RIFLEMAN J.P O’REILLY – information added to www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org

If you have any information on family members who fought in the Great War you can add it to this wonderful new site of the Imperial War Museum which has just gone live. 

I threw in some of this little lot about my granduncle from Baileborough, Co.Cavan who died on the Somme in 1916.


J.P.O’Reilly was born in Baileborough, Co.Cavan. He was just about old enough to enlist in 1914 when war broke out. He did so under the influence of a priest who implored his younger male parishioners from the pulpit to go to the aid of ‘little Catholic Belgium’.  His father, tried to get him out but, although he was not entitled to vote at that age he was entitled to die for Belgium.


He was assigned to the 6th Royal Irish Rifles who, in August 1915 landed at the killing zone of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. The first of three surviving letters home, to his brother Terry, my grandfather, was on 31 August 1915. He was excited at how well Cavan were going in the All Ireland. They’d already had won the Ulster championship.  Later they were beaten in the All Ireland semi final by Wexford.


He told my grandfather that ‘regularly every evening the Turks send across a few shells. These do little damage. It looks like a winter campaign here, but you never know what is going to happen.’ He was wrong about that. The campaign ended in December when Gallipoli was evacuated and left to the Turks.


He was transferred to the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles. On the 29 September 1916, during the Somme offensive, he was killed by the sort of random shell that didn’t seem to cause him much anxiety in Gallipoli. You never know what is going to happen. On 22 October his grandmother wrote to his mother saying ‘I hope you are keeping up and not crying too much. You know crying will do poor Pat no good.. Thank God he is not in the trenches in France now.’


Rifleman 19927 J.P.O’Reilly is buried in Lonsdale cemetery in Picardy. When he died he was still not entitled to vote. 

Tall But True – some improbable stories of the Irish in the American West


This is the first in an occasional series of pieces extracted from my book How the Irish Won the West.

I am posting unadorned extracts up on Soundcloud (sorry – none of the production values of On This Day I’m afraid) telling the stories of some of the oddbods, pioneers, freaks, and heroes from Ireland who settled in or impacted upon the American West.

This is a tale about the intersection of an Irish 19th century showman, Paul Boyton from Rathangan, Co.Kildare, with the west.

He liked to throw himself into large bodies of water- this is the story of how he survived a long swim down the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers.



Some more information on the career of the Fearless Frogman here

OTD – DT – 9 May 1766 – execution of Thomas Lally





Thomas Arthur Lally was not quite as Irish as his name might suggest. He was born in France in 1702, son of Sir Gerald Lally from Tuam in Co.Galway, an Irish exile in France who had fought in the Jacobite wars. The family was said to be able to trace its Irish ancestry back to Conn of the Hundred Battles. Like his father Thomas Lally was destined for a military career. He joined the French Army in 1721 and rose to command his own regiment in the Irish Brigade at the celebrated French victory against the British at Fontenoy in 1745. He was immediately promoted to Brigadier.


That same year he accompanied Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie but shared in the Young Pretender’s defeat and was forced to escape to France. While in Scotland he was given the titles of Earl of Moenmoyne, Viscount Ballymole and Baron Tollendally by Prince Charles. Not surprisingly, given the Stuart defeat, none of the titles is to be found in Burke’s Peerage.


When France’s umpteenth war with Britain broke out in 1756 Lally was given command of a French expedition to India – at the time France actually had Indian colonies of its own, the object was to get possession of those belonging to Britain – a project that initially met with some success. But things quickly began to go wrong for Lally’s under-resourced force. Lally was beaten in a number of encounters with British forces – among them was a defeat by fellow Irishman Eyre Coote – and retreated to the city of Pondicherry. There he withstood a lengthy siege before conceding defeat in January 1761 and handing the city back to the British. Lally was sent as a prestigious prisoner to Britain. He must have wondered who would be scapegoated in France for the humiliation of this defeat. Would it be members of the French ministry or perhaps even the King himself, Louis XV.


He soon found out that he was to be the scapegoat. While in Britain Lally discovered, to his chagrin, that he was being accused of treason in France based on the surrender of Pondicherry. Instead of biding his time in England he sought permission from his captors to return to France on parole to defend his reputation. He was imprisoned in France for two years before he was tried and found guilty and beheaded in 1766. This was in the days prior to the French revolution and the invention of the guillotine. The execution was carried out in front of a large crowd at the Place de l’Hotel de Ville in Paris. Lally was decapitated by sword. The infamous Marquis de Sade is said to have described the execution as botched, claiming that Lally had survived for more than a minute after the blow fell and had actually attempted to hold his head and neck together before he finally expired.


In his history of the French Revolution Thomas Carlyle describes Lally’s execution as judicial murder. He describes how Lally was transported through the streets of Paris to his place of execution with a gag around his mouth to ensure that he was unable to protest at the injustice of the sentence against him. Two years after Lally’s death he was posthumously pardoned by the new King, Louis XVI.


Thomas Arthur, Comte de Lally, was executed in Paris 248 years ago, on this day


Useful (but often unreadable) regimental histories of WW1 for those tracing their ancestors’ involvement in the Great War




Regimental War Diaries – available in The National Archive (formerly the PRO) in Kew, London.


General Works

Bartlett, Thomas and Jeffrey, Keith, A Military History of Ireland (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Bredin, General A.E.C., A History of the Irish Soldier (Belfast, Century Books, 1987).


Divisional and Regimental histories

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).


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


Geoghegan, General S.C.B. Royal Irish Regiment (Army and Navy Press, 2007)

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

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


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


Jervis, Lt.Col. H.S., The 2nd Munsters in France, (Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1922).


Kerr, J.Parnell, What the Irish Regiments Have Done (London, T.Fisher Unwin, 1916).


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


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).


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


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).


On This Day – Drivetime – 2 May 1882 – Kilmainham Treaty.



Charles Stewart Parnell was known as The Uncrowned King of Ireland and Kings used to have the power to make treaties or at least send someone to conclude them in their place. But Parnell, in 1882, was partly responsible for the ‘Treaty That Wasn’t’. It became known as the Kilmainham Treaty, called after the impressive jail of that name rather than the salubrious suburb of Dublin 8.


The background was chaos in the Irish countryside as the eviction of tenants escalated when agricultural depression hit what we would now call ‘the developed world’. Ireland was, at the time, only included within the ambit of the developed world by default, as part of the United Kingdom. Evictions led, inevitably, to agrarian unrest – retaliation in the form of attacks on bailiffs, agents, and, occasionally, landlords themselves by Ribbonmen, members of agrarian secret societies. Not to mention assaults on so-called ‘land grabbers’ who moved onto the farms of families who had been evicted. The murder rate soared and the Royal Irish Constabulary found itself under huge pressure to make arrests and secure convictions in a rural environment where juries were not disposed to convict even the most obviously guilty Ribbonmen.


The British government response was, as always, to take a benign, far-sighted softly softly approach.


That’s actually completely untrue. They did what they normally did and imposed the sort of coercive measures that would never have been tolerated in England, Scotland or Wales. In fairness, however, they would probably have been unnecessary outside of stroppy old Ireland.


In essence Habeas Corpus was suspended. This meant the government dispensed with the need to bring anyone to trial and produce actual evidence of wrongdoing in order to convict them. It was sufficient merely to suspect that they had been up to no good to throw them in jail. One of the first victims was Parnell himself, arrested in Dublin by the famed Metropolitan policeman Superintendent John Mallon and detained at the pleasure of Her Majesty in Kilmainham Jail.


He resided there for six months, experiencing no difficulty whatever in keeping up a passionate correspondence with his partner of twelve months or so, Katharine O’Shea. Ultimately it was her ambitious husband who sprang the Uncrowned King. Always a man with an eye to the main chance William O’Shea brokered a deal whereby Parnell promised to do his best to rein in the agrarian extremists who were making things unpleasant for the poor landlords, while William Gladstone’s government agreed to introduce remedial legislation to improve the lot of impoverished tenant farmers. The alternative was a continuation of the anarchy that reigned while the entire Irish political leadership was in stir.


As an added extra Parnell tossed in a tasty morsel for the Liberal government in the shape of a potential future political alliance. That was the bit that stuck in the craw of many of Parnell’s supporters and led to both sides denying that the agreement ever existed. Gallons of cold water were poured over allegations that a deal had been done by both Parnell and Gladstone but O’Shea’s preening and the exponential increase in his normal level of smugness told insiders that some sort of compact had been arrived at to allow for the release of Parnell from jail. It was all a monumental waste of time because four days after Parnell got out of Kilmainham the Invincibles murdered Gladstone’s nephew Lord Frederick Cavendish – the new Chief Secretary, and his second in command Thomas H.Burke in Phoenix Park. And it was back to the messy status quo for another few years.


Charles Stewart Parnell was released from Kilmainham Jail on the basis of what might be described today as ‘certain agreed modalities’ but definitely not a treaty of any kind, 132 years ago, on this day.