Labour junior minister: ‘My family has a relative lying in Gallipoli’

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s great-great-uncle is one of 3,000 Irishmen who died at Gallipoli

 Labour junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “The first World War doesn’t seem to have achieved anything at all.”  Photograph: Eric Luke

Labour junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “The first World War doesn’t seem to have achieved anything at all.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

On the wall of his office in Leinster House, Labour junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has a yellowed and torn copy of the Weekly Irish Times from 1916 with its headline “The Sinn Féin Rebellion”.

The paper was found in the personal effects of his maternal grandmother Eileen Sheridan who married well-known republican Andrew Lynch.

Eileen Sheridan’s uncle, Private James Sheridan from Finea, Granard, Co Longford, was with the 1st battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers when it came ashore at V Beach, Gallipoli, on April 25th, 1915.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists his date of death as April 30th, 1915, five days after the landings. He was 40.

James Sheridan is one of 800 Royal Dublin Fusiliers buried in Turkey. Some 3,000 Irishmen died in the Gallipoli campaign, from April to December 1915. The combined losses of the regiment and of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, who also came ashore at V Beach, numbered almost 1,100 men in the first five days.

The campaign cut a swathe of grief through the whole of Ireland, and particularly Dublin where working-class communities were devastated, yet hardly registers in Irish folk memory.

Untold stories

Mr Ó Ríordáin, who includes the decade of commemorations in his portfolio of ministerial interests, laments the national silence that meant families like his did not talk about those who died in British uniforms during the first World War.

“There has been a massive lost opportunity in certain families to investigate what happened,” he said. “My family has a relative lying in the Somme and a family member who is lying in . . . Gallipoli.

“It’s all very recent to us. I only became aware of it around the time my grandmother passed away in 2005. It came to the fore in family discussions around that time. We would have been aware of the republican side of the family but not this.

“My grandmother was a very republican woman and she would have been given a very one-sided view of Irish history, and it would not have been in her interest to give us the other side of the story.”

His great-grandfather on his father’s side was a tailor in the British army. He added the “O” to the name Riordan. His son Michael O’Riordan was involved in the Easter Rising on the rebel side. Another O’Riordan, Henry, died at the Somme.

Waste of life

“For those involved in it, there must have been a great sense of the pointlessness of the whole exercise. It is one thing to be involved in a struggle for national freedom, and you can clearly identify the successes and failure of that. The first World War doesn’t seem to have achieved anything at all.” Gallipoli: Ireland’s Forgotten Heroes is on RTÉ 1 at 10.15pm on Tuesday.