Victoria Cross recipient inspires museum of memorabilia from first World War

Jack Moyney, a sergeant in the Irish Guards regiment, was awarded in 1917

A first World War museum opened at the weekend in Bob’s Bar in Durrow, Co Laois, devoted to Jack Moyney, a sergeant in the Irish Guards regiment, who was awarded the British army’s highest honour, the Victoria Cross, in 1917. Video: Alan Betson

Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 10:07

“Stop writing about the first World War” is how former Irish Times journalist Kevin Myers recalls the advice given to him by the newspaper’s editor, Douglas Gageby, in the 1980s.

Speaking in Co Laois on Saturday afternoon, at the opening of a local museum on the subject, Mr Myers said he had ignored the advice of the editor. This was despite the editor’s fears the newspaper’s offices in D’Olier Street, Dublin, would be “burnt out” by the IRA had he allowed all his columns on the topic to be published.

Mr Myers, now a columnist with the Ireland edition of The Sunday Times and an expert on Irish involvement in the first World War, formally opened the museum in Durrow, Co Laois, which is devoted to Jack Moyney. Moyney, a sergeant in the Irish Guards regiment, was awarded the Victoria Cross – the British army’s highest honour – in 1917 at the age of 22.

Mr Myers described the permanent exhibition of memorabilia assembled by Moyney’s grand-nephew, publican Bobby Campion, as “an authentic expression” of a community that had “chosen to remember” the hundreds of thousands of Irishmen who “went to the aid of ‘little’ Belgium and France” and “did what they thought was right”.

‘Amnesia’

He said “an extraordinary process of amnesia” about their experience “that began in this State with Independence” was “being reversed” and “the attic has been opened and the boxes are being opened”.

His comments were warmly received by a large attendance that included dozens of Jack Moyney’s descendants from counties Laois and Tipperary – many of whom spoke of their delight about the museum.

Among them were his grandson James Ryan (65), from Roscrea, who remembered his grandfather as “a very modest guy . . . who wouldn’t talk about the war”, and great-grandnephew Colin Campion (24), from Rathdowney, Co Laois, who said the “brilliant” museum had explained the story of the first World War in a way he “didn’t hear much about” at school.

Student artist Paul Cashin (19), from Durrow, who was commissioned to paint a mural of Moyney’s battlefield exploits which is among the museum’s exhibits, was inspired by listening to the only recorded interview with Jack Moyney and thought “he was a bit of a legend”.

Also on display is a replica of the Victoria Cross medal, awarded for “most conspicuous bravery”. Moyney gave the original to the Irish Guards museum in London before he died.

Other guests at the opening commented on how such a museum was indicative of “changed attitudes” in Ireland about the first World War.

Army chaplain

The museum is housed in a section of “Bob’s Bar” in the centre of Durrow. The opening ceremony began with a blessing, in Irish, by the Revd Peter Rutherford, a Church of Ireland rector in Co Meath and a former British army chaplain.

Barmen served “Jack Moyney’s Brew” – black coffee laced with rum – which costs €8 a shot including a souvenir mug. Moyney had been offered a tin mug of this brew by a French officer he met after surviving his 96-hour ordeal without food or water during the Third Battle of Ypres in September 1917.

Jack Moyney, from Rathdowney, was one of very few Irish Victoria Cross winners to survive the carnage of the war unscathed; he returned to Ireland in 1918, got a job on the railways, married, settled in Roscrea, Co Tipperary and lived to the age of 85. He died in 1980.

VIP in Britain

Although little-known in Ireland, and more or less officially ignored, he was treated as a VIP in Britain and often travelled there to attend, as a guest of honour, the St Patrick’s Day ceremony where the Irish Guards are presented with shamrock by a senior member of the royal family.

He was also invited to Buckingham Palace for VE Day in 1945 to celebrate the ending of the second World War.