Mary Kenny: War marked with peace

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Mary Kenny: War marked with peace

More men from Rathnew, Co Wicklow, volunteered for the 1914-18 war than from anywhere else


Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

The conclusion of the First World War in November 1918 will be a major European commemoration this month. In Woodenbridge, Co Wicklow, a somewhat smaller ceremony will take place in the middle of the month in the beautiful local World War I memorial there – a landscaped park with simple headstones which list the Wicklow men who served and died in that terrible war. They are remembered just by name, without military or regimental identification because the community chose to make Woodenbridge a place of peace, ecumenism and memory.

The names are on stone after stone, sometimes brothers, or even fathers and sons: Michael Kane and Patrick Kane from Baltinglass; Denis Doyle and James Doyle from Ashford; many Byrnes from Aughrim; from Roundwood, Charles Barton – a cousin of Erskine Childers – and from Rathnew, George Hunter, a family member of the celebrated Hunter’s Hotel. There were six Kelly brothers from Newtownmountkennedy who joined up: three survived.

The Wicklow military historian Brendan Flynn – himself a retired Irish Army soldier – says that more men from Rathnew volunteered, proportionately, than from anywhere else in Ireland or Britain. Rathnew, in 1914, was a village in which many worked as farm labourers, dwelling in thatched cottages. These look picturesque but the conditions of living under a thatch could be awful: in winter, the rain came in and the floors would be turned to mud.

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