Sean’s let­ter is a na­tional trea­sure

Fingal Independent - - NEWS - By KEN PHELAN

A let­ter from King George V to the wife of an Ir­ish WW1 vet­eran in 1918 has seen one Rush man be­ing de­clared the owner of a ‘Na­tional Trea­sure’.

Sean Fran­cis Byrne brought the fam­ily heir­loom to a ‘Na­tional Trea­sure’ road show held in Dublin re­cently, where it was deemed of such his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est as to be in­cluded in a new book, ‘Na­tional Trea­sures – a Peo­ple’s Ar­chive’.

Here, Sean speaks of the his­tory of the let­ter and of his great-grand­fa­ther, who fought so bravely dur­ing The Great War: ‘When my granny died in 1950, my fa­ther took all the stuff out of the house and gave me one of the let­ters, be­cause I was the el­dest. ‘He told me about my great-grand­fa­ther, how he had fought in WW1, was in­jured with mus­tard gas, and had fought in France and Bel­gium.’

Sean’s great-grandmother re­ceived the let­ter from Buck­ing­ham Palace in 1918, when his great-grand­fa­ther was re­leased as a pris­oner of war. Pri­vate Isaac Byrne had served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and the let­ter from

King George V and the Queen spoke of the ‘pa­tience and courage’ shown by the young Ir­ish sol­dier, and of the ‘mis­eries and hard­ships’ he had en­dured.

Sean said: ‘I know that my great-grand­fa­ther and great-grandmother lived in Gar­diner Street at the time, and that he joined the Bri­tish Army, but we never re­ally found out much else about him.

‘I know he’s buried in Canada, be­cause that’s where he went to af­ter the war. My great grandmother would have gone with him, but she came back to Ire­land later on her own.

‘My great grand­fa­ther would have re­turned from the war when he was in his twen­ties.

‘I was told he did about three or four years in the Bri­tish Army, and that he was an en­gi­neer in the gas works in Dublin.

‘I’m not sure ex­actly when he died, but he would have died in or around the date of the let­ter, when he was in his twen­ties.’

Sean had kept the let­ter safe for years, and had never shown it be­fore he brought it to the Na­tional Trea­sures road show.

He says that although he had other sim­i­lar items, Na­tional Trea­sures was par­tic­u­larly in- ter­est in the let­ter, as it was the first ex­am­ple of lithog­ra­phy to be is­sued by Buck­ing­ham Palace.

He says: ‘All they were re­ally in­ter­ested in was the let­ter, but I think if they had seen the other items, they would have been in­ter­ested in them too.

‘They were so busy with so many other peo­ple, they didn’t have a chance to look at the other stuff. There’d be no value in the let­ter, but there’s a lot of his­tor­i­cal value in it.’

Speak­ing of the pride he had in bring­ing to pub­lic at­ten­tion such an his­toric fam­ily heir­loom, he says: ‘I was de­lighted to be in the book, and my fa­ther and my grand­par­ents would have been de­lighted too.

‘My great grand­fa­ther died for us, if you look at that way.

‘I know there’s a lot of stuff go­ing on about the poppy and ev­ery­thing, but I have my own think­ing on that.

‘Only for the likes of my great- grand­fa­ther and thou­sands of oth­ers, we might be liv­ing in a very dif­fer­ent world.

‘It’s thanks to him and so many oth­ers that we have the life we do to­day.’

Na­tional Trea­sures, pre­sented by John Cree­don, is an RTE se­ries ex­plor­ing ‘fas­ci­nat­ing objects’ be­long­ing to or­di­nary peo­ple, that re­veal the so­cial his­tory of Ire­land over the last 100 years.

Sean Fran­cis Byrne with his prized let­ter from King George V.

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