First World War Commemoration in Waterford, 1918-1930

This coming weekend, a memorial to those who died during the First World War will be officially unveiled in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. In recent years there has been a greater engagement by academic historians and the general public with the role of Irish men and women and their experience of the First World War. Publications like the Royal Irish Academy’s Our War and A Great Sacrifice have helped to bring the history of Irish involvement in the conflict to the fore of public consciousness.[1] In part this is driven by a revision of that period of Irish history, a desire to place the history of Ireland into a broader framework of the rest of what then constituted the United Kingdom, but to also bring Irish history into closer contact with the narratives of wider European history.

First World War Memorial, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford to be unveiled this weekend. Source: Waterford County Museum facebook page
First World War Memorial, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford to be unveiled this weekend. Source: Waterford County Museum facebook page

Waterford had a proportionately quite high number of men join up to fight in the First World War. Unsurprisingly then, the tradition of marking Armistice Day took on important significance in Waterford, in both city and the county. This memorialising began almost immediately, with Armistice Day being marked in the city and county immediately. Given the domestic upheavals of the period the act of remembering was often complicated. In Dungarvan in 1920 for instance, there was some concern about whether or not shops would close as a mark of respect during the procession in the town and it appears that the local British forces stationed in the town ensured that businesses did indeed close by marching, fixed bayonets in hand, through the main street just after 11 o’clock in the morning, which prompted most businesses to shut their doors. In Dan Fraher’s store, two of his shop assistants were compelled to leave the shop and marched to remove a Sinn Féin (that’s to say the Irish tricolour) flag from a position on the castle in the town and were both then brought to the barracks followed by a group of waggish young lads who whistled Wrap the Green Flag Around Me. The tricolour was replaced with a Union Jack, and although a lorryload of Black and Tans apparently arrived on the scene, the tense incident ended without any physical harm coming to anyone.[2]

Meanwhile in 1922, Waterford saw its biggest such gathering yet. The memorials which had been taking place each November in Waterford city were organised by the local Legion of Ex-Service Men’s Club. On this, the fourth such marking of Armistice Day, the crowds attending was said to be very large, and indeed the largest yet seen for the occasion.[3] The procession headed by the Legion Clubs banner, included both the Barrack Street Brass and Reed Band and the Erin’s Hope Band. Although the Barrack Street Band led the procession, and Erin’s Hope Band were the back marker, interspersed between the various Legion members, including the Portlaw branch, widows and other family members were also the Thomas Francis Meagher Band and the Legion’s own band. When the procession along the Barrack Street and the Mayor’s Walk ended at Ballybricken all four bands played the “Dead March” from Saul, each in turn.[4] The role of music, and the juxtaposition of musical strains with the two-minutes silence that accompanied the marking of the Armistice was a crucial part of memorialising the First World War generally and the impact of it in Waterford is palpable from the newspaper reports.[5]

Capt. Willie Redmond gave a rousing speech to the people assembled on Ballybricken saying that he hoped that in time to come that Irish ex-servicemen would also see the benefits that were sure to accrue to Ireland in the future. He finished his speech by saying he hoped that the Legion would “in each succeeding year, as has been the case in the past… will find a still greater manifestation of devotion and reverence for the memories of our comrades of the days gone by.”[6]

The following years the numbers attending the memorial in Waterford apparently increased again. This fifth anniversary also mentions that the sale of the Flanders poppy was on sale and “worn by many” throughout the day.[7] The report also made note that the memorial services were held across religious denominations, but the one in Christ Church was noted especially for the tolling of its bells in memory of the dead. The assembly of the marchers began at 2.30, with the procession again headed by the Legion Club’s banner and the Barrack Street Band beginning at 3pm. The report in the Munster Express noted that one of the most splendid banners was that of the Waterford branch of the Sailors and Firemen’s Union. The circuit of the procession, which began in Ballybricken went from  Morgan Street, through Thomas Street, , The Quay, The Mall, Parnell Street, Johnstown, Ballytruckle and back to Ballybricken via Bunker’s Hill, Barrack Street and the Mayor’s Walk. The solemnity of the occasion at the end of the march is remarkable, the banner of the Legion and the Unions were placed in the centre of a circle when four lone buglers played the Last Post, led by Trumpeter Fox, bringing the procession to an end.[8]

The Route taken by those who marked Armistice Day in Waterford, 1923.
The Route taken by those who marked Armistice Day in Waterford, 1923.

The same procession took place the following year, with the circle being formed and all banners and placards with the names of the dead being placed in the centre as music was played. It was estimated that some 11,000 turned out in 1924 for the Armistice celebration in 1924 in Waterford.[9] Again we see the important role of music had to play in the proceedings, with all four of the city bands taking part each year. The 1926 procession saw special notice being given to 80 plus Waterford men who perished with SS Formby and SS Coningbeg, two ships owned by the Clyde Shipping Company, with a specific memorialisation for those men taking place at 11.40am that day on the Waterford Bridge. That year as well their being the usual four city bands, they were also joined by a band from New Ross, Co. Wexford and the Welsh Miner’s Band from Maesteg, a part of Wales with deep Irish connections.[10] The favour was returned by the Waterford Legion band the following year, with a large crowd travelling for Remembrance Sunday celebrations by train to New Ross.[11]

On the tenth anniversary of the Armistice, we are told that crowds were not what they had been though apparently inclement weather had militated against the celebrations somewhat on that occasion. The procession was much the same as in previous years, and there were commemorations in both Waterford and Tramore separately.[12] The eleventh anniversary was well-marked again but after this, there seems to be a drop off in the scale and coverage of the Armistice Day memorials happening in Waterford. The reports of 1930 in the local press recognise as much though notice again the sale and wearing of poppies in the city on the Saturday and Sunday around the Armistice, which the Munster Express claimed reckoned £91 the previous year, raising an almost identical sum of £90 in 1930.[13] With the unveiling of the new memorial in Dungarvan, a more permanent memorial to those from the city and county who died can stand in the stead of the hundreds and thousands of those who throughout the 1920s stood on Ballybricken green, Legion and Union banners fluttering as the Last Post emanated from the trumpets and bugles of locals.

[1] Dooley, Thomas P., Irishmen or English Soldiers? the times and world of a southern Catholic Irish man (1876-1916) enlisting in the British army during the First World War, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995 for a good history of Waterford enlistment

[2] Munster Express, 20 November 1920

[3] Munster Express, 18 November 1922

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Dyer, Geoff, The Missing of the Somme, Edinburgh: Cannongate, 2012 edn.

[6] Munster Express, 18 November 1922

[7] Munster Express, 17 November 1923

[8] Ibid.

[9] Munster Express, 16 November 1924

[10] Munster Express, 19 November 1926

[11] Munster Express, 25 November 1927

[12] Munster Express, 16 November 1928

[13] Munster Express, 14 November 1930


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