THE FAMILIES OF THE FALLEN
The descendents & relatives of WWI mps percy clive and d.d. sheehan give Their perspectives on Their ancestors’ sacrifices
“IT WAS A HORRIFIC WAR AND YOU CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT IT WAS LIKE IN THE TRENCHES”
DAN SHEEHAN & NOREEN STEWART GRANDSON AND GREAT-NIECE OF D. D. SHEEHAN MP
D.D. Sheehan was the MP for Mid Cork and a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party and the All-for-ireland League. During WWI he served as a captain in the Royal Munster Fusiliers. Although he survived the war his two sons Daniel and Martin, as well his brother in-law, were killed. Two more children, Michael (an officer) and Eileen (a VAD nurse and ambulance driver) were severely wounded on active service but survived.
What was the impact of WWI on your family?
NS: As well as having the two boys that died and Michael who was injured, the brothers also had a sister who was an ambulance driver and was wounded. Also, my grandfather Robert O’connor, who was D.D. Sheehan’s brother-in-law, was killed on the first day of Passchendaele so a lot of the family were involved in WWI.
How did the losses resonate in the family in the subsequent years?
DS: It was talked about because we all knew about it, but there were nine members of that family and there was a hell of a lot of fighting going on so it was almost ‘par for the course’.
My grandfather was the MP and he was in the ‘All Ireland’ (Home Rule) group. He was also the initial person who instigated the Royal Munsters in southern Ireland to raise an army because at that time southern Ireland was a bit on the German side as well. When he came back from the war Sinn Fein had been working against him. His house was set on fire and he had to spend three years over in Britain. His sons were allowed to remain in school but they had to go back to England during the holidays. I knew my grandfather and he used to stay at our house, but he wouldn’t really talk about the war.
NS: When the Black and Tans came to Ireland [during the Irish War of Independence] they were going round burning houses. They came to our family house and were about to burn it but somebody said that my grandmother was the widow of somebody who was killed in WWI. She brought out her widow’s pension book to show them and so they spared the house, but unfortunately they went up the road and burned down someone else’s house instead.
How important is it that stories like the Sheehans’ during WWI are remembered by today’s generations?
DS: Today’s generations have to realise what that generation gave up to give them the life they have had. It was a horrific war and you can’t imagine what it was like in the trenches. That’s the important thing, we don’t seem to have so much respect for the army now and we’ve had a much easier life.
NS: I’ve always been interested in it and I was in Passchendaele for the 100th anniversary. I try to pass on the story to the next generation by telling them and nowadays with social media you can post photographs and bring them up to date with the story. One of my nephews is particularly interested, and I hope he’ll be the one to pass it on. For me, it’s even more important today than ever to work towards world peace, particularly with the threat of nuclear war. It doesn’t even bear thinking about what would happen if there were a Third World War.
The fighting at Passchendaele affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, including the families of serving MPS like D.D. Sheehan