Discovering a Carrigart man on the centenary of his death

Just the other week, I came upon a grave in Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, my hometown, on which was recorded a World War 1 death. Amazing to think that I grew up in a parish in north Donegal and never heard about a young local man who by the age of 23 had received two bravery awards and had given his life in the 1st World War

The Fisher Family Headstone

This family headstone in the Trinity churchyard in Carrigart records the deaths of three sons, two of whom predeceased their parents. One of these had two bravery awards and was killed in France in 1917.

So what is the story of James Fisher? Who was he?

James was born in Umlagh outside Carrigart on December 10, 1893, the eldest son and third child of James Fisher and his wife Helen McIlwane.

The 1901 census tells us that  parents James and Helen were living in Umlagh with their 7 children, Rachel aged 10, Margaret 9, James 7, Kezie 5, Alexander 4, John 2 and David 6 months and James’ brother John. The census record can be seen here.

By 1911, David, born on October 9, 1900, had died in 1905, Rachel and Margaret were no longer living at home, but the family had 5 new members. The household at that time consisted of father James, mother Helen and John senior as well as  young James, now 17, Kezie who was 16, Alexander who was 14, John who was 12, and new arrivals Annie aged 9, Margery 7, Catherine Susan aged 5, Aaron who was 3 and another David, then only 2 months old, born on January 21, 1911.  The 1911 census record for the family can be seen here.

James enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, specializing in, as the name suggests, machine gun duties.   In 1916  Lance Corporal James Fisher was awarded the Distinguished  Conduct Medal, (the DCM,) for gallantry and the news was carried in The Derry Journal in September of that year.

From The Derry Journal of September 6, 1916

The citation for this award was as follows:

‘18679 Actg. L/Cpl J Fisher Mach. Gun Corps (LG 22 Sept. 1916)

For conspicuous gallantry in action. When his seniors had become casualties he took command of the gun team and pushed forward. Later he took  his gun into a shell hole, caught the enemy in the open , and drove back their counter attack.’

The Distinguished Conduct Medal

DCM

 

James was a very brave young man as he was again recognized for gallantry winning another Distinguished Conduct Medal or  ‘Bar’.  The 207th Machine Gun Company was attached to the 3rd Australian Division between October 1916 and October 1917 and it was during this time that he won the second award. The citation for his second or ‘bar’ award of the DCM  is as follows:

A/Corpl James Fisher D.C.M. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of 17/18 May 1917, when in charge of a Machine Gun in very exposed position on ?? the enemy attempted a raid of ? Gap at the same time heavily bombarding ? . No 18679 Corporal J Fisher at once opened fire on his S.O.S target ‘D’ Gap(?) and continued to fire although shells were bursting all around his position, and in spite of the fact that he received blows on the head and in the small of the  back from shrapnel. Owing to the protection of his steel helmet and belt respectively, the only injuries received were bruises. His sub-section(?) officer tried to persuade him to be relieved at the gun, but he stuck to his post till the situation became normal, although in a dazed and deafened state. After the raid was over he wanted to stay with his gun, but was ordered by his officer to go to Section Headquarters for the night. Besides materially helping to repel the raid, the example set to the N.C.O.s and men of this Company will have a far reaching effect

This recommendation is recorded is the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Australian Division on 22 May 1917.

However his luck ran out and Sergeant James Fisher, DCM bar Service No. 18679, was killed  on September 25, 1916, probably at the Third Battle of Ypres. At this time it appears that the Machine Gun unit was no longer attached to the Australian forces. James probably died around Polderhoek Chateau Ridge on the morning of September 25, 1917, when the British  were about to launch their own attack.

In a History and memoir of the 33rd Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps, the events of the fateful day are recorded;

By 12 midnight on the 24th-25th September …the 207th Machine Gun Company..was ordered to be in position by 1 a.m on the morning of the 25th, about 159 yards behind our front posts..  About 3.30 on the morning of the 25th, the enemy opened a bombardment of hitherto unparalleled intensity upon our front.

The 207th Company, which…was close behind our front line grouped in batteries, opened fire with sixteen guns at almost point blank range into the massed hordes of the enemy. The enemy was concentrated behind Polderhoek Chateau Ridge… Low flying enemy aeroplanes soon, however, detected  (them) and both by machine gunning and directing artillery upon the 207th Machine Gun Company, the enemy inflicted very severe casualties amongst the gunners’

The body of James Fisher was never found, possibly blown to bits. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial for the missing as his grave is not known.  He is one of 34,992 young men whose remains were never recovered and whose names are inscribed on this wall.

Tyne Cot Memorial

The Tyne Cot Memorial stands around the eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ieper in Belgium, (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission).

At the time of his death, James was owed £45/10/5 plus a war gratuity of £16/10/0 which sum was paid to his father on November 15 1919. Not much consolation for the terrible loss of a beloved son.

When researching this post, I made a table of  the men from our parish of Mevagh, either born there or who had lived there at one time, and was astonished to find so many who had died between 1914 and 1918. This data has been extracted from the County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. These records are confined to deaths in the years 1914 to 1918 only and do not include, for example, a Mevagh man who is buried in Clontallagh who died in 1919.

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The statistics are quite startling. In 1914, 2 men from  our parish died, 3 died in 1915, 1 in 1916. In 1917, 9 died – 4 of them in a 4 week period alone (and one on the same day as James Fisher) – and 7 died in 1918.

It would be interesting to cross reference the data in the book with the civil records  and census records now online and to include those who died from wounds after the 1918 cut off date. and to find their  military records.

Sergeant James Fisher D.C.M (Bar) of Umlagh is the most decorated of these Mevagh men and he lost his life 100 years ago. He deserves to be remembered as a son of our parish, as indeed, do all of these men who lost their lives in  that conflict.

THE PITY OF WAR!

Sources

County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. 

Australian War Memorial at https:/www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1590453

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1631955/fisher,-james/.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action _of _25- September_1917

https:/archive.org//stream/historymemoirof300unse#page/32/mode/2up/searfch/207th

Ancestry.com UK Army Registers of Effects 1901-1929

With thanks to Damian Shiels, Military Historian, for his help in sourcing information for this post. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Postcards from Rosguill Peninsula Co. Donegal

Rosguill is a peninsula in north Donegal pointing out into the Atlantic Ocean, to the west of the well known Inishowen and Fanad Peninsulas. It is on the Wild Atlantic Way and has scenery to rival anywhere in Ireland. It is also in my home parish of Mevagh and any trip home is not complete without a jaunt along the Atlantic Drive.

Carrigart Co Donegal (Image Donegal Cottage Holidays)

Our village of Carrigart lies at the entrance to the peninsula and it was from here that I headed out last week and I hope you enjoy these few snaps from my phone.

 

Carrigart village is on the shores of the sheltered Mulroy Bay overlooked by Gainne a high hill across the shore. The Carrigart restaurant is under new management and offers a very interesting menu for travellers and a very comforting log fire!

Leaving the village of Carrigart we head towards the neighbouring village of Downings crossing the area known locally as the Lee. Years ago horse racing was held here and it was a great venue for young boys playing soccer. This stone bridge, Ballyhogan Bridge,  used to be an iron bridge and we children were subjected to awful warnings from adults about the particular part of a stream that flowed under it, known as ‘The Black Hole’.

The Atlantic Drive Road. This is a loop, but I like to drive it in the other direction via Downings.

Downings, on Sheephaven Bay, has a couple of hotels and a number of restaurants. as well as the famous McNutts weavers.  Once it was a very busy herring fishing port. Its maritime history is acknowledged near the pier with a memorial to locals who drowned in the area, including the three little McCorkell children who drowned in 1921 when herding geese and they were cut off by the tide. The inscription belies the fact that their little bodies were not all recovered immediately. Their father William recovered 5 year old Elizabeth at Aughadahor  on March 22nd;  7 year old Jane was found by Edward Shiels on Downings Beach on March 29th and Willie aged 3, was found washed up on Downings Beach by Cornelius Boyce on April 7th. What a terrible tragedy for the family who lived in Aughadahor, which is on the upper end of nearby Tramore Beach.

 

Also at Downings Pier is a gun from the  SS Laurentic, an armed merchant cruiser that sank after hitting two mines off Fanad Head on January 25, 1917 with the loss of 354 lives.  The gun was salvaged by the Downings Diving group. These memorials are my first stopping-off point as I like to remember that the sea in all its majesty, also claims lives.

Heading on, there is some spectacular scenery to the left out over Sheephaven Bay, looking towards the Ards Peninsula and Marble Hill strand with Muckish in the background. Sheephaven Bay lies between the Rosguill Peninsula and Horn Head.  Stopping places are limited but there are some viewing points along the way.  At Dooey, the little beach slopes dramatically and depending on the weather and tides it may be accessible, but is not safe for swimming.

Dooey

A few hundred metres further along there is a magnificent viewing point with views of Horn Head, back towards Dooey, and Tory Island, just about visible to the right of Horn Head, and the wild Atlantic Ocean.

 

In spite of the strong wind blowing on the day of my visit, the sea looked relatively calm. a large swell was expected the following day.

Here is one of my favourite views. This abandoned house was once the home of a salt working family. The 1st edition Ordinance Survey map (produced in the first half of the 19th century) shows the little cobbled beach as ‘Salt Pans’ where salt was extracted from the sea water

A short distance away is  probably one of the most spectacular views in Ireland.

The famous postcard pair of beaches at Tranarossan.

The next photo of Tranarossan was taken last year on a very misty day when the sea was very calm. Tranarossan has so many moods..it is different at every visit!

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Just above Tranarossan Bay it is possible to see some hard won little fields, in all probability fertilized with sea weed to turn the rough scrub into lush green fields.

 

I often think that I would not mind living in this sheltered little valley with this spectacular backdrop!

Driving up the hill, a breathtaking view opens out ahead. This is the entrance to Mulroy Bay, where the Atlantic rushes in between the Rosguill and Fanad Peninsulas.

Mulroy Bay is a very scenic stretch of water.  A bridge now connects the two peninsulas

The  ancient graveyard and church ruins of Mevagh, from which the parish takes its name,  are located here at the water’s edge. Here too is an  ancient early christian cross.

 

 

The Ancient Mevagh Cross

On a clearer very calm day some years ago I was able to take these pictures.

The ‘back isles’ on Mulroy Bay from near the boatyard

View from Carrigart village towards Island Roy

At the end of the Atlantic Drive, Tramore beach comes into view again.

Looking towards Tramore Beach across the famous Rosapenna Golf Links

 

The  Atlantic Drive, only a few miles long, is to my mind, one of the most spectacular routes anywhere in Ireland.

There are two professional landscape photographers in the area, if you would like to see  stunning images from this beautiful part of Donegal and across the county, click on the links below!

Scenes of Donegal

Rita Wilson Photography

 

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Postcards from Slane, County Meath

On a short trip to the Boyne Valley recently I had an overnight stop in the very pretty little village of Slane Co. Meath in the recently designated tourism region, Ireland’s Ancient East. The village has beautiful Georgian buildings with the typical doors that I particularly love. It has the most beautiful plant displays and while I was there a veritable battalion of volunteers  was out with knapsacks and cans, watering containers and hanging  baskets.

The volume of heavy traffic  rumbling through this pretty little village is quite startling and it really ought to be by-passed.

My evening amble was confined to the village and I hope you enjoy the snaps of my little walk about the lovely town.

The so-called village square is actually on a very busy road junction.

There are Georgian doors and houses around every corner

And the flowers ar fabulous!

Being the hometown of the famous Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge features here too.

The Catholic Church, St Patrick’s, dates from the 1800s and has an interesting bell tower. (It is not leaning!)

The interior has some nice features. The floor and  the ceiling decoration are very pleasing. I have not ever seen a candelabra with outstretched hands before!

This row of old cottages is being developed as a tourism centre.  It is known as Cavan Row as artisans and labourers from Cavan who came to work on the Slane Estate were housed here.

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There is much more to Slane than is shown here. There is a beautiful castle for one thing, famous as a pop concert venue, and the estate has its own distillery!

Slane is a perfect spot for a day trip or a short stay, or as a base for exploring some of the Boyne Valley. It will be positively superb when they get rid of the incessant traffic that rattles through the village, and hopefully that will be soon.

I liked this plaque that honours the volunteers who keep this village spic and span and looking its very best. So nice to see them acknowledged!

 

 

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Remembering Francis Ledwidge, Poet and Soldier

Just outside the village of Slane, County Meath is the Francis Ledwidge Museum. The museum is housed in the family home with a yard and garden to the rear.

Francis was born in this small cottage that dates from 1886, the 8th of 9 children. His father died soon after the 9th child was born.  Desperately poor, their mother laboured in the fields to keep bread on the table until the eldest son, Patrick  was sufficiently educated to get a job and help the family. However, Patrick contracted tuberculosis and had to return home  and their mother was forced to return to her back -breaking labouring.

Francis left school at 15 and took whatever work he could get – he worked as a farm labourer, as a groom, in a copper mine and as a foreman on the roads. All the while he was writing poetry and having some poems published in the local newspaper.  His poetry was brought to the attention of Lord Dunsany who arranged for publication in London and who also got introductions to literary figures of the day.

Francis Ledwidge known as ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  (Image Wikipedia Commons)

Having for a time been involved with the Irish Volunteers who sought Home Rule, Francis enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on October 24, 1914. It is possible that his decision to join up may have been influenced  by the fact that he was disappointed in love. He wrote to a friend  saying that he looked forward to poetry and fame after the war and that by joining he hoped to bring peace to the world.

He came home on leave to Slane at Christmas and was shocked to learn of the death of a little boy he knew well, who had herded cows past the Ledwidge house. Francis  wrote what is one of my favourite Ledwidge poems, A Little Boy in the Morning

He will not come, and still I wait. 
He whistles at another gate 
Where angels listen. Ah I know 
He will not come, yet if I go 
How shall I know he did not pass 
barefooted in the flowery grass?  

Then in 1915 he wrote this lovely Lullaby to a tired child

Shall I take the rainbow out of the sky

And the moon from the well in the lane

And break them in pieces to coax your eye

To slumber a wee while again?

While based in Basingstoke he heard of the death in childbirth of the girl he had loved and he got leave to attend her funeral in Manchester. He wrote

To One Dead

 A blackbird singing

On a moss-upholstered stone,

Bluebells swinging,

Shadows wildly blown,

A song in the wood,

A ship on the sea.

The song was for you

and the ship was for me.

On August 7, 1915  Francis and his comrades in D Company landed in Suvla Bay in Gallipoli. The conditions were awful, the stench from corpses, dysentery, and swarming flies all added to the horror. When they pulled out on September 30th, 19,000 of their comrades had been killed. They were sent marching towards Salonika, but Francis became ill and he was sent back to England at about the same time as the Easter Rising was happening in Dublin. His good friends Patrick Pearse and Thomas McDonagh were among the first to be executed. He then wrote what is probably his most famous poem

A Lament for Thomas MacDonagh

He shall not hear the bittern cry

In the wild sky, where he is lain,

Nor voices of the sweeter birds,

Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows

Blowing to flame the golden cup

Of many an upset daffodil.

But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,

And pastures poor with greedy weeds,

Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn,

Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

Now in B Company, 1st Battalion of the 29th Division, he set sail for France and eventually ended up in Ypres where in mid July the Third Battle of Ypres began. on July 31st when engaged in road marking a shell exploded near him. The chaplain wrote: ‘Ledwidge killed, blown to bits’

The Ledwidge home is now a Museum where it is possible read from his many letters, and to see how he lived in his beloved Slane.

MemorIal in the Museum Garden

It was a special thrill to visit this place, his home and his garden, just a few weeks after the  centenary of his death.

He is buried at Artillery Wood Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium.

Image result for ''CWGC LEDWIDGE FRANCIS EDWARD ARTILLERY WOOD''

The grave of the 29 year old Francis Ledwidge (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission)

References

Francis Ledwidge ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  published by Francis Ledwidge Museum

Commonwealth Graves Commission

Published collections

Songs of the Fields published 1916

Songs of Peace  published 1917

Last Songs  published 1918

 

 

 

 

 

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Postcards from a special Kilmacrennan tea house!

Every once in a while you stumble on a little treasure of a place and want to tell the world! Such was our experience last Sunday afternoon in the village of Kilmacrennan in North Donegal, Ireland.

 On a day filled with torrential downpours we were in need of some comforting food, and so we stopped at the very pretty group of thatched cottages on the Creeslough end of the village. This group of little thatched buildings have been in Kilmacrennan for some 150 years and previously housed a museum.

They are now under the management of a young couple who have exciting plans for these lovely buildings.

If you fancy a B &B in an authentic thatched Irish cottage, this is the place for you! This beautiful cottage is available to rent on Air B and B.

The former little dairy will be used for workshops.

The largest building houses a tea and coffee shop, and when you step inside you know you have arrived somewhere special! It’s not just a matter of tea or coffee, it’s so much more! Wonderful food, wonderful atmosphere and a warm welcome await!

 

The light lunch we enjoyed was very special with artisan breads and very creative choices of savoury and sweet options served in beautiful surroundings.

The centre piece is of course the open fire with a blazing turf fire and a crane with a selection of cooking pots that were used in times gone by.


We were just a little too early for the music sessions that happens here on a Sunday afternoon but there was a lovely atmosphere even without it! 

It’s great to see new ventures and people thinking outside to box to provide unique high quality services to locals and visitors alike. I heartily recommend a visit to this lovely place, for either breakfast, lunch or a coffee break …you will not be disappointed! 


A gem of a place! 

Coffee Time Cafe Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/tiscoffeetime/

Twitter account is @tiscoffeetime

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Postcards from Carbury Co Kildare

 

img_4929 For most of my life I heard references to Carbury Co Kildare from our mother, yet I had never been there – until last week – when I headed off on a road trip to discover the places where my mother, her mother, her grandmother and her great grandmother lived.  The discoveries and frustrations on the family history front will feature in a future post, but in the meantime the lovely small village, lovingly and proudly cared for by a small band of volunteers deserves a post of its own.

Carbury is a tiny wee village that has been cut off from much of its hinterland by the newly realigned regional road the R402. In fact the signage for the village was not obvious at all and I ended up in the village of Derrinturn which is in the parish of Carbury and where the Carbury Roman Catholic Parish Church is located.

The tiny hamlet is dominated by Carbury House with a very interesting curved  gable.

Carbury House c.1800

Built about 1800, the gable appears to have suffered some sort of damage, perhaps from passing trucks before the bypass?

Directly across the road is the former Garda barracks – previously  it housed  the Royal Irish Constabulary.

 

 

The village also had a post office that dated from 1845.

On a hill above the village are the remains of a 14th century castle, not now accessible to the public but it must have been an impressive sight in days gone by. It belonged to the Bermingham family who were English settlers and during the 15th century it was a scene of strife between English Barons and Irish Chieftains.

 

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The 14th Century Carbury Castle, now in ruins is on private ground and not accessible to the public.

The Tidy Towns Volunteers deserve great credit for their efforts to enhance the village. I particularly liked the Bog Oak sculpture as it is refekective of the location of Carbury not far from Carbury Bog. Bog Oak from ancient forests c. 6,000 years ago has lain in the acidic wet peat for thousands of years and in the process has turned black. The beautiful preserved timber is much sought after by sculptors.

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The bog oak was found locally…of course!

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Just across the road is the Village Pump, which was central to any village and was where everyone came to pump fresh water for tea, cooking and washing.

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While on the subject of Tidy Towns Volunteers, I love how they have planted native flowers in the verges. While summer flowering annuals look spectacular in  baskets and containers, it is hard to beat the delight of natural looking flowers growing along the road.

 

Of special interest was the old  Carbury Railway Station, where our great grandparents lived and reared their family until our greatgrandfather died here in the 1920s.  The information board in the village has a photo of the station as it was many decades ago.

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Carbury Station c 1937

Up on the hill stands the Church of Ireland  church with an impressive tower.

 

 This is just a taste of the interesting features to be found in this lovely part of hidden Ireland. Although now ‘severed’ from part of its hinterland towards Derrinturn, Carburybis the better for it as it is rich in heritage, history and has some of the friendliest people! A lady walking her dog noticed me taking photos and stopped to say ‘hello’. A few minutes later a car drew up and her husband arrived to offer me a copy of their village guide and to tell me where to look for places of interest!

It was a lovely first encounter with this very special place that has lived in our family memory for about a century! If you are passing by, do swing in, you will be glad you did!

 

 

 

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The Genealogy Event 2017

The Genealogy Event took place this week in Adare Co. Limerick. I had signed up for Day 2 as the range of topics were of particular interest to me and I was not disappointed!

The day began with Michelle Leonard’s fact-packed talk on using DNA to solve Family Tree Mysteries. Michelle is a ‘DNA detective’ and later she gave a second talk about her years helping to track down relatives of bodies recovered from a World War 1 mass grave in France. 1,335 Australian and 350 British soldiers were missing after the battle of Fromelles in July 1916. In 2008 a mass grave was located with remains of 250 individuals. These were re interred in a new cemetery at Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) after DNA samples had been taken from teeth. 151 of the 250 have been identified and Michelle told interesting stories of individuals she helped identify. You can read more about the fascinating Fromelles Genealogy Project here.

An extremely useful overview of Irish Newspaper Archives and how to search them effectively was given by Andrew Martin. I am looking forward to testing his tips later! The site has 70 titles and with plans to add more very soon and is a very useful resource for anyone doing family research.

Irish Newspaper Archives

Joe Buggy, a well known expert on genealogical research in North America, talked about the records available in the United States, what is available at national and state level, the different census records, and how to find naturalization and immigration records.  Joe has published a book on tracing New York Ancestors.

finding your ancestors in newyork city 2

His second talk was an excellent presentation on the resources available to researchers of New York ancestors and covered state census records, birth records, marriages and death certificates and where these can be located, as well as RC parish records and where Irish people are likely to have settled and to be buried, newspapers and the information they would have, one for example having lists of passenger arrivals. Joe blogs here where he has hints and tips on researching in New York.

The journalist Conall Ó Fátharta talked about issues with researching adoptions in Ireland, in particular babies placed from Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, significant  numbers of whom were sent for adoption without the consent of the mother. Conall has concerns around the mortality rates in these places and wonders if in fact death statistics may conceal the fact that many of these children  may have been sent for adoption to well heeled families.  This is a harrowing topic, but relevant to genealogists as these children may now be trying to research their family history.  Conall blogs here .

Finally, we had Ciaran O’Reilly from the excellent Irish Famine Eviction Project.  The project has uncovered an amazing number of evictions since the project began. The map about to go online will have links to the location and name of landlord and will be a great resource for researchers wondering about their families during this time. The evictions were not solely carried out on behalf of the absentee landlords, but could have been on behalf of  local clergy, merchants, shopkeepers, business people and from all religions, including Catholics and Quakers.  Ciaran has called on anyone who knows about evictions to make contact with the site, whether they be individuals or local history groups. This research will cause history to be rewritten as long forgotten evictions come to light.

The new locations map revealed by The Famine Eviction Project

It was a most interesting day with great presentations that were both informative and useful!

 

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