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‘ In far foreign fields …’ - Kildare casualty of the First World War
Anniversaries of great events come and go, and gain or lose significance depending on the public mood at the time. However the 11 November each year will forever be associated with one of the darkest periods in the story of Western Europe – the First World War which came to an end on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, following four years of slaughter and destruction on a scale of terrifying proportions.
Among the many millions who found themselves embroiled in the fighting at places with such evocative names as Ypres, the Somme and Gallipoli were some quarter of a million men of Irish birth. While statistics vary it is estimated that more than forty thousand of them were to perish amid the relentless artillery barrages, withering machine gun fire, and choking gas clouds of a war fought in the cloying mud of Flanders and among arid cliffs of Gallipoli.
The numbers of those involved are almost incomprehensible and it is only by focussing on the individual story that we get a sense of the quiet tragedy that unfolded back at home as news of war tragedy came to virtually every town and country parish in the county. One of the personal stories from Kildare that might be related is that of Private Andrew Delaney of Crookstown near Narraghmore who (in contrast to the many who joined up at the outbreak of the war with the encouragement of politicians and clergy ringing in their ears) was what might be called a career soldier. Andrew Delaney got his first exposure to gun fire in the Boer War (1899-1902) and he was called up again in 1914 when the British realised they needed to mobilise their reserves to replace the haemorrhage of men from the killing fields of the Western Front even in the early years of war.
Now a Medical Orderly he spent his days trying to bring relief to the wounded and dying. He no doubt often crawled out under the relentless shell bursts to rescue a wounded man trapped in the pulverised earth of No Man’s Land between the British and the German trenches. It was no doubt during such a mercy mission that he ingested the poison gas whose toxic vapours had been released over the trenches – one of the many barbarous innovations of the First World War. He was evacuated from France to an army hospital in Netley, England.
He hardly could have realised that death was just hours away when on 28 May 1915 he penned a tender note to his wife, Annie, at home in Ballitore, Co. Kildare. He told her that he had arrived safely in England and, presumably to assuage her worries, remarked that he did not feel as bad as when the gas had first struck. However this tender postcard which would have brought much relief to Mrs. Delaney was to be overtaken in the post in poignant circumstances by a terse telegram sent to the Delaney household on 31 May 1915 which read: “ From Officer Commanding, Netley Military Hospital. Regret No. 2922 Private Andrew Delaney died here today from acute bronchitis as a result of gas poisoning.’ Even at this remove, nine decades later, the grief which must have gripped Annie Delaney is almost palpable – a grief shared by many a wife and mother in  labourer’s cottage and squire’s mansion when the dreaded telegram from the War Office arrived on the doorstep.
Andrew Delaney was brought back to Calverstown for burial. The Empire for which he had died gave his wife and two children a death grant of seven pounds. They also sent her a shiny medal accompanied by a letter worded in officious language stating that ‘ it would have been presented to her husband had he been still alive.’ And, as if to show the merciless nature of bureaucracy in the midst of personal tragedy, the letter asked the widowed Mrs. Delaney to return a receipt to the War Office showing that she had received the medal.
  • A deeper insight into the story of Private Andrew Delaney of Crookstown, and of many other families who were bereaved in the First World War, can be seen in the excellent display in the Athy Heritage Centre, Town Hall, Athy.
Series No. 40

From his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun, in the Leinster Leader 8 November 2007, Liam Kenny writes of the death of Andrew Delaney of Crookstown, near Narraghmore, in 1915 in WWI

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