Letters from Willie Redmond reveal pride in Irish at Somme

‘I saw enough to be lost in admiration at the bravery of these Irish soldiers’

Letters from Willie Redmond reveal pride in Irish at Somme. Video: Ronan McGreevy / Bryan O'Brian

 

Rediscovered letters from the front from Major Willie Redmond reveal his pride in his fellow Irish soldiers and his frustration at not being allowed to fight alongside them.

Redmond, an MP for Clare and a brother of Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond, was one of the most famous Irish casualties of the First World War.

He was killed during the first day of the Battle of Messines on June 7th, 1917. His death was the subject of widespread mourning in both Britain and Ireland.

Last December both the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the British Prime Minister David Cameron visited his grave which is in the garden of a convent near Messines.

Redmond’s letters are in the Taylor/Monteagle collection which was launched last weekend at the Foynes Flying Boat museum in Co Clare. The Monteagles were an old Irish aristocratic family and the correspondence is to Liberal peer Lord Monteagle and his two nieces, London-based socialites Ida and Una Taylor.

The letters are sent from the front in 1916 when the 16th (Irish) Division were in France. On September 17th, 1916, Major Redmond wrote to Una Taylor expressing his admiration for his fellow Irish soldiers who had taken Guillemont and Ginchy during the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme.

“The Irish captured Guillemont and Ginchy in most glorious fashion,” he wrote. “Nothing could be more splendid. I saw enough of it though at headquarters to be lost in admiration at the bravery of these Irish soldiers and they never forgot Ireland but sang her songs all the time.

“Everyone agrees that the Irish troops could not have done better. The losses were of course comparatively heavy. So many dear young boys dead. I never regretted feeling old before. I wish I could have done more.”

Major Redmond was 52, overage and out of shape when war broke out in 1914. Nevertheless, he was determined to fight believing, like his brother, that joining the British war effort would hasten Home Rule and help reconcile Protestant and Catholics in Ireland.

Because of his age, he did not serve in the front lines in the first part of the war. Instead, he was based at army headquarters and was frustrated by not being closer to his men. In February 1916, he wrote to Una Taylor of the deprivations of the trenches. “It is a very strenuous life here and a great novelty for me I need hardly say. The men are awfully good and bear with all discomfort and hardships without a murmur.”

He finally got his wish to command the men in the 6th battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment during the Battle of Messines, but was hit immediately on going over the top and then fatally wounded after being shot in the leg.

The collection also includes a letter from Major Redmond to Una Taylor a week before the Battle of Messines asking her to pray for the Irish troops.

The Taylor/Monteagle collection also includes correspondence from Michael Davitt, Charles Stewart Parnell, Henry Grattan and John Redmond.