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Scars and stigma: Unsung heroes who survived horrors of WWI remembered


Catherine Smyth points to her uncle’s name

Catherine Smyth points to her uncle’s name

Catherine Smyth points to her uncle’s name

THEY are the unsung heroes who did not perish on battlefields like Ypres, the Somme or Flanders but returned home to try and pick up the pieces of their normal lives, forever carrying the scars of the horror they had witnessed.

Often shell-shocked or suffering from severe injuries, they were ignored, vilified and stigmatised within the emerging new Irish Free State, their bravery first mocked and then forgotten.

But now 100 years later, a new project is slowly trying to piece together the jigsaw of all the brave Irish veterans who fought in World War I – whether they returned home or not.

Hundreds of loyal family members of all generations attended an ecumenical service to honour and remember all Irishmen from North and South of the Border, who risked life and limb in the Great War.

The vital role of Irish women and even animals in the war effort was also recognised at the service at St Laurence's Church in Stillorgan, Dublin.

Pamela McCarthy from the Dublin Unitarian church presided over the service.

Organiser Sabina Purcell said she had the idea for the memorial to all Irish people who fought in the Great War after she visited the Irish National War Memorial gardens at Islandbridge and realised that only the dead were honoured.

It is thought that at least 100,000 Irishmen fought in the war but the project has so far collected just 30,000 names, and relatives are now urged to ensure that their family war heroes are included in the list.

Among those who did come home was Private Michael Murphy, who enlisted with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Naas and was taken prisoner of war. He later became a printer with the Irish Independent and died in 1956.


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Retired garda Jim Herlihy from Cork revealed that he was born when his father, Michael, a Great War veteran, was 75 years old. Michael enlisted in 1915 in Liverpool, was wounded in the Battle of the Somme and sent home in 1917. He married in 1924 but when his first wife died some 30 years later, he remarried and had two sons.

Donegal woman Hilary Roulston's grandfather Robert joined the 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. There was applause as she closed with the words of Donegal poet Patrick McGill.

"I wish the sea was not so wide that parts me from my love. I wish the things men do below were known to God above. I wish that I were back again in the Glens of Donegal. They'd call me a coward if I return but a hero if I fall."

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