Remembering the fallen


Simon Brouder

The centenary of the end of World War One - a conflict that claimed the lives of some 700 men from Kerry - was marked across the county on Sunday as towns and villages across Kerry paid tribute to the fallen.

The largest of the commemorative events took place on Valentia where hundreds gathered for a special ceremony at St John The Baptist Church in Knightstown.

Valentia had an important and often unacknowledged role in the 'War to end all Wars'. As the landing point of the transatlantic cable - the primary line of communication between the British and the United States - the island was one of the most important and heavily guarded bases in the British Empire.

Indeed it is for that very reason that the British forces were so shocked when it emerged that the famous Easter Rising telegram was sent to republicans in the US from Valentia's Cable Station.

To put it in a modern context it would be akin to a message about a White House coup in emanating from the Pentagon.

The commemoration in Knightstown - organised by Kerry County Council, Creative Ireland and Lyric FM - involved a performance by internationally renowned Kerry baritone Gavin Ring and pianist Aoife O'Sullivan.

The duo performed songs by both British and Irish composers were included in the recital which was set to poems by W.B Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Francis Ledwidge.

UCD History Professor Muiris Bric - who hails from Cahersiveen - was also on hand to provide an historical context for the recital which acknowledged the efforts of Kerry men who volunteered to fight in World War One and the 700 who never came home.

"There was a sense of acknowledgement and remembrance of a time in our history that has not been forgotten. It was beautifully executed by the artists involved and we are very grateful to everyone and to the parish church for helping to make the event possible", said Kate Kennelly, Arts Officer at Kerry County Council.

Other towns and villages, including Listowel and Caherdaniel, held their own commemorations as did the people of Tralee, the home of the Munster Fusiliers.

The Fusiliers - whose regimental headquarters was at Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee - fought in several of the war's most ferocious engagements including Galipoli, Ypres, Givency, the Somme. and at Mons where the Fusiliers second Battalion was almost wiped out.

Tralee's commemoration - the first time Armistice Day was marked in the town since the late 1930's - began before dawn on Sunday morning when three pipers from the Tralee Pipes and Drums and the Killorglin and District Pipe Band met on the Mall to honour the fallen.

The trio joined pipers in thousands of locations on all continents who, at 6am their time, lined out to play retreat march 'the Battle's O'er'.

The time was significant, as it was at 6am on November 11, 1918 the Armistice of Compiègne was signed between the Allies and Germany.

Later on Sunday the fusiliers were remembered when Mayor of Kerry Norma Foley presided over a wreath laying ceremony at the monument to the Fusiliers and Kerry's other WWI dead near Ballymullen Barracks.


Tuosist’s WWI hero

Over 700 Kerrymen lost their lives on the battlefields of the Great War. EOIN O'Sullivan tells the tale of one such fallen hero

The old house still has an imposing presence on the stunning neck of land that lies beneath the remnants of Ardea Castle in Tuosist, County Kerry.

Shadowed by the Mcgillycuddy Reeks to the north, the Caha Mountains to the south and the great Atlantic to the west, this is a place of unimaginable beauty.

To the rear of the ruin, an immense wall of boulders and stones arch across the shoreline protecting the calm waters of the river estuary from the crashing waves. On the opposite side, the water's edge consists of pebbles and stones made smooth by an ever ending ebb and flow.

Broken shells, strewn seaweed and fragments of wood add to the remoteness. Against a windswept background, this old roofless building has stood the test of time.

The ruins are in an area known as Leaghillann and have a history that is sad, yet captivating. The place was owned by Denis and Margaret O Sullivan who lived serenely in the house with their two sons and three daughters during the latter part of the 1800's. The family were locally known as the 'Donncadh og's.

However it was one of their daughters, Johanna (born 1894) who was to have a notable impact on the area throughout the years that followed. One day during the summer of 1910, the sixteen year old went by boat with friends across Kenmare bay to Sneem to attend a sports day.

It was there that she was introduced to a young man known as Joseph Mansfield. He was born on March 1 1887 and lived at the Old Road in the village.

On June 29 1907, Joe got into a bit of trouble at the village for being drunk and disorderly and was fined 6d.

He made a good impression on the then acting RIC officer Sgt. P McGovern and agreed to take the pledge. The Constable gave him the following reference to help him join the Army.

"He is honest and respectable; he has kept the pledge for three months. I consider him to be a sober boy". That year he went to Tralee and joined up with the Irish Guards. He completed his training over a period of three years and was sent to the call-up reserve.

From the day Joe met Johanna, their romance grew. Between 1910 and 1913 while he was home on leave, they regularly met at Regatta's, fishing trips and at the tea dances in the Lake House, Cloonee.

On September 16 1913 they got married in Tuosist, at the local church. The following year the First World War broke out and Joe was called up from reserve to full time status in the Irish Guards.

During his time there, he was fined £4-6-2 for loss of equipment. He was also received 98 days detention for other charges. Nevertheless despite the setbacks, he was determined to do well.

On the 5th of August 1914 he was sent to France to fight in the Great War. On April 24, 1915, during a battle at Givenchy, Joe first demonstrated his heroism and bravery. The soldiers were ordered to leave their trench, known as "the white house", as it was feared that the Germans were mining beneath them. As they were leaving their position, the mine shaft was blown, trapping an officer and a soldier underground.

Accompanied by another Irish Guard, Joe voluntarily descended through a two foot opening and went down 20 ft, and along another 120 feet in a bid to rescue the men who were already dead.

Both soldiers were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Joe was subsequently promoted to Corporal (2845). This prompted the following report in the London Gazette of June 3 1915.

"He won the distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry at Givenchy in voluntarily descending in to a mine shaft, which had been exploded by the enemy in order to rescue an officer and another man.

Private Mansfield with a comrade remained below for an hour without success, and then returned to the surface. He went down a second time but the officer and soldier were found to be dead and the removal of the bodies proved to be impossible.

In attempting this act of gallantry the risk from gas or being blown up by the German mines (which were being prepared nearby) was very great. In addition to the DCM, Private Mansfield was also awarded the 1914 star, British War Medal and Victory Medal."

In Rudyard Kipling's book, "History of the Irish Guards in the Great War", Joe Mansfield is mentioned on page 78 in relation to the same event.

The following is an extract: "Hardly had orders been given to clear the white house trench, when the ground at the junction of Lieutenant Barclay's countermine and the German crater went up and the Lieutenant was killed. Two privates of the Irish Guards (2845 J. Mansfield and 3975 M Brine) volunteered to enter our mine and see what had happened.

They recovered Lieutenant Barclay's body at great risk from the asphyxiating gases. Both men were recommended for the D.C.M."

In July 1915 he came back to Kerry in jubilant form, but was not well-liked around the village of Sneem for a comment he made about his experiences in battle.

"The Irish Guards gave them a hot time at the point of a bayonet. The Germans will be finished when we get more shells; the Irish will show them no mercy at all". He went on to say, "a lot of fellows holding up the corners should be out there fighting for King and Country"

The locals were not impressed and it was probably best that he spent a lot of his time at Leaghillann with his wife while home from war. However, he was regarded as a hero throughout the county and his DCM achievement got various mentions in the Killarney Echo. This medal was regarded as second only to the Victoria Cross.

Joe Mansfield returned to the front in Northern France on October 1915 and soon after he received gunshot and shell wounds to the head shoulder and forearm.

Because of the injuries he was taken away from the front and his behaviour degenerated yet again. In 1916 he was stripped of his Corporal rank after getting into more trouble. On the 10th of July 1917 he was court martialled and got one year detention. He was released in January 1918 and was sent back to the front. That year he returned to Tuosist for a short break.

However that August, he went back to the trenches and was tragically killed in action on 27th of September. Joe was among 82 Guardsmen who died while storming a German position at Sanders Keep, situated two miles south west of the village of Graincourt-les-Havrincourt near Cambria in northern France.

He received a gunshot wound to the forehead from an enemy machine gun.

After the battle, the British and German dead were buried in nearby cemeteries. The very gallant Irish Guardsman is buried at Sanders Keep Cemetery, Graincourt-le-Havrincourt, North Cambria, and N France. (Plot 11, Row B, Grave 5). (London Gazette June 3 1915).

Today, Joe's name can be clearly observed his headstone in the well kept graveyard at Sanders Keep.

Among the personal belongings sent to his widow in Tuosist were two rosary beads, a photo, letters, a religious book and 2 scapulars. His bravery can never be forgotten and his memory cherished as one of Ireland's unsung heroes. Joe gave his life for a cause he believed in

Johanna Mansfield continued to live in Ardea for the following 31 years and did not marry again as she would have resulted in the loss of her wartime pension.

She shared the house with her brother Paddy until his death in the 1940's.

Around 1905 her sister Ellen, and her husband Michael Toomey, immigrated to America. They left behind their daughter, Katie (born 1902) to be raised by Johanna for the next 23 years or so. In 1928, the 26 year old Katie Toomey was ready to join her parents in New York.

Locals waved goodbye when she set out from Tuosist Post Office and travelled to Kenmare by horse and trap. She was never to return.