One town had three priests in the trenches

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - By Robert Cox

THE ex­tra­or­di­nary courage of the front­line priests of the First World War is re­vealed in a new doc­u­men­tary.

It tells how one Cork town alone had three com­bat­hard­ened cler­ics whose brav­ery un­der fire matched that of the men they served in the trenches.

Canon Christo­pher Shee­han, later parish priest of Youghal, won a mil­i­tary cross at the Bat­tle of the Somme for brav­ery. He was one of 18 priests awarded medals on the same day, ac­cord­ing to re­ports of the cer­e­mony.

Born in Mal­low, Christo­pher Shee­han vol­un­teered for the Bri­tish Army in both world wars. He kept a piece of shrap­nel in his parish home and would de­light in telling parish­ioners that it had missed him by inches.

His ci­ta­tion reads: ‘On hear­ing that there were a lot of wounded in the front trenches, Fr Shee­han came up and re­mained with one of the bat­tal­ions for three days. His con­duct was most con­spic­u­ous, in at­tend­ing to the wounded and bury­ing the dead, par­tic­u­larly so when, on hear­ing that some men of an­other bat­tal­ion had been killed in the front­line trench, he pro­ceeded there un­der very heavy fire, and car­ried out the burial ser­vice for th­ese men.’

Wil­liam For­rest and John Gwynn were two other Youghal priests among the Catholic clergy who dis­played ex­tra­or­di­nary courage on the killing fields.

Fa­ther For­rest, from Red­barn in Youghal, was an­other bat­tle­hard­ened vet­eran of the First World War. Stand­ing 6ft 3ins tall, he had his horse shot un­der him, was wounded and was twice men­tioned in dis­patches by Gen­eral Lord French and Field Mar­shal Dou­glas Haig.

In 1916 he was pre­sented with one of Bri­tain’s high­est hon­ours by King Ge­orge.

Fa­ther John Gwynn of Youghal, chap­lain to the Ir­ish guards, was awarded his medal for dodg­ing bul­lets and shells to give ab­so­lu­tion to wounded and dy­ing sol­ders at the front

His luck ran out in Oc­to­ber 1915, when he was killed by shell­fire.

They are among 900 men and women from the town of Youghal alone who par­tic­i­pated in the First World War, ac­cord­ing to a new ra­dio doc­u­men­tary: Dear­est Mother: The For­got­ten Sol­diers Of WW1, which ex­plores their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Over 150 men from the Co. Cork town of 7,000 and sur­round­ing ar­eas died fight­ing in al­lied armies.

The pro­gramme also fol­lows the story of Pa­trick Dunne, grand­uncle of the pro­gramme’s pro­ducer and nar­ra­tor Bill Tyson.

Youghal­man ‘Paddy’ was one of the last cav­al­ry­men in his­tory – and one of the first code­break­ers of mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Dear­est Mother… The For­got­ten Sol­diers Of WWI will be broad­cast on Com­mu­nity Ra­dio Youghal 104Fm and www. Bill Tyson is per­sonal fi­nance cor­re­spon­dent for the Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day.

See pages 66-67

bat­tle: Code breaker and sol­dier Pa­trick Dunne

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