The Sligo men who never came home
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
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■ Soldiers eating during the Battle of the Somme, October 1916.