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July 24, 2010

ROADSIDE CROSS AT BALLYMOUNT

 A living monument – a topiary roadside memorial in County Kildare

James Eogan

Monument tree–A hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) bush c. 3.2m high and 2.7m wide, growing in a hedgerow on the west side of the former N9 Dublin to Waterford national road in the townland of Ballymount,[1] Co. Kildare. The tree has been clipped into the shape of an equal-armed cross. In September 2008 two fragments of a broken blue plastic rosary were suspended from some of its lower branches. This hawthorn bush is a living roadside memorial to Matthew Doyle, a local man who was knocked down at this spot on the evening of 2 September 1934.[2]

On the evening of the All-Ireland hurling final 1934 a man called Matt Doyle ... was walking towards Kilcullen from Ballymount Church to a shop (which was close by) to buy Afton cigarettes. He was walking on the grass margin. A Model T car travelling towards Dublin, driven by a sales rep. from Kilkenny, went on to the grass margin and killed him. His grandson felt that the lights were not able to be dipped and he was blinded by oncoming traffic. Matt Doyle was badly injured and was transferred to the county hospital in Kildare town and died ten days later (according to Matthew Doyle's grandson, Matt, he died on 10 September, eight days after the accident). A few days later a neighbour shaped the tree where he was knocked down into a cross using wire. Annually neighbours trimmed the tree to the shape of a cross. In recent years the Doyle family took on the responsibility. The cross is re-shaped each year around this time for the anniversary. (Breda Carroll, Ballymount, Co. Kildare, pers. comm., August 2008.)

Further details on the design, maintenance and care of the monument were recalled by Matt Doyle, Matthew's grandson:

The original young bush was tied into shape by James Maguire, of Usk and Robert O'Connor of Kilgowan, road workers with Kildare County Council at the time, so for many years afterwards they kept an eye on it during their work and saved it from small roadworks and so on ... All through my youth I assisted Robert ‘Bob’ O'Connor with the clipping of the cross ... he was very particular about the shape and scale proportions of the cross. I had a good instructor to whom a half leaf on or off made all the difference. (Matt Doyle, Blackrath, Colbinstown, Co. Kildare, pers. comm., December 2008.)

A variety of early medieval and medieval Irish historical sources and folklore collected in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries attest to the fact that certain trees and groups of trees 'were treated with a certain reverence which, normally, protected them from wilful damage' (Lucas 1963, 16). Lucas grouped these sacred trees into a number of loose categories. Some of them were large single trees notable for their size or form; a second category were trees that grew at tribal inauguration sites; others were associated with ecclesiastical sites and holy wells; a fourth category were trees growing at cillín sites; and the last group marked the place of sudden death of an individual (ibid.). Lucas cites an example of the latter category in a record collected by the Irish Folklore Commission about a tree growing at Cappanarrow [OS 6in. sh. 11], Co. Laois:

Long ago when a person would be killed in an accident there would be a small tree planted in that place. There is a monument tree over in Srahane. Usually it is a white-thorn tree is planted. Nobody ever touches a monument tree (ibid, 43).

The informant quoted in the original manuscript goes on to report that 'Nowadays they put up a cross.[3] Lucas cites further reports of monument trees from counties Longford, Westmeath and Galway. In all cases where the species of tree is recorded they were hawthorns.
A strong taboo associated with sacred trees, regardless of their context or categorisation, is the prohibition against cutting them or damaging them in any way or even touching the fruit. The records of the Irish Folklore Commission, however, contain references to a monument tree 'clipped in the shape of a cross' at Glebe townland (Upperwoods barony) [OS 6in. sh. 16], Co. Laois;[4] this example commemorated a man killed in 1908. There are references to other cross-shaped monument trees near Mountrath, Co. Laois,[5] and Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath.[6]
The pruning and shaping of trees and bushes in Irish gardens can be traced to the seventeenth century (Reeves-Smyth 1999, 124ff), and the practice continued through the eighteenth century (Lamb and Bowe 1995, 25). The impetus for the development of topiary in Ireland was provided by contemporary international garden fashions, but at this period it seems that topiary was the preserve of the rich and powerful and was confined to formal gardens. There is no evidence that the foliage of trees or bushes was clipped for decorative effect before the seventeenth century in Ireland. By the twentieth century garden hedges and shrubs were commonly clipped into shape as a response to prevailing garden fashions and owing to the ready availability of the necessary tools.
A great variety of roadside memorials to the victims of road traffic accidents have been recorded in Ireland; the website Irish roadside memorials at sites of traffic fatalities (www.irishroadside.com) has records of over 700 such memorials from all 26 counties in the Irish Republic. Recently an article on roadside memorials along the N4 Dublin-Sligo road has considered the role of these monuments as part of the 'material culture of remembrance' (MacConville and McQuillan 2005).
Máire nic Néill (1946, 62) in her study of wayside death cairns ascribes the motivation for the construction of this type of monument to a manifestation of the 'peculiar influence which death has on the spot where it occurs ... It is not one dead person, but death itself, or some vague terrible power, which is feared at the death place'. The records of the Irish Folklore Commission indicate that the presence of a monument tree was a prompt to all who passed to remember the deceased person in prayer; if a monument tree was on the route followed by a funeral procession, the cortege stopped and the mourners recited a prayer such as the Our Father or the De Profundis (Psalm 129) in memory of the person commemorated by the tree. In this way these people who were marked out by the unusual or sudden manner of their death were drawn back into the community at the very place where their death had occurred. Matt Doyle is not aware that this practice was ever observed at the Ballymount monument tree, but he recalls occasions over the years when the family have found religious tokens in or at the tree, such as the rosary beads noted in 2008. These items were left by unknown third parties and indicate that the tree has a ritual significance for some people who pass by.
Recent archaeological research has focused on the prehistoric ritual significance of unaltered topographic features, such as rock outcrops, in the landscape (Bradley 1998; 2000). Little attention appears to have been paid, however, to the potential ritual significance that may have been ascribed to individual trees in the past, presumably because of the difficulty of demonstrating this phenomenon empirically. For archaeologists the memorial to Matt Doyle is a reminder that a landscape can be 'monumentalised' without the construction of durable structures of stone or earth. When the Ballymount monument tree reaches the end of its natural life there will be no physical trace of its presence above ground and no evidence of its previous, existence below ground-it will be archaeologically invisible.
The hawthorn bush clipped into a cross shape to commemorate the place where Matthew Doyle was knocked down is a modern example of the tradition of the monument tree. It seems that an existing tree in the roadside hedgerow was adapted for use as a memorial rather than a tree being planted, which, based on the folklore records, appears to have been the more usual practice. The available information suggests that the tree was trained using wire, indicating that James Maguire or Robert O'Connor had some knowledge of, or experience in, topiary. This is interesting, as MacConville and McQuillan (2005, 29) cite records from the Irish Folklore Commission that if a sudden death took place near the house of a carpenter he would furnish a wooden cross, while if it occurred close to the forge the smith would make a metal cross. County Council road-workers in twentieth century Ireland carried out a variety of tasks related to the maintenance and upkeep of the road network, including hedge-cutting. The creation of this monument tree can be interpreted as an expression of the 'craft' of these road-workers.
This memorial is a combination of the apparently long-established tradition of marking the place of sudden death with a hawthorn bush and the more recently introduced horticultural practice of clipping trees and bushes for decorative effect.
The hawthorn clipped into the shape of a cross marking the place where Matthew Doyle died is a distinctive roadside memorial that requires ongoing annual maintenance. For the Doyle family, clipping the bush in order to maintain its form has become an act of remembrance of a relative who died in tragic circumstances 75 years ago. For the author, who first noticed it from the window of a passing bus, the Ballymount monument tree has been transformed from a topiary curiosity to a striking manifestation of the human desire to perpetuate memories and mark the passage of time.

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Matt Doyle and Breda Carroll for providing information on the origin of this memorial. Dr Críostóir Mac Cirtháigh, archivist, Bhéaloideas Cnuasach Ä’ireann, provided photocopies of relevant records from the files of the Folklore Commission. Mr John O'Flynn, Waterford County Engineer (retd.), provided information on Local Authority work practices.

References
Bradley, R. 1998. Ruined buildings, ruined stones: enclosures, tombs and natural places in the Neolithic of south-west England. In R. Bradley and H. Williams (eds), The 'past in the past: the reuse of ancient monuments, 13-22. World Archaeology 30 (1). Routledge, London.
Bradley, R. 2000 An archaeology of natural places. Routledge, London.
Lamb, J.D.G. and Bowe, P.T.P. 1995. A history of gardening in Ireland. The Stationery Office, Dublin.
Lucas, A.T. 1963. The sacred trees of Ireland. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 68, 16-54.
McConville, U. and McQuillan, R. 2005. Continuing the tradition: roadside memorials in Ireland. Archaeology Ireland 19 (1), 26-30.
McIlraith, D. 2001. Vehicle and traffic growth in Ireland in the 20th century. Unpublished manuscript, National Roads Authority.
Nic Néill, M. 1946 Wayside death cairns in Ireland. Béaloideas 16,49-63.
Reeves-Smyth, T. 1999. Irish gardens and gardening before Cromwell. The Barryscourt Lectures 4. The Barryscourt Trust, Carrigtwohill.

Notes
1. The tree is located at National Grid Reference 282243E, 201594N, Ballymount townland, Narragh & Reban East barony, Usk parish, Co. Kildare.
2. In 1934 there were 35,497 cars registered in the Irish Free State, and 195 road fatalities were recorded in that year (McIlraith 2001, tables 2 and 4). There are no figures for traffic volume on this route in 1934, but the extrapolation of 1928 figures suggests that in this year the average annual daily traffic on this stretch of road was around 280 vehicles, or twelve vehicles per hour in both directions.
3. National Folklore Collection MS 652: 84.
4. National Folklore Collection MS 652: 90-1.
5. National Folklore Collection MS 652: 86.
6. National Folklore Collection MS 652: 191.

 FROM:

A Grand Gallimaufry
collected in honour of Nick Maxwell

Edited by Mary Davies, Una MacConville and Gabriel Cooney

Word well
First published in 2010 by Word well Ltd
Media House, South County Business Park, Dublin 18
Copyright © The authors.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. This book is sold subject to the conditions that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data are available for this book.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978 1905569458

 

A living monument – a topiary roadside memorial in County Kildare. Our thanks to James Eogan for permission to use this article. Re-typed by James Durney

'THE NUN OF KENMARE'

‘The nun of Kenmare’ – her Kildare connections

  James Durney

Margaret Anna Cusack, ‘the nun of Kenmare,’ has long been a legend – one of the most colourful and controversial Irishwomen who ever lived. Born in Coolock, Co. Dublin , into a Protestant Ascendancy family, she joined an Anglican sisterhood, but soon grew disillusioned. Becoming a Catholic, she entered the Order of the Poor Clares and from her convent in Kenmare began to pour out the stream of books and pamphlets that made her famous. Supporting all the great causes of her time – Home Rule, the Land League, Women’s Rights, Famine Relief – she incurred the hatred of the Establishment figures everywhere, and her life became a struggle to translate her ideals into realities, a struggle that took her from to and back again to finally die in .

Margaret Anna was born the first child of Dr. Samuel and Sarah Cusack (née Stoney of Oakley Park, near Birr) in 1829. Her father, Samuel Cusack, was the youngest son of Athanasias Cusack of Lara (or Laragh) near Kilcock on the Meath/Kildare border. Growing up in an environment of strict puritanical Christianity Margaret Anna developed into a rebellious personality unique in the age she lived. Not that she was the only ‘rebel’ to be found on her family tree – so predominantly Protestant, loyalist and law-abiding. It was over laden with titles of services rendered to the Crown. However, as far as the ‘rebel’ blood flowing in her veins was concerned, among her ancestors one of her Cusack aunts was Alicia Wolfe, of Blackhall, Clane, cousin of the Wolfes, of Forenoughts, Naas – relatives of the father of Irish republicanism, Theobold Wolfe Tone. Another aunt, Elizabeth, had married Alexander Battersby of Daffey Lodge, Co. Kildare. Margaret Anna was also related, again on the Cusack side, to the Aylmer’s, of Donadea Castle .

Margaret Anna’s parents separated when she was a teenager and she went to live with a grand-aunt in Exeter, Devon . At age twenty-nine she converted to Catholicism and joined the Order of the Poor Clares, in Newry, Co. Down. In 1861 she was sent with a small group of nuns to Kenmare, Co. Kerry, then one of the most destitute parts of .  She wrote extensively, from pamphlets to books – biographies of saints, pontiffs, prelates and nationalist leaders. By 1870 more than 200,000 copies of her works had circulated throughout the world. The money made from her publications went to feed the poor in her community at Kenmare. Margaret Anna was the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and established communities of her order in Nottingham, , and Newark, . Because of her outspoken views and her support of many radical causes she was not popular with all Roman Catholics and in 1888 she returned to the Anglican Communion after an altercation with her bishop. Margaret Anna Cusack, ‘the nun of Kenmare,’ died in 1899, aged sixty-seven, and was buried in a Church of England reserved burial site at Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

In 1970 leading female journalist Irene ffrench Eager wrote The nun of Kenmare, the biography of this unique woman. It was her first book. Irene ffrench Eager also had Kildare connections and was born in Co. Kildare, of Kerry and Galway-Mayo ancestry. She attended Trinity College , Dublin, was a newsroom journalist for the Irish Times, and scripted a short documentary film, ‘Dublin: City of James Joyce .’

James Durney uncovers Kildare Connections with the famous 'Nun of Kenmare.' Our thanks as always to James. 

July 03, 2010

VOLUNTEERS RETURN SAFELY FROM SPAIN


Leinster Leader, 1937
Volunteers Return
Many narrow escapes
Naas men in front lines
 
All of the volunteers from Co. Kildare numbering nine returned safely from their expedition to Spain under General O’Duffy. Their stories of their experiences there are somewhat similar, and they were very glad indeed to be once more in their native land. Some of them had very narrow escapes from death under shell fire, and thank merciful Providence that their lives were spared. All without exception, told harrowing stories of the terrible brutalities of the Reds, the descration of Churches, the killing on nuns and priests, and the thousands of people with sympathies towards General Franco.
The Naas contingent, Messrs. J. Byrne, P.Daly, Jos Curran, and W.O’Neill were in the front line trenches, but escaped unscratched.
Speaking to one of the volunteers, he said that during the nine weeks they were in the trenches they were under shell fire the whole time. The food was bad and they got very little sleep being in their full equipment throughout the nine weeks. A Spanish Lieutenant and Sergeant attached to the Bundera were killed just as entered the trenches, and Lieutenant Tom Hyde and Volunteer Chute were killed subsequently. After entering the village of Clempotuelo about twenty miles from Madrid the volunteers were horrified to find that the asylum there was filled with young girls who had lost their reason because of their ill-treatment by the Reds. The asylum had formerly been managed by nuns, and some of these had escaped by passing as patients until relief arrived. A large portion of the population of this village had been killed by having their throats cut
A doctor, who was one of the most prominent citizens of the village, was cut in pieces on his own operating table, and the volunteers found Communistic emblems written in his blood around the walls of the house. All chapels and convents in the area were burned and wrecked, and wherever the volunteers came into a house where there were sure to have been murdered and the pictures profane and broken.
Another volunteer, Mr. Joe Curran, stated that they had to suffer severe hardships going over to Spain, but when they reached the headquarters of the forces they got a rousing reception and all along the way were greeted by cheering crowds. They then went into training at Caceres for two months and subsequently took over front line trenches from the Moors. At Chimposulos an incident occurred which reflected the highest credit on all the Volunteers concerned. One evening the volunteers were having a hasty meal in the ruins of a Church when one of the volunteers on going to a window was greeted by a fusillade of shots. Willy O’Neill, a Naas man, immediately took up his rifle and accompanied by Joe Curran, and a few more of the Bandera, went out in search of the sniper. After a thorough search Pte. O’Neill discovered him hiding behind a wall and advancing held him up with his rifle and forced him to give up the revolver which he held in his hand. He then marched him down through the streets of the town to the camp. The next morning the man was shot.
The general complaint, however, was the scarcity of food, and even the water was scarce, and when found was often found to be undrinkable, some of the wells being found to be full of corpses.
It was around Lamoracos that the volunteers went into the heaviest fighting and lost most. Advancing in the enemy lines they came under the heavy fire of the Russian artillery, and when they came close to the trenches were met with machine gun fire. They took the trenches, however, and captured a number of guns. It was here that Volunteer Horan of Tralee, was killed, in a shell landing practically beside him and narrowly making some of the Naas volunteers who had just passed the place. All through the campaign in fact the members of the Irish brigade had the most Providential escapes and the hand of God seemed to be watching over them night and day.
Legionnaire Liam O’Neill’s recital was somewhat corroborative of the others. He had found evidence of convents being ransacked and their inmates brutally murdered while ruined churches and broken statues desecrated with Communistic emblems were to be found on all sides. The Legionnaire showed the writer portion of the vestment of a murdered priest, which he had picked up on his way.
The complaints about the extremely bad food supplied to the Volunteers was general. Not only that, but they seldom got even any kind of food, while some of the men manning the front line trenches were in rags. This was in contrast to the treatment meted out to the Spanish Volunteers, who were well clothed and fed. The hardship entailed induced many of the Volunteers to express a wish to leave the country, and besides there was continual wrangling going on between the officers of the Bandera as to the rank they held. This disunity disheartened and discouraged the general body of the Volunteers. Mr. O’Neill stated that General O’Neill seldom went near the front line trenches, and that the story published in the daily newspapers about the narrow escape of the General when a shell landed near a dug out which he had occupied was totally untrue. The Volunteers received pay amounting in English money to about 2s, 6d a week. They discovered that many of their letters had never been posted, but nevertheless their postage money which they had handed in with the letters had never been refunded by the responsible authorities. A bonus had been promised the Volunteers when leaving the country, but they had never got any bonus whatever and most of them returned much poorer than they went. Referring to the fighting qualities of the foreign troops with General Franco, the Volunteer said that the Germans were outstanding soldiers, well disciplined and fearless in the face of danger, while the Italians also fought well.
 
 

An interesting article from the pages of the Leinster Leader of 1937 on the safe return of volunteers from Co. Kildare  from their expedition to Spain under General O’Duffy. Our thanks to Roy O'Brien

July 02, 2010

JOHN KENNEDY, M.C.

John Kennedy, M.C.
James Durney
 
John Kennedy was one of Kildare’s most famous WWII soldiers, though he never intended to become a soldier. He wanted to follow in His father’s footsteps and develop his own farming and bloodstock interests in Co. Kildare. He loathed war and the terrible wastage it produced. Nevertheless, he became a legend in the Irish Guards, much admired by all who served with him. He was as devoted to his men as they were to him. In 1944 he hitchhiked from England to Holland, giving up a cushy job, to be beside his men. In February 1945, just a few weeks before the German forces surrendered, John Kennedy was killed, storming a German castle. He was twenty-five. His loss to his family was irreplaceable. If he had survived the war, he would have had a full, and reasonably, well-off life. Instead he died in a muddy ditch in Germany, shot in the back as he led a heroic attack on a strong German defensive position. He should not have died, because John Kennedy should not have been there. If the artillery the Irish Guards had been promised had softened up the target he might not have died either. But the promised artillery barrage before the attack never materialised. John Kennedy should have got the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for bravery, but that never happened either. However, life is full of ifs and buts and John Kennedy’s death, like that of many others, left the world a poorer and duller place.
John Kennedy lived most of his life at Bishopscourt, near Kill – horse and cow country. The Kennedy’s came from Baronrath and the area was known as ‘Kennedy country.’ Bishopscourt was built by Lord Ponsonby in 1788. It passed to the Clonmels in 1838. In 1914 Bishopscourt was bought by Edward ‘Cub’ Kennedy and his Australian-born wife Doris Lumsdaine. Doris was eighteen when she met and married Cub Kennedy and was always known as D.K. or Dorie. She was considered a great beauty, and Cub, then forty-four, a very lucky man. They had eight children. They were all highly individual and had nicknames: John, born in 1919, and christened Darby Michael, decided John was a more fitting name; Doris was known as Toby; Maeve was Billy; the eldest boy was Sonny; Clodagh became Lamby; Percy preferred John’s name of Darby; while Patricia was named Tiggy. Grania, the youngest, stayed Grania.
John was educated in London and joined the British Army in July 1939. That September war broke out as Germany invaded Poland. There were so many Kildare people in England during the war that John Kennedy wrote home in 1942: ‘Naas will soon be getting jealous of London W1 becoming “Kildare’s other capital.”’ He met so many Irishmen he wrote: ‘Most of our sergeant-majors and NCOs are all ex-Free State soldiers who left Ireland when the army disarmed in 1928. Last week six sergeants deserted and came over.’
On 8-9 April 1940 German troops landed in Norway and the Allies sent an expeditionary force to fight them. John Kennedy, now a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Irish Guards, was delighted when he heard this. He told his batman to, ‘Pack my Colt and Mauser, and the Remington with the telescopic sights, and put the small pistol and the knuckle-duster somewhere handy.’ At that time it was not too easy to secure a commission or join a regiment of your choice, but with the assistance of an old friend and neighbour, General Fanshawe, who lived at Rathmore, John had applied for, and was accepted by, the Irish Guards.
On the morning of 15 April the 1st Irish Guards landed at Harstad on the island of Hinnöy – some 60 miles from Narvik, separated from the port by a sea channel and snow-covered mountains. John Kennedy wrote,
"This place must be heavenly during the summer and all the mountains are snow   covered and the hillsides purple with shrubs … Still, I would sooner be at home  today and see the unforgettable gorse at Punchestown."
The Allied Command decided to stall the Germans at Mö, the narrowest part of Norway and the Irish Guards were put on the Chobry, en route for Mö. Two days out of port, on 15 May, the Chobry was bombed by German planes. There were many casualties, including Denis McLoughlin, 19, from Millicent, Sallins, who was killed. John Kennedy was one of three officers mentioned in the official report: ‘These officers displayed great calmness and courage and did valuable work in rescuing and caring for the wounded; they were amongst the last to leave the ship. Many lives were saved by this display of coolness and their ability to organise the men.’ Norway was abandoned at the end of the month and the expeditionary force was evacuated to Scotland.
For the next two years John Kennedy enjoyed the London war scene, but in spring 1943 it was back to the fray. John Kennedy arrived in Algiers on 9 March. After a memorable St. Patrick’s Day celebration of wine and song the Guards went into action at ‘Recce Ridge,’ in Tunisia’s Mejerda Valley. Captain Mungo Park, Howth, Co. Dublin, was a good friend of John Kennedy’s. He witnessed the debacle on Recce Ridge.
No. 2 Company got on the ridge, but before they could settle down the Germans put a retaliatory box barrage, with the idea of stopping any retreat from the ridge and then attacked in strength. The reason for the attacks’ total failure was the British gunners sighting shells had been plotted by a German intelligence officer, who knew where the objective was. Tony Rocheford, from Westmeath, was killed and Colin Leslie wounded.
German gunners also hit a barn where Major Michael Gordon-Watson, Lieutenant John Kennedy and Guardsman O’Shea had taken up positions to watch the battle. Two shells exploded near them wounding O’Shea in the foot, arm and chest and Kennedy wounded slightly in the leg. The major was unhurt. John spent some time in an Algiers hospital, where he met Captain John de Burgh, from Oldtown, Naas, who was also wounded in a recent desert battle. Not one to lie around John was soon fed up and discharged himself. He hitched a ride back to his battalion just in time for the push on Tunis.
Mungo Park was severely wounded just before the push on the Tunisian capital. He was a passenger in a portable pulling a six-pounder anti-tank gun when the vehicle drove over a mine. “We were moving up to the Bou at night when we hit a mine. The driver was killed. The colonel was in the front seat and was totally unhurt. He landed in a ditch and went for help. Second-Officer Rowlands was wounded, and Lieutenant Young, the anti-tank officer, was badly peppered with shrapnel. Guardsman Doyle, from Carlow, lost a leg.” Capt. Park broke both feet and one leg. “My recollections were that there was more than one mine as there were a lot of pops. I looked down at my feet and saw that they were both at odd angles to my legs.”
After the Allied victory in North Africa the war shifted to the Italian mainland. In an effort to roll up the Germans and capture Rome an Allied force was landed at Anzio. It was another military disaster. The 1st Irish Guards landed at Anzio on 22 January 1944 after the beachhead had been secured and were involved in repelling a German attack four days later. John Kennedy, now promoted to captain, and commander of No. 3 Company, called down a mortar barrage on the exposed German troops. He then proceeded to direct artillery fire on the German tanks, driving them off, too. The Times later had this to say:
During a subsequent advance German troops who had penetrated within 100 yards of a company headquarters were all killed, captured, or chased away by a counter-attack. That fight was scarcely over when it was reported that another German company was approaching. Most of them were caught in the fire of Bren guns; the remainder fled to cover, where they were caught by artillery fire laid on by Major D.M. Kennedy.
For this action and another in which his company captured thirty-five prisoners John Kennedy was promoted to major and awarded the Military Cross, one of Britain’s highest awards for valour. John Kennedy was not only admired by his own troops. The Americans were also full of praise for him and called him the ‘Mad Irishman,’ devoting a full column on his exploits in their armed forces paper, Stars and Stripes. Towards the end of the fighting at Anzio John Kennedy was wounded in the chest and evacuated to Naples. The Irish Guards were sent back to England for re-fitting for the campaign in Western Europe. When he recovered John Kennedy found himself behind a desk, but when the Irish Guards found themselves bogged down at Nijmegan in Holland, John hitched a plane ride to Europe and lorry-hopped through Belgium and Holland.
As shells exploded around Headquarters at the height of a battle Kennedy walked in. He was wearing a cap-comforter and a blue sailor’s jersey and had an American M-1 carbine slung over his shoulder. “I have come,” he announced. “Never was a man so welcome,” said Colonel Joe Vandeleur. “His battle record was second to none in the regiment. He was one of those rare persons who really enjoyed war. It did us all good to see him.” John was not long there when one of his friends and neighbours, Lt. Robin O’Kelly, from Millbrook, Straffan, was killed by a German shell. Robin’s sister, Mary, was in Antwerp, at the time, with the Catholic Women’s League. The CWL handed out tea and sandwiches and organised entertainment at officers and enlisted men’s clubs. Shortly after her brother’s death, Mary O’Kelly made a trip to his grave, at Sittard, accompanied by Major John Kennedy, who was a family friend and whose home place, at Bishopscourt, was just a few miles from Millbrook. In a letter to Mary O’Kelly, John said:
"It hit me like a brick when I learned he was dead. Although we have been  neighbours so long, only recently did I get to know Robin and more I regret it.  I can’t tell you how much I miss him here as he was one of the very few human  beings on this front. He was always himself as he managed despite the odds and  always preserved his own individuality which in one word was charming."
Christmas in the line was always hard on the troops. John Kennedy wrote to his sister Toby:
"It seems a long time since I have written to you, but it was Christmas here and  I always try to make it as a good a Christmas as possible. This one was no  exception. We pulled into a small town here and since then have been having a  wonderful time. I took up residence in the château and lived in great style.  Big bed, clean sheets, running water, etc. We all put our Christmas cards on  the mantel piece in the big room, started up the central heating and for a time  had to ignore the war. It was almost too good to last. One could not help  feeling homesick at times because it really was too much like home. I fixed the  men up with a pretty good spread also."
On 21 February 1945 the Irish Guards were ordered to clear a group of scattered farmhouses and a château at Terporten, on the German/Dutch border, some 2,000 yards ahead of the front line. Major John Kennedy was in charge of No. 3 Company, which he had taken over when its commander was wounded. He regarded this as providence as this was the company in which he had always served. The Germans were well dug in and the Guards lost three Bren gun carriers to mines straight away. The rest were quickly bogged down as the area was water-logged and the attacking troops were often in knee-deep water. The Guards wireless sets were also down preventing them from calling supporting fire. However, the Guards chased the Germans from ditch to ditch and house to house all the time under intense fire. When the leading platoon reached the village château they found it held by superior forces. As John Kennedy reached the château at the head of the platoon, Germans streamed out of the back door and hopped into the trenches.
“Come on lads,” John shouted. “We’ve got them now.” He ran to the trenches in front of everyone else and walking back and forward he shot down Germans with his revolver. He soon used up all his ammunition and was about to jump into the trench when a single shot hit him from behind, killing him instantly. Despite their bravery the outnumbered Guardsmen had no choice but to break off the attack and retreat. They lost 175 men, including two company commanders and all the platoon commanders. No loss was more keenly felt, than that of the heroic Kildareman, Major John Kennedy.
For a time John was posted as missing in action, then came confirmation that he was dead. Just two months later the war in Europe was over. John Kennedy is buried with twenty-five of his comrades in a little military cemetery in Gennap, just inside Holland. His mother and father are buried on Oughtehard Hill, in what used to be known as ‘Kennedy country.’ Bishopscourt was sold in 1976.

John Kennedy was one of Kildare’s most famous WWII soldiers, though he never intended to become a soldier. Nevertheless, he became a legend in the Irish Guards. Our thanks to James Durney


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