Tuesday 20 March 2018

Historian helps Gaybo tell his father's story

A WICKLOW historian played a major part carrying out research into the activities of Gay Byrne's father as a member of the British Army during World War I.

'Gaybo' will present an RTE documentary titled 'My Father's War' centred around Edward Byrne's service on the front lines in France. It will air next Monday on RTÉ One at 9.30 p.m..

Wicklow town historian, John Goodman, was a key researcher into Edward Byrne's service and travelled with Gay to France and Belgium to film the documentary.

John's involvement commenced some time before the life and times of Edward Byrne was even being considered for a TV show.

'I heard Gay Byrne on the radio a couple of years ago talking about not knowing much about his father's service during World War I. I research war soldiers as a labour of love so I rang up Gay and asked him if he would like me to carry out some research into his father. He said 'yes' and I presented him with my findings about 18 months ago.'

Edward was the son of Alex Byrne, a coachman for the Earl of Meath, and grey up in Wicklow, working with horses at Killruddery House and Gardens. The Earl of Meath encouraged the sons of workers to sign up with the British army because there wasn't enough work at Killruddery to sustain them all.

Edward joined the British Army in 1912, two years before war broke out. Remarkably, seven of Edward's brothers also fought in the war.

'There wouldn't have been many families that would have had that number of sons taking part in battle,' explains John.

'The Byrne family were really lucky that all their sons survived the war and ended up coming back to Ireland.

'However, while Daniel returned home, he was still really a casualty of the war. In 1922 he died from complications brought about by gas poisoning he suffered during combat.'

While on the front-line Edward served with the Royal Horse Artillery and the Hussars.

After the war had ended Edward Byrne went on to marry Mary Carroll, originally from Bray, and landed a job with Guinness on a delivery barge. However, his experiences during War time had a considerable impact on him throughout his remaining years.

'Gay said his father used to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night suffering from nightmares from his time on the battlefield,' adds John.

'He was emotionally scarred by everything he had gone through and some of the horrific sights he had witnessed.

'He was involved in so much - from the first and second battle of Ypres to the Battle of the Somme and the cavalry charge at Le Cateau. It really is remarkable that he survived the war at all considering all he had to go through.'

Wicklow People