Friday 13 December 2019

Memories of country house heroes who fought in Great War saved for the future

Rear-Admiral William de Courcey-Wheeler
Rear-Admiral William de Courcey-Wheeler
Tom Cairnes who is discussed in the book of 'The Irish Country House and The Great War'

Danielle Stephens

She was only a toddler when the Great War began, but 104-year-old Dorothea Findlater was in Dublin yesterday to commemorate her father's bravery on the battlefield.

Dorothea's father, Harry de Courcy-Wheeler, was an officer in the King's Royal Rifle Corps, who fought in both World War One and during the 1916 Rising.

He is remembered in the history of the Rising as the officer to whom revolutionary Countess Markievicz surrendered.

One of her nephews, Grattan de Courcy-Wheeler, felt it was time to share the de Courcy-Wheeler history, and he was one of 52 people who lent their voice to an oral history audio collection that was launched in the National Library of Ireland.

Some of the people who spoke at the 'The Irish Country House and the Great War' were telling their ancestor's story for the first time and others were recounting oft-told tales.

The recordings were compiled by Maurice O'Keefe and his wife Jane to preserve these families' stories for future generations.

Many of the people who went to fight as part of the British army never saw their homes again.

The British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, was at the launch yesterday, where he signalled out the story of George Morris, who was Lieutenant-Colonel in the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards.

Memories of Mr Morris were recalled by his grandson, Redmond Morris of Dublin.

Talking about the importance of this project, Mr Morris said: "This exhibition means that there is something that is always there about my grandfather's exploits, as opposed to just the written word."

Minister of State Aodhan O Riordain launched the collection and he paid tribute to Ms Findlater and the dozens who travelled from around the country to attend the ceremony.

"Each family occupies a singular place in Irish history and the centenary anniversaries that are associated with the war present a unique opportunity to consider the complexity of the times," said Mr O Riordain.

Anne Purdon, from Killucan, Co Westmeath, also remembered several of her family members who served in the Great War.

Her father Tom Cairnes was the only cyclops, or one-eyed pilot, to fly in the Royal Flying Corps during the war and she also read letters written by her father-in-law Samuel Purdon, who fought at the Front.

"This project is a lovely idea – I spent most of my life having to be careful who I talked to about it, but now it's nice for someone to remember that my father was a hero," said Ms Purdon.

The collection can now be viewed in the National Library of Ireland and a DVD comprising of the entire audio collection and photographs is also available.

Irish Independent

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