What did your family do during the Rising?

Three children research their families’ pasts to find out what they were doing during the 1916 Rising – in Dublin, France and Africa

 

In 1916, the year of the Easter Rising, the first World War was raging throughout the world. It pitted Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria against the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, British India and, in 1918, the US.

The fighting stretched across northeastern France, Belgium, the Alps, and also across eastern Europe, the Middle East and even in parts of Africa and the Pacific. Altogether, 16 million soldiers and civilians died – roughly four times the population of Ireland today.

It was a violent time. When we asked three school pupils to research their ancestors at the time of the 1916 Rising, all three had relatives involved in fighting.

David Gallagher

(16) attends St Columba’s Comprehensive school in Glenties, Co Donegal. After a family holiday to the Somme in France, he discovered his great grand-uncle, Anthony Gallagher, had died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

“I researched the Scottish census of 1901 and 1911, and the British National Archives,” David explains

“I then went on the Commonwealth War Graves website and I found that he had died on the first day of the battle.”

David found that his great-granduncle was born in west Donegal, near Dungloe, in 1880 and emigrated to Glasgow in Scotland for work. In 1907, he married Mary McIntyre.

When the first World War broke out in 1914, there was huge pressure on men to join the British Army. Some Irishmen joined in the hope that Britain would reward them with Home Rule.

“In 1915, Anthony Gallagher joined the army, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, mostly made up of Irishmen,” David says. “They were trained in Donegal, fought at Gallipoli in 1915, and then went to Egypt.”

Gallagher’s unit was moved to the French town of Albert in the Somme region, a mile from the German lines and on July 1st, 1916, were ordered to run towards the German trenches. After firing 1.5 million shells at the Germans, the British thought it would be a walkover.

“Anthony Gallagher was among these troops,” David says. “He was 36 and pretty experienced, but some soldiers were just 16. They ran towards the German trenches only to be greeted by machine-gun fire. Among the dead was my granduncle Anthony Gallagher from west Donegal.”

Some 20,000 British and Irish troops died in a few hours that morning.

And yet, when David asked around, nobody in his home town knew of him. “We asked around Glenties and no one in the area had even known about it. It was sad that no one knew. “I really felt sorry for him because no one had ever heard of him. I was delighted to hear his name was on the Thiepval memorial at the site of the battle.” Ireland was not the only part of the British Empire to have direct experience of conflict in 1916.

Abraham Ufemeli, a 16-year-old at St Conleth Community College in Newbridge, Co Kildare, was born in Zimbabwe, but brought up in Malawi.

Abraham discovered that his great great grandfather, Chizinga, lived in Ngoma in Malawi in 1916 during this Zulu invasion war. Chizinga fought in the war against the Zulu armies. “There are no records for when Chizinga was born, or his wife’s name unfortunately,” Abraham adds. “The British were still in control of Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. All the southern countries were under the British. The British didn’t take sides in the war.

“Chizinga’s son, my great-great-grandfather, was called Chizinga Ufemeli. During the fighting he fled Ngoma in Malawi to a small town called Salima.

“It was 93 miles, a long way. When he fled there, he had children: Fusani, Ufumeli, Chafuka, Manisi and Faina.”

Ufemeli, Chizinga’s second son, is Abraham’s great-grandfather and was married in the 1930s. He had 10 children including Josam, born in 1938.

“Josam was my grandfather, father to my father,” says Abraham. “In 1956 he went to Zimbabwe and in 1964 he got married, and had eight children. His first child was called Aaron. His second child was my father, Moses.”

Today, Moses and Abraham – the latest in a long line of Chewa people from Malawi – live in Kildare with Abraham’s brother Matthew and his mother Kerina Ufemeli.

While Abraham’s great-great grandfather was fighting a Zulu invasion, and David’s great grand-uncle, were fighting the Germans in Europe, around 2,000 Irishmen were fighting for Irish independence from Britain.

Padraig Heffernan (10) of Kilcornan, Co Limerick goes to Shountrade National School, Adare.

“His name was John James Gavan, and he was my great-grandfather,” Padraig says. “I felt a bit excited to find out about him. I had heard about him but I didn’t know much about it.

“He was born in 1892. He had four children, they were born maybe nine or 10 years afterwards.”

By reading his ancestor’s account of what happened in Easter Week, Padraig found out that he worked in Lambe’s Pub in Fairview, Dublin. Today, the pub is called Meaghers.

“When he was working in the bar, Irish Volunteers came into the pub for a meeting,” Padraig says.

“And he decided he wanted to go to the GPO with them and left the pub unattended. He got into his first fight with the British at Annesley Bridge, and carried on to the GPO. He walked. It’s a long way.”

Helped by his brother Oisinn, Padraig looked up the military archive, and they found that John Gavan and other rebels were addressed by Padraig Pearse in the GPO on Monday.

They were fighting in Bewley’s on Henry Street on Tuesday night, and early on Wednesday morning tunnelled back to the GPO.

On Wednesday morning, Gavan and three other Volunteers were led out by James Connolly to a Henry Street warehouse to fight the British.

On the Thursday of the Easter Rising, they occupied O’Neill’s pub on Liffey Street, and the next day with Capt O’Brien occupied a factory on Cotts Lane. On Saturday evening they surrendered along with the Rising’s leaders.

“They got captured and he was probably angry, because he punched a British soldier in the face,” Padraig says. “He was put up against the wall to get shot, but he didn’t get shot because there was some confusion about it.”

He was marched to Griffith Barracks in Inchicore. It later became a school and, without knowing it at the time, Padraig’s brother Oisinn sat in class in the very cell where his great-granduncle was imprisoned by the British after the 1916 Rising.

John Gavan was later brought away to Wales, to Stafford Prison in Frongoch, where others including Michael Collins were also imprisoned.

“He was four or five months in jail and he was released in August 1916,” Padraig adds. “He felt very sick when he was released, but he didn’t die until 1945.”

By this point, of course, another terrible war, the second World War, had broken out, and more Irishmen joined the British Army, this time to fight Hitler.

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