On This Day -Drivetime – 30 May, 1807- Alcock-Colclough duel and a dubious link to the Kennedy fortune





Irish elections can be boisterous and violent affairs but none more so than the Co.Wexford election to the British House of Commons in 1807, just a few years after the Act of Union.


Among the contestants (who, unbeknownst to himself included the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan) were two local grandees William Congreve Alcock and John Colclough. Colclough’s brother, who gloried in the traditional Irish monicker of Caesar, had been the local MP but was a prisoner of war in France. The Colclough’s, who were generally popular landlords, had lived at Tintern Abbey, a former monastery, since the mid-16th century.


The election campaign was a bitter one, polling was due to take place on 1 June but with just two days to go Alcock took exception to what he alleged was an attempt by Colclough to steal the support of tenants obligated to vote for him in what was, by today’s standards, a slightly democratic election. In what appears like a piece of egregious over-reaction, he challenged Colclough to a duel and in the encounter that followed Alcock shot his political opponent dead. As the MP for Athlone, George Tierney observed tartly, ‘that’s one way of getting an election’. As duelling was still socially acceptable in early 19th century Ireland Alcock was acquitted of murder and allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons. But he was not to continue in office for long – two years after the duel he was committed to an asylum. The Irish judge and memoirist, Jonah Barrington wrote of Alcock that ‘alas! the acquitted duellist suffered more in mind than his victim had done in body. The horror of the scene, and the solemnity of the trial, combined to make a fatal inroad on his reason! He became melancholy; his understanding declined; a dark gloom enveloped his entire intellect; and an excellent young man and perfect gentleman at length sank into irrecoverable imbecility.’


But there is an interesting postscript to this sad tale. Not all those affected by the duel came out of it badly.


Colclough’s estate at Tintern Abbey was managed by his steward, one James Kennedy. Because of the absence of Caesar Colclough in France Kennedy continued to run the estate until his Caesar’s return in 1815. During that period something of the order of £80,000 disappeared. Nobody could pin it directly on the steward but in 1818 Kennedy was dismissed at the behest of Caesar Colclough’s wife, Jane Stratford Kirwan. The money remains unaccounted for. There are, however, persistent rumours that at least some of it may have been used a generation later to fund the migration to the USA of the Kennedy family in the 1840s, and perhaps even to set up the Boston saloon that became the basis of the family fortune. A descendant of James Kennedy, by the name of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, went on to become President of the United States of American in 1961.


Was the Kennedy fortune based on the tragic outcome of a tragic confrontation between two Irish aristocrats? Perish the thought.


William Congreve Alcock shot his opponent John Colclough dead in a duel 207 years ago, on this day.




On This Day -Drivetime – 23 May 1798 – the rebellion of the United Irishmen begins





It may come as a surprise to learn that the county of Wexford was once a Republic in its own right, as opposed to being merely part of one.   I blame the French myself, as did the British administration in Ireland. Far too many people thinking they could emulate the French Revolution and get rid of tyrranical rule.


It all happened, of course, in May 1798, when the United Irishmen rose in rebellion in different parts of the country. The most successful and longest lasting of these disparate insurrections was in the Banner county but the rebellion itself kicked off in Dublin when small crowds of men set out from some of the poorer parts of Dublin hoping to seize the symbolic Dublin Castle and other key public buildings.


So thoroughly infiltrated were the Dublin United Irishmen – one of their most inspirational leaders, Lord Edward Fitzgerald had already been captured, that the rising stood little or no chance. The militia sorted out the rebels and many simply abandoned their weapons and quietly slipped back to their homes. More successful were rebellions in the counties around Dublin, in north Kildare, southern Meath and west Wicklow – though opposition was mopped up quickly here.


But the most successful insurrection, other than that of the Northern United Irishmen in County Antrim, was in Wexford, an area not deemed worthy of that much attention by the Castle in its intelligence operations. That was a mistake. Despite losing its leader, Bagenal Harvey, before Wexford rose, the rebels retained good enough leaders to cause serious problems to the local militia. Harvey was captured after the authorities moved against him on the basis of information secured through the torture of leading United Irishman Anthony Perry. Perry had been pitchcapped by the North Cork Militia in Gorey. This delightful practice involved pouring hot tar onto the heads of rebels and tearing it off when it had cooled. Perry later got at least some of his own back when he was released, joined the rebels and led a force at the Battle of Tuberneering in 4 June which destroyed much of the British force in North Wexford. A few days before the citizens of Wexford had established their own republican regime.


The rebels had quickly taken Enniscorthy and then Wexford town itself, led by among others, Perry, Fr.John Murphy and John Kelly, the ‘Boy from Killane’ in the folk song of that name – though he was highly unlikely to have ‘seven feet in height with some inches to spare’. For a fortnight the British Army in Wexford was unable to inflict serious defeat on the rebels, until the United Irishmen fell short of taking New Ross on 5 June. It was towards the end of the battle for New Ross that one of two infamous massacres of loyalist civilians took place at Scullabogue when 200 men, women and children were herded into a farm building which was then burned with the loss of all but two lives. The atrocity was probably in retaliation for the many outrages that had been committed, by the largely Protestant, Yeomanry forces in the weeks prior.


As the British General, Gerard Lake, continued to make inroads on the rebels, defeating the bulk of their forces at Vinegar Hill on 21 June, a second massacre of loyalists took place on Wexford Bridge. Accordingly it was there that Bagenal Harvey and John Kelly were hanged after the reverse at Vinegar Hill and inevitable repercussions of that defeat. The British response to rebellion was ferocious, all the more so as small bands of rebels continued to hold out in the county for some months. Many of those captured in 1798 and later were brutally executed.


The United Irishmen’s rebellion, which found its most successful expression in County Wexford, began in Dublin 216 years ago, on this day.s





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.








Tall But True – Stories of the Irish in the American West #2 Frank Butler – husband and manager of Annie Oakley


His age is disputed but Frank Butler was born in Longford and left Ireland between the ages of 13 and 23 and went on to marry and manage the career of Little Miss Sureshot – Annie Oakley.


Listen to his story on http://www.soundcloud.com/irishhistory here

His wikipedia entry here


On This Day – Drivetime – 16 May 1907 Birth of Bob Tisdall, winner of Olympic gold medal in 1932





It was Monday 1 August, 1932. In one glorious hour at the Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles Ireland won two track and field gold medals. The second gold was won by hammer thrower Pat O’Callaghan, a surprise champion in 1928 when, as a relative novice, he had only been included in the Irish team to gain experience of top class competition. There was no surprise at all at his follow-up victory four years later.


The first of the two medals, however, was won by a tall, handsome 400 metres hurdler, Robert Morton Tisdall. Born in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, Tisdall was brought up in Nenagh, Co.Tipperary – home to two previous Irish Olympic gold medallists Johnny Hayes and Matt McGrath, who had competed for the USA in the early 1900s at a time when there was, of course, no Irish Olympic team.


Tisdall had the right pedigree. His father had been an Irish sprint champion and his mother had played hockey for Ireland. The 25 year old Tisdall had given up a pretty fabulous job just to compete in Los Angeles. He had landed on his feet during the Great Depression by becoming an aide to a wealthy young Indian Maharajah on an extensive European tour. That plum job went by the board in the fulfillment of the dream of Olympic success.


Tisdall had already shown athletic promise at the University of Cambridge where he managed to win four events in the annual encounter with Oxford – he finished first not only in the two hurdle races but in the long jump and, bizarrely, the shot putt. In the lead up to the LA Games Tisdall was, essentially, a low hurdles runner over 220 yards. But in 1932, never having actually run in the event, he wrote to the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, Eoin O’Duffy – taking time off from his duties as Ireland’s leading fascist – and asked to be considered for selection for the 400 metres hurdles. Tisdall qualified to compete in the event by winning the national 440 yards hurdles event in Croke Park in 1932.


His training in California was not ideal. There were no hurdles available at the team training camp – so he collected driftwood and improvised hurdles on a greyhound track. This took quite some time – just as he got ready for his first run someone switched on the mechanical rabbit. One by one the electronic bunny smashed his driftwood hurdles. Tisdall eventually found a track WITH hurdles at a local girls school where he was allowed to train.


He won his heat with considerable ease. You can actually see a recording of his semi-final victory on YouTube. It’s quite amazing how easily he won this race as well, almost jogging to the line after the last hurdle, running from the outside lane. Astonishingly, after virtually pulling up and walking home nonchalantly, he still equalled the Olympic record . It was Tisdall’s fifth ever run in the event.


In the final he faced three Olympic gold medallists, Glenn Hardin and Morgan Taylor of the USA and David Cecil, Lord Burghley of the Great Britain. He creamed the lot of them, setting a new world best time in the process and becoming the first 400 metres hurdler to break 52 seconds. Ironically though it was silver medallist Glenn Hardin who was credited with a new world record of 51.85 – Tisdall had knocked over the final hurdle and under the rules, changed not long afterwards, he was denied the record.


But he took consolation in his magnificent gold medal and in the fact that at a subsequent gala dinner in Los Angeles he found himself seated between the celebrated aviator Amelia Earhart and the Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks Jr.


Tisdall, who brought honour and pride to a newly-created state, barely a decade in existence at the time, lived to be 97 years of age. He had run in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at the age of 94. Robert Morton Tisdall, Irish Olympic gold medallist was born, 107 years ago, on this day.


Watch Tisdall in action here

Watch Tisdall and Pat O’Callaghan win their medals here