By Colm Croffy
Well done to all Ballinasloe World War One Heritage Group - Book available at Salmons Department Store. Would make a brilliant Christmas gift for anyone with Ballinasloe connections.
A truly historic evening this week in the old Library Chapel which used to stand poignantly enough in Soldiers Row (where the British Militia were quartered, Waterloo Barracks; until Clancarty gave the site to the Sisters of Mercy) for the launch of Ballinasloe Remembers. It was one of the most eerie of evenings. For 100 years our town and its community was not comfortable fully with acknowledging; never mind commemorating the fallen of World War One.
615 men (one for every page of the book) from our town and district went to Flanders Field and Sulva Bay and Gallipoli and Mesopotamia; while some 140 plus never made it back.
The Irish Times writer Ronan McGreevey outlined how if you took all of the Senior, Intermediate and Junior squads of players in hurling, football and the ladies GAA - that's the number of families that were involved!
Pipers from our current defence forces, trumpeters from the Town Band, readings, presentations and speeches peppered a short and well produced book launch. A huge crowd of locals from all political shades and none all were closeted in a tight squeeze to re-engage with our clumsy past. Many had personal family memorabilia - medals, letters, bits of uniforms, death pennies from their Grandparents' generation - almost relieved that this stuff could be taken out from the attic safely.
For a town that had a huge role as a key recruiting post for the Connacht Rangers since the Napoleonic times - our young men from over 200 years back have turned to soldiery. For some it was the call or cause, adventure; for others it was the FAS scheme of its time - a means of putting food on the table for wife and kids back home.
For all those gathered (and the school kids earlier that day to see the exhibits) - the grey haired men and women present are the last living link to the generation who thought they were helping Redmond's aim of securing Home Rule. They remembered the hushed stories of a lost brother, cousin or the neglected part of an grand-uncle's career before he came home to farm or work.
Some extraordinary stories were told - a man wrote home in Summer of 1916, that the German troops were slagging them across the Trenches - poking fun that they were Belgium fighting with the British, while in Dublin at Easter, the Sherwood Foresters were shooting at their countrymen and killing them in droves. The family, a relative told me, "burned" the letter.
Sad to think of all the young lads who would have passed by the convent en route to the train station - for their train to barracks, port and battlefield especially the folks who never made it back to an Ireland that was very hostile to those that did.
Poem by Francis Ledwidge
The silence of maternal hills
Is round me in my evening dreams;
And round me music-making rills
And mingling waves of pastoral streams.
Whatever way I turn I find
The path is old unto me still.
The hills of home are in my mind,
And there I wander as I will.
Well done and huge thanks are due to: Douglas Rafter, Evelyn Donellan, Damian Mac Con Uladh, Brian Casey, Declan Kelly, Gerry Devlin and Frank Kelly. They have done the men, their families and us all a huge service. Buy the book - ideal Xmas present - available in Salmons Department Store
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