For decades, the subject was taboo, but these days, fortunately, opinions toward remembering the Irish military contribution to the first World War are more open. Memorials to the fallen in Catholic churches in Dublin have become less hidden away.
Michael Pegum is an historian, whose website, irishwarmemorials.ie, has been listing the sites of war memorials around the country since 2004. He explains that seeing the graves in France of his maternal grandfather and a distant cousin, both of whom died serving in the first World War, inspired him to create his website. His book on the war memorials in the Kildare Street and University club on St Stephen' s Green, Our Fallen Members, is due to be published in November. He says that the change in political circumstances after 1916 is only partially to blame for the absence of memorials in Catholic churches; they have had little tradition of such memorials.
But in much more recent times, memorials have included the one unveiled last year outside St Patrick's Church in Ringsend, to Joseph Pierce Murphy, the first Irishman to die in the Great War, aboard HMS Amphion on August 6th, 1914, aged 25. The other Ringsenders who died at sea during that war are also remembered.
The largest of all such first World War memorials, the only communal one in a Catholic church in Dublin, is that in St Mary’s in Haddington Road, which lists 93 names, many of them privates, but others of more exalted ranks. At its foot, it has a neat row of red poppies.
Many served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. It includes some officers who were members of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and one woman, Iza Mahony, who was a voluntary nurse on hospital ships. The best-known name on the list is that of Thomas Kettle, the Nationalist MP and poet, who served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. When a statue of him was put up on St Stephen' s Green in the 1930s, no mention was made of his war service. Also listed is Thomas Doyle, lost on the RMS Leinster in 1918.
Most of the people listed had local connections, but the memorial doesn’t include Lieut Alan Ramsay, who was the first Dublin- born British army officer to die during the Easter Rising, in the battle for the South Dublin Union, now St James’s Hospital. His father, Daniel, was the owner of the Royal Nurseries in Ballsbridge. Subsequently, the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes headquarters was built on the site.
Neither does the memorial commemorate soldiers who were killed in the nearby battle of Mount Street Bridge, although there’s another, much smaller, memorial in St Mary’s, that commemorates Charles Hachette Hyland, a 29-year-old dentist who lived at Percy Place. His father was manager of the Gaiety Theatre for many decades. But Charles, who had been unscathed while helping the wounded during the battle, was killed later that week by a stray bullet as he stood at the back door of his house.
St Andrew’s in Westland Row has memorial tablets. Dermot McCarthy of that parish notes that many young men from the locality fought and died in the first World War.
Some were officers, the sons of prominent local families and educated in Catholic schools in England.
Other Catholic churches in the Dublin have first World War memorials that are dedicated to a single fallen soldier, such as St Teresa’s in Clarendon Street, the Star of the Sea church in Sandymount and St Brigid’s church in Cabinteely. The Church of the Visitation in Fairview records five names, while the Church of the Holy Name in Ranelagh records two members of the French family who died on war service. St Mochta’s in Porterstown, Clonsilla, records Robert J McGrane, who died in German East Africa, but whose regiment is unknown.
After the Great War, many commemorative plans were sidelined. People in Flanders who had known many soldiers from the Dún Laoghaire/ Rathdown area, which had about 500 military fatalities, sent a statue of Christ to commemorate them, but the Christian Brothers school and the parish church in Dún Laoghaire refused to take it and instead it was housed in a newly built oratory in the grounds of the local Dominican convent.
As Michael Pegum says, the situation with memorials from the Great War in Catholic churches around the country replicates their scarcity in Dublin. When he’s looking for such memorials, he finds them in much greater abundance in Protestant churches.