Tales of those in ‘the big house’ to The Great War

A young priest who heroically insisted on spiritually aiding the men in the trenches, or a nurse driving an ambulance with all hell breaking loose around her. These are some of the stories in the latest collection of books about World War One.

The experiences of people from many of the grand old country houses are revealed in a new publication, The Irish Country House and the Great War, by Maurice and Jane O’Keeffe of Tralee, Co Kerry, as part of their continuing Irish Life and Lore oral history series.

Members of 52 families have been recorded in audio and the collection will be launched in the National Library, this Wednesday — two days before the 100th anniversary of the British declaration of war on Germany.

Mr O’Keeffe said many of the stories are being told publicly for the first time and will be available to future researchers and historians.

“Anecdotes are often related with gentle humour and pathos and the bitter heartbreak endured by parents and siblings on the death of a beloved family member is described,” he said.

Retired dental surgeon J Ivo O’Sullivan, from Killarney, Co Kerry, recalls how his late father, also J Ivo, served as a doctor with the British army in Gallipoli, Salonika and Ypres.

Dr O’Sullivan, who was mentioned twice in dispatches and was awarded the Military Cross in 1917, spent most of his subsequent life working as a GP in Killarney. He died in 1979 aged 89.

Dr O’Sullivan’s brother, Fr Donal, was a British Army chaplain who was killed in France in 1914, just two years after his ordination. He had been buried there alongside fallen soldiers.

Years later, a priest from Bouzincourt, in the Somme region, wrote to his mother seeking permission to have the remains exhumed and reinterred in a church graveyard, but she declined saying her son would have wished to remain with the soldiers to whom he had ministered.

Mr O’Sullivan said while his father never discussed his war-time experiences with the family, he told them that Fr Donal had pleaded to be allowed attend the men in the trenches.



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