One town had three priests in the trenches
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. cry104fm.com. Bill Tyson is personal finance correspondent for the Irish Mail on Sunday.
See pages 66-67
battle: Code breaker and soldier Patrick Dunne