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 – 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.


On This Day – Drivetime – 13.2.1820 – Death of the informer Leonard McNally


There are spies, there are informers, there are traitors, and then there is Leonard McNally. He was one of the most effective and enduring British spies in the ranks of an Irish revolutionary organisation. The unlucky, or careless, rebels were the United Irishmen, the men of 1798.

McNally, a barrister and playwright, was actually a prominent and radical member of the United Irishmen. He was eager for the organisation to accept military assistance from revolutionary France. But when William Jackson, an agent of the French government, was arrested in Ireland in 1794, McNally, rather than wait to be shopped for treason by Jackson, took a more pro-active course and offered his services to the Crown in exchange for not being hanged, drawn and quartered. Given what actually happens to someone who is hanged drawn and quartered he might well be forgiven for this initial capitulation. But the fact that he was still providing intelligence to Dublin Castle a quarter of a century later suggests that it had become more about remuneration than self-preservation.

After the 1798 rebellion McNally defended many United Irishmen charged with involvement in the abortive insurrection. He didn’t win a single case. It could have been because his clients were guilty to begin with, or because he was fiendishly unlucky. But his winless streak was more likely to have been related to the fact that he was passing information on his clients to the prosecution. Not really the done thing for a defence attorney I’m sure you’ll agree.

Among the men he defended were William Jackson, Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and, in 1803, Robert Emmet. So, were there an Irish Pantheon he would probably have contributed to the presence of about half the occupants. In the case of Emmet he advised the Crown that his client would enter no defence and allow cross examination of no witnesses on his behalf, as long as they did not misrepresent the facts. So the trial would be a walkover for the prosecution and Dublin Castle didn’t even have to bother fabricating evidence that might come back to haunt them in court.

After 1803 you’d have thought McNally would have quietly and gracefully retired. But a £200 bonus, on top of his hefty pension of £300, ensured that ‘JW’, the code name by which he was known to his spymasters, stayed in business until his death in 1820.

In a doubtlessly fruitless effort to mitigate McNally’s evil reputation it should be pointed out that he was also a successful playwright and librettist. One of his songs, The Lass of Richmond Hill, became a huge hit in its day, 1789, and a favourite of King George III, the one who had occasional bouts of madness. It was written about McNally’s first wife Frances and describes her as ‘a rose without a thorn’.

In one of those wonderful ironies for which a fiction writer would be pilloried were it to appear in a novel, a legal treatise, written by McNally the year before his betrayal of Robert Emmet, was pivotal in the definition of the principle of guilt being ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ before conviction.

His espionage activities did not become apparent until after his death when his son sought to have the payment of his pension continued post mortem. When the Lord Lieutenant inquired as to why a pension had been paid to such an ardent nationalist, the truth began to emerge.

Leonard McNally, barrister, playwright, serial informer and a rose with many thorns, died 195 years ago, on this day.

On This Day – 6.2.1958 Death of Liam Whelan of Manchester United and Ireland in the Munich Air crash


You are probably not familiar with the name William Augustine Whelan. You may not even be familiar with the name by which he was better known, Liam or Billy Whelan. But he was, and still is, the great ‘lost genius’ of Irish football. He hated flying, which is ironic, because he is also one of this country’s most celebrated air crash victims.

Whelan was born on April Fool’s Day 1935 and spent his footballing life making fools of many defenders, amateur and professional alike. Like so many gifted young footballers he played for the great Dublin youth team Home Farm before progressing into the very top of the professional ranks when he was scouted and signed by Manchester United. He was one of the Busby Babes, playing in the position then known as ‘inside forward’ – today he would be an attacking midfielder. His boss was the great Scottish manager Matt Busby who, in the 1950s, was in the process of assembling a young squad and building them into one of the premier European sides.

Whelan might have expected to serve the sort of long rugged apprenticeship customary for young professional footballers in the 1950s. Lots of boot cleaning and maintenance and the distant hope of making it to the top level. But he actually broke into the United first team at the age of 18 where he was joined two years later by another teenager, from Northumberland, one Robert Charlton.

In his four seasons at Manchester United Whelan made 98 first team appearances. He averaged more than a goal every two games, scoring 52 in all competitions for the club. He played four times for the Republic of Ireland but did not score. He was United’s top goal scorer in the 1956/57 season when his team won the old First Division championship. With 26 goals in the League Whelan contributed a quarter of United’s total that season.

In the 1957/58 season, as First Division champions, Manchester United became the first English club to play in the European Cup, a competition, up to that point, dominated by Real Madrid but held in low esteem by the English Football Association. They reached the quarter-finals, where in early February, they beat the Yugoslav champions, Red Star Belgrade, the second leg taking place in Serbia. The flight they took back to England stopped off for re-fuelling in Munich. A direct Belgrade to Manchester flight was beyond the range of the Airspeed Ambassador plane in which the team travelled. While the passengers waited in the Munich terminal building snow began to fall heavily. Two take off attempts were aborted. The passengers were asked to disembark while minor repairs were carried out.

Just before the plane took off for the third time Whelan was overheard by one of the other passengers to remark nervously and fatalistically to one of his teammates “Well, if this is the time, then I’m ready.” Tragically, it was the time. The Airspeed Ambassador hit slush at the end of the runway, slowing the plane down. It did not now have sufficient speed to take off and skidded through a barrier, collided with a house, breaking in two pieces. 23 of the 44 passengers and crew died, including eight of the 17 Manchester United players on board. Whelan was one of the fatalities.

In 2006 he had a railway bridge named after him in Cabra, not far from Dalymount Park, where he had played with the Irish international team. The unveiling was performed by his teammate and one of the fortunate survivors of the Munich Air disaster, Sir Bobby Charlton, another goalscoring inside forward who lived to realize his potential with World and European Cup medals, 106 caps for his country and the prized Ballon d’Or – world player of the year – in 1966. While Whelan would never have won a World Cup winners medal all the rest that Bobby Charlton achieved was available to him.

Liam Whelan was two months shy of his 23rd birthday when he died, 57 years ago, on this day.

Some American music of the Great War

This is a guide to a small percentage of the music recorded in the USA which was related to the Great War. It is confined to material discussed by historians Glen Gendzel (San Jose State University) and John Borgonovo (University College, Cork) for a segment which did not make it into the final edit of a two part series I have compiled and presented for Lyric FM called ‘From Tipperary to Salonika: Ireland the the music of the Great War’. The programmes will be transmitted by Lyric in the Lyric Feature slot at 7.00 pm on Friday 13 February and Friday 20 February. You will be able to ‘listen back’ to the two broadcast programmes on the Lyric FM website [http://www.rte.ie/lyricfm/] and you will also be able to listen to Glen and John talk about songs like I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier, Over there, Stay down here where you belong  and many more.


Songs written in opposition to WW1 recruitment were, of their nature (because they were illegal under the Defence of the Realm Act) never published or widely performed in public.

One notable exception to the lack of published anti-recruiting material was, of course, the USA where, before its entry to the war in 1917, there was strong anti-war sentiment, particularly amongst Irish and German Americans.

There was also a vibrant if patchwork ‘left’ which was opposed to the imperial nature of the conflict. The latter strain was reflected in the tunes recorded in The Little Red Songbook, first produced in Spokane, Washington in 1909 by the Industrial Workers of the World, or the ‘Wobblies’. The famous Swedish-American labour activist Joe Hill contributed a number of songs, including an anti-war song Don’t take my papa away from me.

Typical of the genre was the song Christians at war by John F.Kendrick published in the March 1916 ‘Joe Hill Memorial’ edition of the Little Red Songbook [Hill had been dubiously convicted of murder in 1915]. It doesn’t pull too many punches

 Christians at war

Onward, Christian soldiers! Duty’s way is plain;

Slay your Christian neighbors, or by them be slain,

Pulpiteers are spouting effervescent swill,

God above is calling you to rob and rape and kill,

All your acts are sanctified by the Lamb on high;

If you love the Holy Ghost, go murder, pray and die.

A rather gentler example of the genre was I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier with lyrics by Alfred Bryan and music by Al Piantadosi, published around the same time. This one centres around the figure of the [potentially] grieving mother.


It begins …

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone

Who may never return again,

Ten million mothers’ hearts must break

For the ones who died in vain.

Head bowed down in sorrow

In her lonely years

I hears a mother murmer thro’ her tears.

Then the chorus comes in …

I didn’t raise my boy to be soldier

I brought him up to be my pride and joy

Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder

To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?

Let nations arbitrate their future troubles

It’s time to lay the sword and gun away,

There’d be no war today

If mothers all would say:

“I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.”

The response of Theodore Roosevelt to the song was to suggest that the place for women who opposed war was “in China—or by preference in a harem—and not in the United States.”

After the US declaration of war in April 1917 the music industry – always quick to change direction and monetise – rapidly brought out songs like I didn’t raise my boy to be a coward and I didn’t raise my boy to be a slacker

According to the publisher I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier sold 700,000 copies in the first eight weeks of release. The first recording, by Morton Harvey, was coupled with an Irving Berlin song Stay Down Here where you belong which was recorded in an isolationist America in 1915 by Henry Burr

Stay down here where you belong


The lyrics depict a conversation between the devil and his son – the devil urges the son to “stay down here where you belong” because people on Earth do not know right from wrong. His son wants to go ‘up above, up above’.

The Devil advises …

Stay down here where you belong

The folks who live above you don’t know right from wrong

To please their kings they’ve all gone out to war

And not a one of them knows what he’s fighting for

‘Way up above they say that I’m a Devil and I’m bad

Kings up there are bigger devils than your dad

When the USA entered the war in April 1917 the song became acutely embarrassing for Berlin

– to Berlin’s constant irritation Groucho Marx refused to let Stay down where you belong go away and sang it regularly – according to Groucho, Berlin offered him $100 to stop singing the song – but he was still doing it in the 1970s and it was included on one of his final concert albums An Evening with Groucho[1] – there’s also a You Tube clip of him singing it on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971 – with, they both claimed, Irving Berlin watching on TV.  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WTkzBRbtZA&feature=kp]

In fairness Groucho was singing it in the 1970s in response to Vietnam not WW1 and said as much on the Cavett show – [where he confirmed the $100 dollar story]

Berlin atoned for Stay down here where you belong in 1918 with God bless America [originally written for military musical Yip Yip Yaphank – Yaphank was in Long Island, site of Camp Upton – a product of Berlin’s conscription into the US Army ‘Army takes Berlin’ was one waggish newspaper headline]–

One of the songs in Yip Yip Yaphank possibly testifies to the greater acceptance of slightly more subversive material in the USA than GB – the show included the song How I hate to get up in the morning.


This included the lyric …

Someday I’m going to murder the bugler

Someday they’re going to find him dead

I’ll amputate his reveille

And step upon it heavily

And spend the rest of my life in bed

 Don’t blame the Germans

The thriving US anti-war song genre included Daddy please don’t let them shoot you, Don’t take my darling boy away and If they want to fight, all right, but neutral is my middle name.

Perhaps the most interesting of all was Don’t blame the Germans written in 1915 by John J.Donahue – a song written by an Irish-American and obviously aimed at his own community and that of ethnic Germans in the USA. The song begins by appealing to the American sense of fair play with a major statistical porkie …


Don’t blame the Germans for it isn’t right

Remember they are one to five in this gigantic fight

With the Allies all against them, yet they hold their own

It’s hard to beat the Germans on the land or on the foam

It continues by appealing to Irish prejudices and to a revisionist trope that had emerged from Germany itself by 1915, the notion of ‘perfidious Albion’ really being at the heart of the conflict – that England was to blame for the war.

French and Belgians, misled by England’s greed

Must very soon surrender for they know they can’t succeed

It’s a pretty startling form of revisionism which even some German Americans probably realized was an obvious example of special pleading

Needless to say all these songs disappeared in April 1917 – other than Stay down here where you belong but that was thanks to Groucho Marx

[1] Life with Groucho, Arthur Marx, Popular Library Edition, 1960 p. 167