British soldier scandalised by 1918 Fermoy

Private sent to Cork town for training wrote of horror at drunken women and bad food

Letters from Private Edward Parry. Parry complained constantly about Fermoy, Co Cork, where he was sent for training in 1918, in letters home to his wife and family.

Nuns in cahoots with Sinn Féin, drunken women, terrible weather and awful food were among a litany of complaints made by a British soldier stationed in Co Cork in 1918.

The letters were written by Edward Parry, an English farmer conscripted into the King's Shropshire Light Infantry regiment, who was sent to Fermoy Barracks and the nearby Kilworth Camp for a few months' training.

The first World War ended and Pte Parry escaped the horrors of the trenches. But despite his good fortune, he complained constantly in frequent letters home to his wife and family. He described Fermoy as “a horrid place”.

He noted that trouble was coming from an unlikely source – a “nunnery” where “the disturbances always start . . . mostly after Mass” requiring the soldiers to be “always round there”. He wrote that the nuns were “in league with the Sinn Féiners”.


Fermoy historian Christy Roche told The Irish Times that the unnamed convent was probably that run by the Presentation Sisters, who would have been "sympathetic" to Irish Republicans unlike the "upper-class" Loreto nuns who ran the town's "fee- paying school" and employed a British army physical training instructor to provide PE lessons for the girls..

The letters also reveal that Pte Parry was scandalised by the drinking. In one he observed: “The women here get awfully drunk.”

In a veiled reference to a large population of prostitutes he wrote: “We never see a really respectable woman here” – and “there is not one respectable house in the town”.

The unpublished archive of letters has turned up in Whyte's auctioneers in Dublin and will be sold in an auction next Saturday. Pte Parry complained to his wife that the food in Ireland including "old liver for breakfast", "bread and dripping" and "potted meat" was "awful" and he pleaded for food parcels which she duty sent. He especially requested English butter after going to a grocery shop in Fermoy for some and "saw a cat walking about the top of some and licking it". The incident put him off Irish butter and he had "not been able to fancy any since".

He also sent dirty laundry home and asked his “sweetest little wife” to wash and return it to him. In one parcel she sent her husband “a little box today with your vest in it and also a cake” and said “sorry we can’t put any jam in”.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques