the sake of money.

The logo was a different matter entirely. When Samuel Goldwyn’s old studio, Goldwyn Pictures merged with the exhibition business Metro and Louis B. Mayer pictures in 1924, the company had already started using a lion in their pre-credit sequence. MGM decided to continue the practice and the first occasion on which the MGM lion appeared before one of the studio’s movies was in the utterly forgettable and accordingly utterly forgotten He who gets slapped a silent movie starring Lon Chaney and Norma Shearer. Perhaps it’s a 1920s version of Fifty shades of grey who knows.

And what has all this got to do with us, I hear you say?

Well, its because of the identity of the very first MGM lion. The studio called him Slats but that wasn’t his real name. It was Cairbre. And he wasn’t African or even Californian, he was a genuine Dub. Cairbre was born in Dublin Zoo in 1919 and was named after Cuchulainn’s charioteer, or a High King of Ireland, or a rebellious pretender to the High Kingship, or whatever you’re having yourself.

Cairbre had, apparently, been introduced to Sam Goldwyn, and the silver screen, by fellow Dub, Cedric Gibbons, the designer and art director. This means that Gibbons is personally responsible for two enduring Hollywood icons, neither of them human. He also designed the statuette to be presented to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at their annual award ceremony, we know them more familiarly today as, the Oscars. Gibbons apparently modelled the statuette on his wife, the statuesque film star Dolores del Rio.

But back to Cairbre. There is a famous photograph of two men filming him for the MGM logo. Health and Safety considerations don’t seem to have been paramount (no pun intended – though, ironically, that’s where the shoot took place – Paramount studios). Camera crew and big cat are separated, not by a hefty iron grille, but by a few feet of clear air. Were Cairbre of malevolent disposition he could have had a snack of cinematographer sushi any time he wanted.

Cairbre’s image continued to be used on all the old black and white, silent MGM movies until 1928. As no one had recorded his heavily Dublin-accented roar, when the talkies began he was replaced by the more garrulous Jackie. He died at the age of 17 and although his hide is on display in a museum in Kansas he should not be confused with the cowardly lion of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz.

When the comedian Mary Tyler Moore formed her own production company MTM in the 1960s – she mimicked the MGM logo, but replaced Cairbre with a little pussycat – it’s highly unlikely the kitty is also Irish.

Cairbre, the big cat who tossed his mane from side to side for MGM, was born 96 years ago, on this day.

On This Day – Drivetime – 13.3.1856 Birth of P.W.Nally


In September 2003 the redevelopment of Croke Park led to the demolition of the old Nally Stand and the creation of the Nally Terrace, adjacent to Hill 16. While people would be well aware that the stadium’s Hogan stand was called after the best known victim of the Black and Tans’ unwelcome visit to Croke Park in November 1920 on Bloody Sunday, and that the Cusack Stand was named in honour of one of the GAA founders, how many people would know the story behind the man for whom the old Nally Stand was dedicated in 1952?

Patrick W.Nally, as you might expect, was one of the motive forces behind the creation of the GAA in 1884, though for reasons that will become clear, he was not present at the pivotal meeting in Thurles that established the new body. He was, himself, a well-known athlete who began discussions with Michael Cusack in the 1870s about forming an organisation devoted to the promotion of Gaelic Games.

However, his motives were not entirely sporting in nature. Nally was, at the time, a member of the Supreme Council of the revolutionary nationalist organisation the Irish Republican Brotherhood which he had joined in his early twenties. He managed to keep his republican activities – his job was to import firearms into Connaught – secret from the local Mayo RIC by condemning agrarian outrages. This was, somewhat surprisingly, perfectly consistent with IRB policy. So much so that when he applied for a gun licence the local RIC Inspector advised his superiors that it was safe to grant the request, asserting that Nally ‘would lead a useful and loyal life’. Indeed he did, but not quite in the way the senior policeman anticipated.

With the Land War raging in 1880, Nally’s IRB activities came to the attention of spymasters in Dublin Castle and London. To avoid arrest he left the country for two years, returning in 1882. He was arrested on conspiracy to murder charges the following year – this was a favoured Dublin Castle ploy for jailing people it didn’t much approve of. He was implicated by an informer, another common procedure at the time. Nally was convicted, and sentenced to ten years penal servitude.

Half way through his sentence his father, W.R.Nally, sought assistance from an apparently unlikely source, Captain William O’Shea, husband of Katharine and later Parnell’s nemesis. However, O’Shea, though a conservative nationalist and a bona fide charlatan was a political opportunist with a history of murky associations with the IRB. O’Shea’s self-serving efforts to secure Nally’s early release came to nothing.

Nally did not, in the end, actually serve his full term. But that was only because he died, aged 36, in Mountjoy Prison, days before he was due to be released in November 1891. Efforts had been made by Dublin Castle, with a promise of clemency and other rewards, to get him to implicate Charles Stewart Parnell in the organisation and encouragement of agrarian crime at a Special Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating such allegations. He is said to have responded to these blandishments “not all the gold or honours that the Queen could bestow would induce Patrick Nally to become a traitor.”

The official cause of Nally’s death was typhoid fever – some, however, suspected foul play. A Dublin coroner’s jury held that his ‘naturally strong constitution’ had been broken by ‘the harsh and cruel treatment to which he was subjected … for refusing to give evidence … at the Special Commission.’

He was pre-deceased by four weeks by the man he had refused to betray to secure his release. At his funeral the same green flag was draped over Nally’s coffin as had enveloped that of Parnell himself a month before.

Patrick W.Nally, revolutionary nationalist and sportsman, was born 159 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – 6.3.1831 – Birth of General Philip Sheridan


Was the man who is supposed to have uttered the decidedly non PC comment ‘the only good Indian I ever saw was a dead Indian’ born in Killinkere, Co.Cavan, in mid-Atlantic on the emigrant boat to the Americas, or in the USA itself. No one knows exactly, but no one totally trusts Phillip Sheridan’s own version, which is that he was a 100% American, born in Albany, New York.

Sheridan while an immensely successful general was a man of small stature. Because he never exceeded five feet five inches in height he was known all his life as ‘Little Phil’, despite his military stature. Abraham Lincoln, who towered over Sheridan, once described him as “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

Sheridan first made a name for himself at Westpoint Military Academy where he was suspended for a year for fighting with a classmate whom he had threatened to run through with a bayonet. This type of behaviour was not encouraged by the authorities despite the fact that he was training for an occupation in which he would be required to kill people.

His reputation was greatly enhanced in the American civil war where before his first major promotion – to Brigadier General – he was described by his divisional commander as being ‘worth his weight in gold’ as a cavalry officer. Later his pursuit of Robert E.Lee’s army in the final campaign of the conflict, forced the southern commander to seek surrender terms and end the war.

Two years later Sheridan headed west to begin the work for which he would become famous, or notorious, depending on your point of view, defending the area between the Mississippi river and the Rocky Mountains from Native American nations like the Lakota and Cheyenne who had lived on the Great Plains for centuries before the arrival of the white man. His methods were utterly ruthless. Intent on corralling the Plains tribes in Federal reservations he encouraged white hunters to wipe out their main food supply, the buffalo.

He was also General George Armstrong Custer’s boss – not that Custer was much of a one for following orders if they got in the way of glorious triumphs like the murder of a peaceful Lakota settlement on the Washita River in 1968, a massacre that took place on Sheridan’s watch. Given Custer’s periodic unruliness Sheridan might not have been all that traumatised when his egotistical subordinate came to a bad end at the hands of the Lakota and Cheyenne in 1876 at the Little Big Horn.

Sheridan’s reward for his ruthless suppression of the various Indian insurgencies in the 1860s and 1870s was command of the entire US Army when he succeeded the legendary William Tecumseh Sherman in 1883

By the way – he may never actually have said ‘the only good Indian I ever saw was a dead Indian’. As a young man he is even reported to have had a child by a Native American woman with whom he had a lengthy relationship. But he probably did say something approximating the most memorable statement attributed to him. However, he always denied having uttered that telling phrase.

Philip Sheridan was born, in Cavan, on a trans-Atlantic passage to America, or in Albany, New York 184 years ago on this day

On This Day – Drivetime – 27.2.1890 – Needham – Kerrigan fight a draw over 100 rounds


Perhaps the most celebrated boxer to come out of San Francisco was the son of an Irish emigrant. James J. Corbett, better known as, Gentleman Jim, was born in 1866, fought 24 professional bouts and defeated the great John L.Sullivan to become world heavyweight champion. His father was from Mayo, his uncle, who shared his name, was a parish priest in the county. But while Corbett may have been the greatest Irish-American boxing champion to emerge from the city, the greatest, and indeed the longest, fight involved another Irish American Danny Needham.

Needham was born in St.Paul Minnesota a year after Corbett. He was one of four brothers constantly in trouble with the law until he found his natural home in the ring, fighting as a lightweight. The 1880s had seen the establishment of Queensbury rules but professional boxing then was very different to the sport as practised today. Most fighters wore 2 ounce gloves – four ounce gloves were scathingly referred to as ‘pillows’. Today boxers wear gloves weighing 8-10 ounces. In most cases there was no limit to the number of three minute rounds that could be fought. Boxers generally agreed to keep going until one or other was knocked out or threw in the towel. The sport in America was dominated by men with names like Paddy Duffy Dan Murphy, Charlie Gleason, Charlie “Bull” McCarthy & Jack McGinty as well as Sullivan and Corbett. It was a very Irish sport and a very Irish route out of poverty.

Danny Needham was a colourful character, to say the least. He had a reputation for involvement in petty theft when he wasn’t in training and always carried a revolver with him. In 1890 he was persuaded by his manager to move up a weight division to welter and to try his luck in San Francisco. There he encountered the Scotch-Irish boxer Patsy Kerrigan. Needham was conceding 6 pounds to Kerrigan. The fight turned into an epic – the War and Peace of professional boxing, although there wasn’t a lot of peace in evidence.

The bout began shortly after 8.30 in the evening in front of an enthusiastic crowd. It ended six hours and 39 minutes later after 100 rounds, the second longest bout in pugilistic history. The longest, 111 rounds, came three years later between Andy Bowen and Jack Burke in New Orleans. According to one newspaper report ‘Needham was pushed down three times in the fifty-sixth round and four times in the seventieth, but he arose and fought on desperately,”

Neither boxer laid a glove on his opponent in the final 11 rounds, both were so exhausted they simply stalked each other around the ring feinting from time to time. Eventually the referee called it a draw at 3.15 a.m. Some of the spectators had actually left the arena and returned a number of hours later to discover, to their surprise, that both fighters were still on their feet.


Later in life Needham went prospecting in Alaska, attempted to murder a man stalking his wife and was jailed for armed robbery in 1899. He died at the age of 55 after having spent the last two years of his life in a mental institution.

Danny Needham and Patsy Kerrigan eventually fought each other to a standstill in San Francisco in one of only two boxing contests to go over 100 rounds 125 years ago on this day.

ON THIS DAY – DRIVETIME – 20 FEBRUARY, 1794 – Birth of William Carleton


One of the great Irish writers of the 19th century, William Carleton, was an author who made a huge impression early on in his career and is still most famous for the first book he ever published. Traits and stories of the Irish peasantry came out when he was in his early thirties. To literate Dubliners Carleton was a Protestant writer whose full-time job was as a clerk in the Church of Ireland Sunday School office. He was noted for his satiric takes on certain Roman Catholic rituals like penitential pilgrimages to Lough Derg. By the 1830s Carleton was a well regarded middle class Protestant writer with an eye for detail and dialogue who had managed to capture perfectly the vagaries, eccentricities and violence of the Irish Catholic peasant.

Which is why Carleton’s real background is doubly interesting. He was born into Catholic peasant stock in Co.Tyrone in 1794. He received much of his education in a variety of local ‘hedge schools’, informal educational establishments in the era prior to organized primary education. His early life was far from unproblematic. His family was evicted from their small-holding in 1813. Carleton himself, despite his later impeccable Protestant respectability, had at one time been a member of a local agrarian secret society. When his academic abilities had been noted he had also been aimed at the priesthood. But Carleton made his own choices rather than follow the road laid down for him by birth, tradition, and the will of others. If we are to believe the story ‘The Poor Scholar’ he reacted against the idea of the priesthood after being discouraged by a portentous dream

He left Tyrone in 1817 and worked as a hedge schoolmaster himself for a time before trying his luck in Dublin. He had little more than half a crown in his pocket. His luck held, he made some opportunistic adjustments to his life and prospered for a while. Though he had some early failures. He sought to join the army, for example, but it was suggested to him by a regimental Colonel that such a life might not be the best one for him. He had made his application in Latin.

Carleton has given us characters like Willie Reilly and his dear Colleen Bawn and the Squanders of Castle Squander while also writing a fictionalized but searing account of the Great Famine, The Black Prophet, published in the dark year of 1847.

Never a man given to political consistency he once offered to British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel to link Daniel O’Connell to agrarian crime but still managed to befriend the romantic nationalists of Young Ireland and contribute to their newspaper The Nation. Despite, or perhaps because of, his own Catholic birth, his writing on the subject of religion and politics, was virulently anti-Roman.

He died in 1869, the year William Gladstone dis-established the Church which he had joined in the 1820s.

Never good with money he had relied in the twilight of his life on a government pension after a successful petition from a wide range of Irish political and religious figures, including the the fiery Belfast Protestant evangelical preacher Dr.Harold Cooke and the President of the Roman Catholic seminary at Maynooth College.

Carleton never quite extracted his foot entirely from the camp into which he was born, in Clogher, Co.Tyrone 219 years ago, on this day.