The Sligo men who never came home

The Irish Times Magazine - - ADVICE -

Iwas do­ing a diploma in folk­lore and his­tory and, as part of that, a ge­neal­ogy project. I wrote about my great- grand­fa­ther, who died in the first World War. That was about six or seven years ago. I de­cided for my mas­ter’s in his­tor­i­cal and her­itage stud­ies to write about the Devil’s Own, a nick­name for the Con­naught Rangers who were fear­less in bat­tle. I couldn’t be­lieve the amount of Sligo men who vol­un­teered and went to war. When I had to choose a topic for my the­sis, my su­per­vi­sor said to take it a lit­tle fur­ther and dis­cover how many went from Sligo.

My the­sis was based on the so­cial pro­file of the peo­ple and their mo­ti­va­tions for go­ing. It sad­dens me to think 605 men died and they’re not re­mem­bered in the com­mu­nity. There are sev­eral Com­mon­wealth graves in Sligo ceme­tery and a few around the county. In ev­ery other part of the British em­pire, memo­ri­als were put up. A ceno­taph was erected in Sligo be­cause of the strong Protes­tant com­mu­nity

The men’s sto­ries got to me. When you talk about the war, peo­ple say, “They went for eco­nomic rea­sons. They were all dock­ers and had no money.” But the con­clu­sion of my the­sis was that the main rea­son many en­listed was due to peer pres­sure and the pro­pa­ganda of the time. A lot of them weren’t lit­er­ate. The posters were colour­ful and ex­cit­ing. There were mil­i­tary bands and re­cruit­ment ral­lies all along the rail­way sta­tion com­ing into Sligo. They spoke to the peo­ple of the town and it was a joy­ous oc­ca­sion. Peo­ple were caught up in the hype. Sev­eral printer com­pos­i­tors from Sligo died in the war. Foot­ball teams went. Mem­bers of Sligo Golf Club went. Freema­sons went.

Men went from Easkey, from En­nis­crone, all th­ese tiny town­lands. Ev­ery com­mu­nity in Sligo was af­fected. When my great- grand­fa­ther died, he had eight chil­dren. Seven of his pals died in the war and three oth­ers came home.

As I was re­search­ing, I felt over­whelmed by this tragedy, by the lack of recog­ni­tion for th­ese men. It seemed that I was given a pur­pose. When the re­mem­brance cel­e­bra- tions took place in 2014, I wrote a Face­book post say­ing I was go­ing to re­mem­ber them. Oth­ers got in­volved in try­ing to get a me­mo­rial in town. I wrote to TDs and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the county coun­cil.

Fi­nally, in Fe­bru­ary we got a site. We’re turn­ing the sod on Armistice Day. We’ve gath­ered the names of 605 men and five civil­ians, and at 11.11am we will walk through the streets in Sligo in pe­riod dress re­mem­ber­ing them.

Si­mone Hickey is a Sligo his­to­rian and first World War re­searcher. si­mone­hickey@ gmail. com

Do you want to share your Time of My Life story? Email mag­a­zine@ irish­times. com with “Time of My Life” in the sub­ject line


■ Sol­diers eat­ing dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Somme, Oc­to­ber 1916.

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