« November 2012 | Main | January 2013 »

December 21, 2012


Silent Witness: Zoltan Zinn Collis 1940-2012

James Durney

Zoltan Zinn Collis thought he was born on 1 August 1940, though he was not certain, in Kazmarok, in Slovakia, as that was where his birth was registered. He was found with his sister, Edit, in Bergen-Belsen by Dublin pediatrician and rugby international Dr. Bob Collis, who brought them to Ireland and later adopted them. Zoltan married and settled in Athy, Co. Kildare. He recalled in 2006:
‘I was never a child. Normal children have fun, run around, get into trouble, fall down, get picked up, get kissed better, then run around some more. But, I was never a child. For when I was a child, my home was Belsen. The games I played, I played around 20,000 rotting corpses waiting to be buried, but with no one to bury them. Oh, yes. I was a child in years. I slept in one of the flea and lice infested trestle beds, which was also part of my home.
When Belsen was liberated, I did not know what liberated was, other than it was good. But you could not eat it, or drink it. It did not make a new coat. It did not stop the fleas from itching. But it was a good thing.
On the very day of liberation, the fifteenth of April 1945, my mother died. I wonder what her name was. She had black hair. Can you grieve for someone you do not know? She was my mother, but I did not know her. Her hair was black.
A few years ago, I went back to Belsen with Suzi [Samuels]. For her mother had died there, too. It was a bit odd. Neither of us had ever been back. I think we were both thinking we would have to mind the other. We went to the mass graves, which is about all that is left in Belsen. We placed a pebble on the grave, and tried to light a candle. Then we looked at each. What do you say? “How are you, Ma?”
What was her name, my mother with the black hair? In another of those pits lies my brother, maybe my baby sister. Perhaps they are in the same pit. The pits are very big, there would be plenty of room for the little ones. What were their names?’
Between September 1939 and May 1945 5,750,000 European Jews perished in the Nazi genocide. This does not include thousands of infants murdered by the Nazis in late 1941, before their births could be recorded, or the thousands of people from remoter villages in Poland who were added to the deportation trains which left larger localities, without any record of their existence, or of their fate. Of the nine million Jews living in Europe before 1939, only three million remained after 1945.
Bergen-Belsen was not an elimination centre, but had originally been intended merely as a transit camp. However, as the Russian Army overran Poland the inmates of the Nazi concentration camps in Poland, were moved into Germany. Belsen, designed to hold about 6,000 people, in the end accommodated nearly 60,000. They were not gassed, but merely starved, and typhus was allowed to reduce their numbers so that when the British liberated the camp inmates were dying at the rate of nearly 1,000 a day and there were some 13,000 corpses on the ground.
Dublin-born Dr. William Robert Fitzgerald ‘Bob’ Collis arrived in Bergen-Belsen with a Red Cross contingent soon after its liberation by the British Second Army on 15 April 1945. Bob took on the responsibility of two blocks, one of which contained a large number of orphan children of whom the majority were recovering from malnutrition and the unhygienic conditions they had been exposed to. The second block was rapidly turned into a children’s hospital. Here Dr. Collis met Zoltan and his sister, Edit, for the first time. Zoltan had just recovered from typhus fever. Their father was a Slovak Jew and mother, a Seventh Day Adventis, from Hungary. Because she was a Christian Zoltan’s mother did not have to go, but she would not leave her family and accompanied them to Ravensbrϋck concentration camp in late 1944. A young baby girl died in the cattle trucks on the way to the camp. Zoltan never knew her name. His father died in Ravensbrϋck. Zoltan, his mother, sister Edit, and brother, Aladar, were transferred to Bergen-Belsen in January 1945. His mother died on the day of liberation; Aladar, aged five, soon after. In the camp Zoltan, Edit, and Tibor and Suzi Molnar became Bob’s ‘special children’. One day Zoltan said, ’They have killed my father, now the doctor is my father.’
‘Well,’ Dr. Collis said, ‘Zoltan, you’d better come home with me and bring your friends and relations.’ From that moment it was assumed by everybody that Zoltan and Edit, Tibor and Suzi, if nobody turned up to claim them, would eventually be looked after by Dr. Collis. Eventually, Dr. Collis brought back five Jewish children to Ireland – Zoltan and Edit Zinn, Tibor and Suzi Molnar, and a German orphan, Evelyn. Dr. Collis legally adopted Zoltan and Edit and they were accepted into his family. After schooling, interrupted by several severe bouts of illness, Zoltan began working in the hotel trade, where he met his wife, Joan. Their first child, Siobhan, was born, while Zoltan worked in Antrim. Some time later Zoltan began working in Kilkea Castle. The owner, at the time, was a survivor of Auschwitz. Zoltan and Joan bought a house in Athy, and their second daughter, Caroline, was born. Two more girls followed – Nichola and Emma.
Bob Collis died in 1975. Zoltan recounted his life story in his 2006 autobiography ‘Final Witness: My journey from the Holocaust to Ireland.’ In later years Zoltan toured the country giving lectures on the Holocaust to schools and history groups. He was plagued with ill-health and lost a lung to TB, but he never let it affect his life. He died suddenly on 10 December 2012, aged seventy-two, and was buried in St. Michael’s Church of Ireland, Athy.
On 27 December 2012, while staying at the home of her late brother over the Christmas period, Edith Zinn Collis suddenly passed away.

Holocaust survivor Zoltan Zinn Collis, who lived in Athy, died on 10 December 2012

December 19, 2012


Cill Dara Historical Society will launch

'Hearth and home.

The history of social housing in Kildare Town 1889-2009'

by James Durney, Mario Corrigan and Joseph Connelly,

at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday 22 December in Kildare Library.

All welcome.

In 1900 Kildare was a small market town with a population of over 2,800. However, most of the population lived in substandard houses, poorly built in plaster and slate, which comprised one room and a kitchen with no running water or toilets. Some of these houses accommodated up to ten persons. The first labouerers' cottages were built in the town in 1889, but it was not until 1939 when Kildare Co. Council built the first social housing scheme – ‘Rowanville.’ This ground-breaking book reveals the story of the ordinary men and women who struggled to built the town that we live in today. Peopled with rich characters and lively interviews 'Hearth and home,' is a must for anyone living in Kildare Town.

Cill Dara Historical Society will launch 'Hearth and home. The history of social housing in Kildare Town 1889-2009' by James Durney, Mario Corrigan and Joseph Connelly, at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday 22 December in Kildare Library



The Local Studies and Genealogy Department of Kildare County Council Library Service will be closed from Friday 21st December 2012 to Wednesday 2nd January 2013 inclusive.

If you wish to leave a query during this time please email or leave a message for the relevant department using the contact details below. All queries will be dealt with in rotation in the New Year.

Local Studies Department

e-mail: localhistory@kildarecoco.ie

Phone: +353 (0)45 448351; (0)45 448352

Web: www.kildare.ie/library

Genealogy Department

e-mail: kildaregenealogy@iol.ie

Phone: +353 (0)45 448350

The Local Studies and Genealogy Department of Kildare County Council Library Service will be closed from Friday 21st December 2012 to Wednesday 2nd January 2013 inclusive.

The Local Studies and Genealogy Department of Kildare County Council Library Service will be closed from Friday 21st December 2012 to Wednesday 2nd January 2013 inclusive.



December 1812

The following notice was published in issues of the Freeman's Journal during the month of December, 1812.

NOTICE is hereby given, that Proposals, in writing, will be received in this Office, on or before the 7th day of January next, for erecting a Cavalry Barrack at New Bridge, in the County of Kildare, and for an Infantry Barrack contiguous to the City of Kilkenny, according to plans, specifications, and instructions, to be seen at this Office from ten until four o'clock each day.
Each Proposal to be sealed, and put under cover, directed to Major General Freeman, and endorsed "Proposals for building a Barrack at New Bridge," or "at Kilkenny," as the case may be.
Security will be required for the due performance of the Contracts of the respective Barracks mentioned; and no Proposal will be attended to, unless from respectable professional builders, and accompanied by the written assent of two solvent persons, fully competent to become the Proposer's Sureties.
By order,


20th, December 1862


A superbly got up bazaar, in aid of the distressed operatives in Lancashire, was held yesterday (Friday) at Monasterevan, under the patronage of the Marchioness of Drogheda. Mrs Moore, West End, acted as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. The tables were kept by Mrs Weeble, Miss Moore, Mrs Moore, Miss Cassidy, Miss Fleming, Miss Wray. Our reporter being obliged to leave by the 2.20 train owing to our hour of publication, we cannot lay before our readers the names of the ladies and gentlemen who attended. We must, however, mention that his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant was expected and also the Marquis and Marchioness of Drogheda, and Lord Naas. There was present when our reporter left, a very large number of the elite of the Queen's County and County Kildare, and many, it was believed, would arrive in the course of the day. Large purchases were made at the tables, which were all beautifully filled. Raffles for some exquisite articles took place for which a great number of tickets were sold. The proceeds are expected to be considerable.


December 1862

The following advertisement appeared in the Christmas Eve edition of the Irish Times and points to a most generous and seasonal spirit at work - above stairs.

LAUNDRESS, or Laundress and Housemaid - A Lady is anxious to procure a situation as above for a young Woman of excellent character; she is most obliging, and knows her business thoroughly; will be highly recommended by the lady she is leaving, but with whom she remains until she gets a situation. Address X Y Z, Post office, Athy.


27th, December 1862


Last week, the Marquis and Marchioness of Drogheda entertained a large and distinguished circle of guests at Moore Abbey, County Kildare, among whom were ― His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, and the Misses Lascelles, Lord James Butler and Lady Rachel Butler, Viscount Castlecuffe, Lord and Lady Naas, and the Hon. Dermot Burke, Hon. Spencer and Mrs. Ponsonby, and Mr. J. Ponsonby, Hon. Frederick Ponsonby, Major and Hon. Mrs. Bagot, Miss Fortescue, Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Moore, and the Misses Moore (Moorefield); Mrs. and Miss White and Captain (Woodlands); Colonel Frazer, Major Reilly, C.B.; Captain A. Ellis, Captain W. Moore, A.D.C.; Colonel Forster, A.D.C.; Mr E. S. Hartopp, Captain Everard.
His Excellency arrived from Belfast on Thursday, attended by Colonel Forster, A.D.C., and Mr Everard, on which evening the annual theatricals took place. The following is the programme:―
"Who Speaks First?" (a comedy in one act, by Charles Dance, Esq.) ― Mrs Militant, Marchioness of Drogheda; Smart, Hon. Mrs Bagot, (her first appearance here); Ernest Militant, Marquis of Drogheda; Captain Charles, Hon. S. Ponsonby; Potter, Hon. F. Ponsonby.
This was followed by "Pleasant Dreams" (a farce in two acts, by Charles Dance, Esq.) ― Mrs Porridge (Landlady of the Crown Inn, Cowes), Lady Rachel Butler (her first appearance here); Sally (chambermaid), Mrs J. C. Moore; Oliver Sanguine (dreaming the happy hours away), Hon. S. Ponsonby, Mr Biggs (his uncle), Mr E. S. Hartopp; Mr Porridge (landlord), Hon. F. Ponsonby; Peter (his son), Marquis of Drogheda; Boots, Captain W. Everard; Waiter, Viscount Castlecuffe; Ostler, Captain Ellis; boy, Mr J. Ponsonby.
The performances concluded with "Ticklish Times" (a farce in one act by J. M. Morton, Esq.) ― Mr William Ramsay (a Jacobite leader), Captain A. Ellis; Lancelot Griggs (Deputy Assistant-Deputy Justice of the Peace), Captain W. Everard; Bodkins (his uncle), Marquis of Drogheda; Jansen (a smuggler), Mr E. S. B. Hartopp; Constables, Messrs. Takemup and Takemdown; Mob, Hon. Dermot Bourke, Mr J. Ponsonby, Messrs. Tag, Rag, and Bobtail; Mrs Griggs, Mrs J. C. Moore; Winifred, Hon. Mrs G. Bagot; Dot, (maid of all works), Lady Rachel Butler.
The hope held out by the bill of a delightful evening was fully realised, for never were pieces better put upon the stage. The mise en scene was perfect, the services of Messrs. Baker and John White, the scenic artists, as well as of Miss Scalter and Mr Lenox, the talented dressers, having been most successfully brought into requisition for the occasion. The pieces went well, so well that we will not attempt to draw a comparison between them. The parts also were all well filled, and we should pause in making any further comment on them, were it not that we feel bound to notice the "first appearance here," which certainly gave additional sustenance to the previously strong cast of the pieces. Among them, on lady in particular, who, it was rumoured, made her first appearance on any stage, acted admirably. The performances concluded with the National Anthem, sung by the company; and in addition a verse in honour of his Royal Highness.
On Friday evening the noble Marchioness entertained about 200 of the gentry of the county of Kildare and neighbouring counties. Dancing commenced about half-past 10, and was kept up to an early hour on the following morning, to the enlivening strains of Hanlon's band.
Among those present were ― The Lady Cloncurry, Baron and Baroness De Robeck, Lady Barbara  Leeson and Hon. H. Leeson, Major and Hon. Mrs Barton, Lord Earlsford, Hon. Mr., Mrs., and Miss King Harmon; Sir Thomas and the Misses Ross, Hon. Mr Burne, Hon. J. Bourke, Mr and Mrs Deane, Mr and Mrs Wakefield, Mr and Mrs Skeffington Smith, Mr and Mrs H. Trench, General and Mrs Gordon, Mr and Mrs Bulwer, Mr., Mrs., and Miss Armstrong; Captain and Mrs Tuthill, Mr., Mrs., and Miss Tynte, Mr and Mrs R. Moore, Mr and Mrs Cole, Mr and Mrs Kennedy, Mr and Mrs Carroll, Mr and Mrs Langrishe, Mr and the Misses Nugent, Mr and Mrs Wray, Mr Carroll, M.P.; Captain Beresford, A.D.C.; Mr Corry Connellan, Mr Stannus, Captain Moore, Mr H. Despard, &c.


14th, December 1912



On 31st December, 1912.
All the latest Pictures up-to-date; also American Illustrated Songs.

On 1st January, 1913.
The Best Talent in Dublin has been secured for the Concert.

Doors Open each Night at 7:30 pm.
Admission to Cinematograph - 1s and 6d.
Admission to Concert - 2s and 1s.


14th, December 1912

An event, which in recent years has been awaited with keen interest in and around Naas, will take place on New Year's Night next. The Naas Commercial Dance will be held that night, and some 400 invitations have been issued by the Committee, whose experience in the working of a dance leaves nothing to be desired and whose intention this year is to eclipse any previous effort. Mr W. Monahan and his band of six musicians, who have been playing with marked success in Dublin this year, have been engaged for the night. Those wishing to hear extra good music will find all they desire this particular occasion. Acceptances should reach Mr. L. J. Curley, hon. sec., on or before the 24th instant.


December 1912

The following light-hearted article appeared in the Kildare Observer on 28th December, 1912. Fun was had by all!

Newbridge Military Mems.

As usual the season of peace and goodwill was observed with all due solemnity and with equal due realisation. Perhaps nowhere at the present time can you find the old realisations of Christmas festivities as we read of them more vividly presented than with the genial "Tommy Atkins," who at all times care free at this season is the embodiment of all that is hospitable and characteristic of Ye Good Old Merry Xmas. In Newbridge Barracks there was no departure from the good old customs, of good cheer all round, and a glance at the sergeants' messes of the Royal Horse and Field Artillery, recreation rooms and other equally inviting scenes at once convinced that there was a whole-hearted spirit of full enjoyment and full appreciation of the best traditions of the happy season on all sides apparent. Another noteworthy feature was the happy co-mingling of the peaceful non-combatant with the man of arms ― perfect fraternity prevailing on all sides.
Boxing Day was specially set apart after all the other seasonable indoor amusements for a novel display of football in which the Gunners and Drivers of the Royal Horse and Field Artillery were the combatants. Mr. Champion, whose name is synonym with all that is sporting in the garrison, was the leading light, and this gentleman, whose musical proclivities are too well known in military circles to be commented on here, was instrumental in providing a rare and unique treat for his many civilian and military friends.
Clinton's field was the venue, and by 2:30 p.m. the scene was one of bustle and animation, when the referee, Mr. Champion, departed from the usual everyday routine of the common whistle, enticed the players on to the playing pitch by the irresistable strains of a melodeon, which proved an eloquent substitute.
The teams, who were aptly dubbed the "Non-intoxicant" members of the Garrison Canteen, and appeared in divers non-football costumes, foremost in the fighting line appeared Driver Campbell in an up-to-date replica of Jack Johnson, the coloured champion of unenviable fame.
Driver Allen was duly encased in a spacious sack, which showed off his athletic frame to the best possible advantage. Gunner "Deuce" Gregg looked extra special in old gold, followed by Gunner Jack Hodge in khaki. Driver "Smut" Ingram, who was custodian for the horsey men, was encumbered by an over-anxious tendency for the spectators on the side line, and during one of his temporary excursions to look after civilian friends had the chagrin to see his charge wrecked when he returned to take charge of the sticks, and on another occasion when similarly bent unfortunately met the innocent leather half-way, thereby receiving a dent on his nasal organ, which was a source of much inconvenience to the goalie for the remainder of the session.
The referee in pyjamas, despite not having been disturbed from a Christmas mid-night vigil, was very much awake, and on one occasion had to use his musical and exhortive powers in no small measure to keep the champion coloured boxer from disrupting the inoffensive leather to such a degree as would necessarily have caused a postponement of this most enjoyable sporting display.
Driver Connelly was another who, attired in a rather unconventional hobble, played up splendidly under very dispiriting circumstances, while Gunner Gregg had some difficulty in keeping from contact with the goal bar. Considering that his height runs nearly 7ft., it was rather an awkward position to be placed in.
"Taffy" Jones was another bright star in the firmament, and Archie Campbell was also well in the limelight, albeit he was burdened with a little too much head-gear.
Speculation was brisk as to the outcome, the fair sex of whom there was a number present, evidently favouring the Gunners, who, despite the fairest blandishments and encouragement, had to succumb to the Drivers by two clear goals.
Drivers ― Ingram, Brooks, Burry, Attwood, Allen, H. Oliver, Neill, Lalley, Campbell, Bond, Gilliam.
Gunners ― Gregg, Dunnella, Crowther, Kennywell, Hughes, Davis, Hobbins, Welch, Gammon, Jones, Clarke.


A series of Christmas articles from the Freeman's Journal, Leinster Leader, Leinster Express, Kildare Observer and Irish Times, researched and re-typed by Chris Holzgräwe


Mark Wilson. An Athy man in the Easter Rebellion

James Durney

In series no. 1041 of ‘Eye on the past’ Frank Taafe queried the identity of an Athy man, Mark Wilson, who according to the statement of Patrick Colgan (Maynooth) was a ‘source of great encouragement’ to him and other captured volunteers in Dublin in 1916. According to Karel Kiely, and the records of Kildare Genealogy, Mark Albert Wilson was born, on 31 August 1891, to Robert and Juliana Wilson, of Russelstown, Athy. Sponsors were Laurence Heffernan and Margaret Kenna, probably relatives on Juliana’s side. Robert Wilson, a van driver and a native of Co. Wicklow, married Juliana, or Johanna, Heffernan, of Leinster Street, Athy, in 1887, in the civil register district of Dublin South. In 1901 the family of Robert Wilson were living in Berkely Road, Inns Quay, Dublin; in 1911 they were in Fontenoy Street, Inns Quay. Robert and Juliana had five children living from a total of eight births and in 1911 recorded that they had been married for twenty-one years. Mark, the oldest, was nineteen in 1911 and employed as a tea mixer. He married Annie Elizabeth Salmon, of Summerhill, in the Roman Catholic parish of St. Michan’s, Halston St./North Anne St., on 3 August 1913.
Mark Wilson joined the 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, some time prior to 1916. Volunteer units were self-financing and Mark would probably have bought his own uniform. During Easter Week 1916 Mark Wilson was part of the Four Courts garrison, under the command of Commandant John Edward ‘Ned’ Daly. The 1st Battalion mobilized in Blackhall Street on Easter Monday. The turnout of 250 men was less than a third of its full strength. At noon, after formally announcing the republic had been proclaimed, Daly marched his main force through North King Street into Church Street, where they occupied a series of premises and set up barricades. The North Dublin Union was occupied, although no attempt was made to take control of the nearby Broadstone Station. Daly set up his headquarters first in North Brunswick Street, and later in Father Matthew Hall near the northern end of Church Street. At the southern end, on the river, some of his men occupied the Four Courts garrison, among them was Mark Wilson.
The British military cordon cut off Daly’s force from the GPO, leaving them in effect surrounded. Like the rest of the battalion commanders Daly ran out of options other than preparing more buildings for defence and strengthening barricades. On Friday morning the long–awaited British attack began as troops arrived in makeshift armoured lorries. Fighting was heaviest around North King Street, where many civilians were killed. The surrender and the march to captivity came on Saturday and Sunday. Comdt. Ned Daly was tried and executed in Kilmainham Jail, on 4 May. Mark Wilson was removed from Richmond Barracks, Dublin, on 8 May 1916, and deported to England, where he was lodged in Stafford Detention Barracks on 9 May. His address was given as 48 North Great George’s Street (2 North King Street) Dublin.
Mark Wilson was well known in army sports circles and retired from the Defence Forces as a captain after a long and distinguished career. In the army he trained the Curragh boxing team and was on the I.A.B.A. panel of referees. He was associated with the St. Vincent’s Football and Hurling Club and his son, Mark, was a member of the 1958 All-Ireland team. He died in December 1971, aged eighty-one, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His obituary in the Irish Press, on 23 December 1971, stated he was a native of Athy, Co. Kildare; lived at Shanowen Road, Santry, and was survived by his wife, Annie, and two other sons, Ronald and Desmond, and one daughter, Mrs. Sean Jordan.

In series no. 1041 of ‘Eye on the past’ Frank Taafe queried the identity of an Athy man, Mark Wilson, who fought in Dublin in 1916


An Athy man with the Irish Brigade and its campaigns

James Durney

No unit in the Union Army in the American Civil War had a more colourful or distinctive history than the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. Made up of thousands of Irish immigrants from New York, Boston and Philadelphia, it charged into battle under green flags and was served by Catholic chaplains. The brigade was created and led by the Irish revolutionary, Thomas Francis Meagher. The Irish Brigade was always found where the action was hottest: in the Bloody Lane at Antietam, before the stone wall at Fredericksburg, in the wheatfield at Gettysburg, and at the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. It was said that ‘when anything absurd, forlorn, or desperate was to be attempted, the Irish Brigade was called upon’. The brigade suffered more than 4,000 casualties during the war despite the fact that it never put as many as 3,000 men in the field at any one time. The Irish were willing to fight so fiercely because they believed their sacrifices would benefit all Irish-Americans.
Statistics demonstrate that the brigade’s fighting reputation was well deserved. All five of its regiments (63rd, 69th, and 88th New York; 28th Massachusetts; and 116th Pennsylvania) were on William F. Fox’s list of the 300 Union regiments that sustained the heaviest losses in battle. And two of them, the 69th New York and the 28th Massachusetts, ranked among the top ten out of more than 2,000 Northern regiments in the number of combat deaths. During the war, two soldiers died of disease or accident for every one who died as a consequence of battle. For the Irish Brigade, however, this ratio was reversed: two died of battle wounds for every one who died of disease or accident.
David Power Conyngham was an Irish revolutionary, novelist, historian, newspaper editor, and war correspondent. For a time he served on General Meagher’s staff with the Irish Brigade, sharing their dangers and hardships in the field. After the war he wrote The Irish Brigade and its campaigns to ensure that the feats of Irish arms and the sacrifices of Irish-American patriotism would not be forgotten. Conyngham’s book contains the details of one Kildare native – Richard A. Kelly, of Athy.
The entry for Lieutenant Richard A. Kelly is in an appendix under ‘Sketches of the officers of the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers,’ which reads:
Lieutenant R. A. Kelly was a native of Athy, Co. Kildare, Ireland, and was a splendid specimen of manhood, being, though only twenty-one years of age, fully six feet three inches in height. A soldier, almost by instinct, he accompanied the Sixty-ninth Regiment, under Colonel Corcoran, to Virginia at the outbreak of the rebellion, and at the first battle of Bull Run was wounded in the right hand. When the Irish Brigade was commenced, he at once joined its ranks, and served with his regiment all through the desperate struggles in which it has borne so distinguished a part. No braver man has given his life for the cause of the Union, or no better soldier fell on the bloody plain of Antietam.
However, no records exist of a Richard A. Kelly, born in Athy, in or around 1840, so it is quite impossible to verify Conyngham’s entry. To add to the confusion Conyngham’s book has another entry for a ‘Captain Richard A. Kelly, 69th New York,’ who was killed in action at Spotsylvania in May 1864, while Ancestry.co’s online records for American soldiers of the Civil War also has the same two entries, though the birthplace for both is given as ‘Ireland’ only, with no mention of Kildare.
Despite its limitations, The Irish Brigade and its campaigns remains, well over a century after its publication, the standard work on the subject and an indispensable source for anyone seeking to understand the experiences of the Irish in the American Civil War.

Athy native, Richard A. Kelly, fought and died with the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War

December 04, 2012


Irish Army deserters from Co. Kildare in WWII

James Durney

At the outbreak of the Second World War the Irish army stood at 19,136, including reservists and volunteers, and was completely unprepared to defend the country from attack. With the fall of France and the Low Countries in the summer of 1940 a major recruiting drive was launched and by June 1941 numbers had risen to 40,174. After this peak, numbers decreased to around 30,000, where they remained for the duration of the war.  The Irish army, during what was termed the Emergency, was seriously short of weaponry and equipment. Conditions during the war years were bad and the pay was very low, prompting many to desert to join the British armed forces. The Department of Defence estimated that approximately 6,000 men deserted their posts during the war and contemporary estimates usually agree around this figure. By 20 June 1945 there were almost 5,000 officers and men posted as deserters from the Irish Defence Forces, the majority of whom were absent for more than four years.
There were several reasons why Irish soldiers absconded during the war. Peadar MacMahon, a former Chief of Staff and wartime Secretary of the Department of Defence, felt that most defections from the army and enlistment generally in the British Armed Forces by Irish citizens was almost wholly governed by economic considerations. Most Irish volunteers, including those who deserted, gave the following reasons for joining the British Forces: adventure, ideological, family and economic. The starting weekly salary of a recruit in the Irish army during the Emergency was 18 shillings, while the equivalent in the British army was 22 shillings, with the added bonus of overseas duty and a chance for adventure, plus far more attractive bonuses for married men and dependent children. As most of the men who absconded were of the laboring class it would suggest that they may have joined the Irish army for the steady wages and later went across the border for the higher British pay. Boredom and bad conditions were further reasons for desertion. Very few thought about the prospects of being killed, or maimed. Once the focus of the war had turned after the invasion of Russia in June 1941, life in the Irish army settled into a routine of drill, garrison duty and toil in the fields and bogs. As the threat of a German – and even an Allied – invasion disappeared in the summer of 1942, desertions continued to rise. After the Allied victories at El Alamein and Stalingrad, the number of deserters peaked, in July 1943, at a high of 196. This can be interpreted in a desire not to miss out on the action as the advantage shifted towards the Allied powers.  The majority of these deserters either joined the British armed forces or looked for employment in the labour-hungry British war effort, which was eager to attract Irish workers and offered higher wages.
While there was resentment to those who had absconded from the army in a time of national emergency the track record of many indicates that they served their time well. Of the nearly 5,000 men listed as dismissed for desertion eighty have addresses in Co. Kildare. Two of these men listed were killed in action serving with the British Army, while one more died at home of wounds received in action. They are:

Gunner Peter Delahunt (26), son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Delahunt, Ballysax, The Curragh. 7th Battery SHAA Regt., Royal Artillery. Killed in action during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, on 19 December 1941.
Pte. James McGowan (24), son of James and Anne Beatrice McGowan (nee Palmer), Cummins House, Suncroft. 6th Black Watch. Killed in action, north of Rome, on 11 June 1944.
Sapper George Treacy (26), son of James and Mary Treacy, Limerick Road, Naas. Royal Engineers, attached 1st Airborne Division. Died at home, on 17 July 1945, of wounds received in Sicily in 1943.

Two men this author interviewed for Far from the Short Grass. The story of Kildaremen in two World Wars (published in 1999) served with the British Army and the Royal Air Force respectively in the Western Theatre of Operations. Denis Carroll, 6 Pound Street, Maynooth, absconded from the Irish army in late 1940 and joined the British army in Belfast. He was born in 1920, the son of a Great War veteran, also named Denis Carroll. Denis served as a combat soldier with the 6th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, right up to the surrender of the German army in northern Italy, in May 1945. He served in North Africa and Italy and was wounded three times: at Monte Cassino, Anzio and in northern Italy. Denis survived the war and lived quietly in his native Maynooth until his death some years ago. Joe Walsh, 2 Dooley Terrace, Athy, was born in 1921 and traded his Irish khaki for British airforce blue after two years in the Irish Army. He had joined the Irish Army in 1940 at the age of nineteen. ‘Conditions in the Irish Army were very poor,’ he said. ‘I deserted from the Irish Army and joined the RAF in October 1942, in Belfast. I wanted to be a rear gunner. As far as I could make out, there were dozens of Irish Army deserters joining the British forces.’ Joe Walsh arrived in France after the Normandy invasion and served with 715 Motor Transport Light Repair Unit through the French campaign and the invasion of Germany. ‘The only regret I had was I didn’t go sooner. I might have seen more action. I would have loved to have been an air gunner and wouldn’t have minded the risks.’
This seems to be the general consensus of the majority of Irish army deserters. In later years many gave their reasons for leaving as a noble cause in the fight against Nazi tyranny. However, at that time few knew of the scale of Nazi genocide in occupied Europe. The truth is, for many Irish army deserters, most of whom were young and carefree, it was an escape from boredom and poverty and a chance for action and adventure.

[Note: Neil Richardson's newly published Dark times, decent men. Stories of Irishmen in World War II,' mentions another Kildare man, William Holohan, from Athy, who deserted the Irish Army to follow his sweetheart to England. Holohan joined the Royal Engineers, in Enniskillen, and served in North Africa, the Middle East and France. William Holohan is not listed on the Defence Forces list of personnel dismissed for desertion.]


The Department of Defence estimated that approximately 6,000 men deserted their posts during the war. Over eighty were from Co. Kildare


The origin of Robertstown

James Durney

The name Robertstown is undoubtedly of Anglo-Norman origin. But who exactly was the Robert in question? ‘The Red Book of the Earls of Kildare’ contains transcripts (in Latin) of some 200 documents relating to the lands of the Leinster Fitzgeralds in the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Connacht. Robertstown, or Villa Roberti, is listed in 1318. Robertstown is mentioned in the Civil Survey (1654-56) of Kildare, as being:

in the Parrish of Kilmaogue and Rathernine as Reberstowne, the Proprietour being Morrice ffitz Gerald of Allon Esqr. Irish Papist.

The Norman baron Robert Fitzstephen was the younger half-brother of Maurice Fitzgerald, an adventurer from Wales who accompanied the first Norman invaders to Ireland in 1169. Fitzstephen and Fitzgerald had been enlisted as mercenaries by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, in his bid to become high king of Ireland. After the successful capture of Leinster Fitzstephen and Fitzgerald became lords of Kildare and as Robertstown is less than two miles from the Fitzgerald castles at Kilmeague and Ballyteague it is possible that it was named after a member of this family – i.e. Robert Fitzstephen.

The name Robertstown is undoubtedly of Anglo-Norman origin. But who exactly was the Robert in question?


Leinster Leader 14 November  1959

Regretted Maynooth death
The funeral of the late Mr. Patk Kirwan (88), whose death occurred after a short illness took place to Laraghbryan Cemetery. The attendance was large and representative. The late Mr. Kirwan (Pat) was well known for his keen sense of humour and his retentive memory. His passing severs yet another link with the National movement at its foundation and Ireland’s fight for freedom. Joining the Volunteer movement at its formation he was foremost in the ranks of the men who marched from Maynooth to Dublin under the command of Donal Ua Buachalla in Easter week, 1916, and was later interned in Frongoch until the amnesty. He took an active part with Maynooth Company during the war of independence as a member of the Irish Republican Army. He took the Republican side in the civil war and was interned in Gormanstown until after the ceasefire order in 1923.
The Guard of Honour marched beside the hearse from the Church to the Cemetery. It included Thomas Harris, Thomas Mangan, Tim Tyrell, R. Harris, Patrick Weafer, 1916 comrades. Maynooth Company was represented by R. Bean, Chris Sherry and John Mangan. Representing North Kildare staff were Michael O’Neill, John Logie, Straffan; Patk Healy, Celbridge; James Farrell, Leixlip.
The last prayers at the graveside were recited by Rev. Father Leahy, C.C., Maynooth.

An article on the death of Maynooth 1916 veteran Patrick Kirwan from the Leinster Leader of 14 November 1959


Leinster Leader 18 April 1959

In London bomb find
Billy Doran, the well-known Ballymore and All-Ireland champion handballer, had luck on his side when he and his co-workers unearthed a 2,000 lbs. German Hermann unexploded bomb, 5 feet long and 2 feet wide in diameter, that was embedded in the clay of a South Bank building site one hundred yards from Waterloo Station and Festival Hall, London. There were 600 men on the site at the time. Mr. Doran is engaged in the capacity of clerk.

An article from the Leinster Leader of 18 April 1959 on Ballymore man Billy Doran's lucky escape in England

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2