The search for relatives of a soldier who won two medals in the First World War has entered no man’s land. Despite exhaustive research and many false dawn leads, two groups which had been trying to trace the relatives of Private William Patrick Ryan have come up empty-handed and now fear they may never be able to hand his medals back to his descendants.
Late last year a jacket was among a bundle of clothes handed into a charity shop in Kealkil, near Bantry, Co Cork. Steve Roffe, who has worked for three years as a volunteer at the shop, found the two medals in the jacket pocket.
The discovery sparked a major search for Ryan’s descendants by military and amateur historians from Ireland and Britain. Ed Smith, the charity shop’s treasurer, was involved in one of the groups hunting Ryan’s relatives and Terri Kearney, manager of the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, headed the other.
Mr Smith was contacted by an eminent British military historian, Richard Moles, who had established from service records that Ryan enlisted in the 1st Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers in the summer of 1915, when they were then based in Aghada, Co Cork.
He would have fought in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and after being evacuated through Egypt was then posted back to the Western Front in France and would later be involved in the Battle of the Somme, Battle of Guillemont, and Battle of Ginchy.
Extraordinarily after being demobbed at the end of the war, he rejoined the army and volunteered to dig up bodies left on the battlefields so they were given a proper Christian burial. This would have been a very dangerous job because many of the battlefields were littered with unexploded shells.
Mr Smith said that despite the detailed information supplied by Mr Moles and their own follow-up research, the trail has gone dry: “This is a real pity. We intend to keep up our research, but unfortunately so far we have exhausted every avenue to no avail.”