Six Irishmen executed in one day by the Germans during the first World War

Michigan judge Michael J Riordan remembers his unfortunate ancestor, John Nash from Kerry, who was executed


Private John Nash is my great-uncle. His brother, Michael, is my late-maternal grandfather. My mother Bridget Nash Riordan is from Rossmore Island, Tahilla, County Kerry.

My father Jeremiah also is from County Kerry, having been born and raised in Upper Droum, Glenbeigh. My mother was born in the same house and was raised on the same plot of land as was John Nash.

For much of her childhood, until his death, her grandfather, James Nash, John’s father lived with her family. Her grandmother, James’ wife, died during childbirth of their youngest children, a set of twins.

My mother used to talk about the execution of her uncle John Nash. She did not know the details, but she knew he was executed by the Germans in the firstWorld War. She knew there was a woman involved and she thought her uncle and the others were executed in a cave.

I am not sure that my mother’s family ever knew the exact circumstances of how Private Nash was killed. My mother said there was a big medal in their home and that she and her siblings would play with it when they were children.

Her father, Michael Nash, inherited the farm on Rossmore, located between Sneem and Kenmare, in the Kenmare River, an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, from his father James.

Private John Nash was the oldest boy of my grandfather’s family and he was one of nine children. He had three older sisters, three younger brothers and two younger sisters.

When he reached the age of nineteen years, there was no future for him on the family farm nor in the surrounding area. Even as the eldest male, he would not be inheriting the farm any time soon as there was family yet to be raised by his father.

Without question, he joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers out of economic necessity. Coming from the circumstances which he did, politics did not enter into the decision making process. In fact, in the years following the Great War, his family was active in the Republican movement.

Private Nash was, and still is, held in high regard by his family. My grandfather named his second son after him and the name John Nash lives on in my family through many others.

Private Nash was a teen when he joined the army. Whatever the army paid him was far more than he could have earned at home as his family struggled with the few fields they had hewn out of the rocks to sustain the many mouths that had to be fed. While Rossmore Island is a beautiful place, unfortunately, back in those days one could not eat or carve out a living from the beauty alone.

It is now a hundred years since the Germans killed the Iron 12. The valiant local French families, the Logez’s and the Chalandre’s, along with many of the villagers in Iron, did all they could to help the young, many Irish, enlisted men who had no officer to lead them. Each of the men fulfilled the duty to which they had obligated themselves.

While I am not an expert in military law, the brutality of their treatment and murder shocks the conscience, even a hundred years later.

I have often wondered about the last thoughts that may have gone through Private Nash’s mind as he awaited, in pain, his execution. Did he think of his family that he would never see again? Did he think of Ireland or wonder about the aspirations he would never achieve?

Did he wonder if his family would ever know what became of him? Did he look forward to meeting his late-mother in the next life? Did he think of the beautiful plot of land on which he was raised? Or, did he say a prayer for himself and the others? None of us will never know.

But, I do know that the German commander, Lieutenant Colonel Waechter, wanted the deaths of these men, and the punishment of those who bravely aided them, to be an example.

An example of what, I am not sure. But, in the end, as history has shown us, his actions were a foreshadowing of the brutality that would grip the European continent for decades to come. A brutality that, before it was finished, extracted a toll on humanity that before then may have been unbeknownst to mankind.