Friday 19 April 2019

Sean's letter is a national treasure

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

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 interest 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.

Fingal Independent