Book pays tribute to hidden history of a lost generation
A forgotten piece of local history has been brought to public attention by a book connecting men from the Falls Road with the First World War.
Beginning as an appeal made two years ago, the research book is described as a “snap shot of young nationalists who joined the 6th Connaught Rangers from the Falls and other areas of Belfast”.
The Clondara Historical and Cultural Group, based in west Belfast, has been conducting research since then, keen to discover the extent of nationalist involvement in the First World War.
Until now detailed research on this period has remained closed, largely due to the political climate in Northern Ireland at the outbreak of war.
With the issue of Home Rule leading the country to the brink of civil war, many nationalists surprised family members and took up the call to fight in the Great War, with the promise of Home Rule on their return.
The book was launched last week by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Tom Hartley. A keen historian, he said: “The politics of this island slipped into the politics of recruitment.
“The memory of the Connaught Rangers regiment went underground as the politics of the time changed.
“It is a great honour today to launch this book and hopefully encourage other hidden stories to now be uncovered.
“The Clondara Historical and Cultural Group have done a brilliant job in putting this publication together,” he added.
Harry Donaghy, from the Clondara Historical and Cultural Group, said: “This book is about human experiences, telling the story of a generation whose memory had been lost.
“Encouraged by John Redmond and Joe Devlin to sign up and fight, many of the men were seen as traitors.
“Through this book we have highlighted the personal stories of these men. I would like to thank everyone who supplied photographs, making this book a success.”
For many, involvement in the research project has led to new discoveries about their own family members. Robert McKillen learnt more about his Uncle, Patrick McKillen, and found his grave.
Speaking to The CT he said: “I always knew my uncle fought in the war but to finally find his grave brought tears to my eyes.
“It broke my aunt’s heart and she never married again. It is so important to build a tribute to these men, so that their sacrifice is never forgotten.”
Leaving political ideals behind, those joining the Connaught Rangers fought alongside all soldiers, despite opinion at home of their actions.
Sean O’Hare said: “My grandfather was involved in the war. We have nothing to remember him by, not even a photograph of his efforts and his activity was viewed as misguided.
“Those joining the war effort fought with integrity, like their comrades.”
The research project has received mass support, more than the group had first anticipated. So much so that there was not enough room for all the information gathered to be printed.
The group was also supported by Dr Richard Grayson, head of politics and senior lecturer in British and Irish Politics, Goldsmiths, University of London.
lFor more information contact the 6th Connaught Rangers Research Project at 9043 9095 or email email@example.com.