Over the centuries Ireland has produced her fair share of heroes and patriots and quite a number of military genius, and of course this can also be said for North Tipperary. At a quick glance at the war records of any number of famous, or even infamous, battles around the globe and you will find find a vast number of North Tipperary names; its like we to have an ol’ row every now and then. Even still, a more concentrated look at the archives and it soon becomes clear that quite a number of these North Tipperary Warriors went onto become Leaders of men and women. So who are these heroes?
Private Martin O’Meara was both an Irish and an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross – the Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry n the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Private O’Meara enlisted on August 19th, 1915, and was assigned to the 16th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces, with which he fought with distinction during World War I in the Killing Fields of France. It is reported that Private Martin O’Meara repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from ‘No-Mans Land‘ under intense artillery and machine-gun fire. This happened between August 9th and and the 12th, 1916 at Monquet Farm, Pozieres, France, during four days of very heavy fighting. Martin was born at Terryglass, Lorrha in North Tipperary on November 6th, 1885 and died on December 20th, 1935.
Colonel Patrick Guiney of the 9th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers was born in Parkstown, outside Thurles in County Tipperary. Colonel Guiney led his men at a number of battles during the American Civil War and was recommended after a number of incidents of heroism during the course of the war. At the battle of Chickahomiy, or Gaine’s Mill, Virginia, after three successive colour-bearers had been shot down, the colonel himself reportedly seized the flag, threw aside his coat and sword belt, rose white-shirted and conspicuous in the stirrups, inspired a final rally and turned the fortune of the day. Colonel Guiney fought in over thirty engagements, including the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Frederickburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle of the Wilderness. On February 21st, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Guiney for the award of the honorary grade of Brevet Brigadier General for gallant and meritorious services during the war. This award was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 10th, 1866. Patrick Guiney died in Boston on March 21st, 1877.
Sir William Bernard Hickie, who was to rise to the rank of Major General in the British Army and would also become an Irish Nationalist Politician, was born in Terryglass in County Tipperary on May 21st, 1865. During a long military career, Sir William served the Royal Fusiliers at Gibraltar, India, Egypt and the Mediterranean. During World War I, he initially led the 13th Brigade and then the 53rd Brigade, before then receiving a new post as the Major General of the new 16th (Irish) Division. The 16th (Irish) Division earned a reputation for aggression and élan and won many memorials and mentions for bravery in the engagements during the 1916 Battle of Guillemont and the capture of Ginchy, during the Battle of Messines, during the appalling conditions of the Third Battle of Ypres, and in attacks near Bullecourt in the Battle of Cambrai offensive during November 1917. In February 1918, Major General Sir William Bernard Hickie was invalided home on temporary sick leave, but as he was in hospital the German Spring Offensive began, during which his 16th (Irish) Division, which were now commanded by General Hubert Gough were practically wiped out and ceased to exist as a division. After the War Sir William served the Irish Seanad up to 1936. He passed away on November 3rd, 1950 and is buried in Terryglass, County Tipperary.
Commandant Thomas MacDonagh, one of the signatories of the Irish Proclamation in 1916 and so one of the Leaders of the 1916 Rising, was born in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary on February 1st 1878. Thomas was known, and is still known, as an Irish Political activist, a poet, a playwright, an educationalist and a volunteer soldier. He was one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising and as the Commander of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. After attending the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers with Joseph Plunkett in 1913, he was placed on the Provisional Committee. It is argued that although he was more of a constitutionalist, through his dealings with men such as Pearse, Plunkett and Séan MacDermott, MacDonagh developed stronger republican beliefs and it is also believed that he then joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB – original name of the IRA), probably during the summer of 1915. During the Rising MacDonagh and his men held the massive complex of Jacob’s Biscuit Factory and they held it strongly, until they were ordered by their own leaders to surrender on April 30th. This was despite the fact the entire battalion was fully prepared to continue the engagement. Following the surrender, Thomas MacDonagh was court-martialled by the occupying British Forces and then executed by firing squad on May 3rd, 1916, aged 38.
General George Thomas, who was born in Rocsrea, County Tipperary, in 1756, was an Irish mercenary who was active in 18th century India; during the 1790’s he was the most successful General in India. He was the son of a poor Catholic tenant farmer who lived near Roscrea, but who died when George was just a child. As a young man George found himself in Youghal, County Cork, where he worked as a labourer on the docks until he was press-ganged into the Royal Navy. In 1791, he managed to desert the British Navy while in Madras, India. He was still illiterate at this stage, but he still led a group of Pindaris north to Delhi by 1787, where he took service under Begum Samru of Sardhana. After this, however, he was supplanted in her favour by a Frenchman called Le Vassoult, he transferred his allegiance to Appa Rao, a Mahratta chieftain. George Thomas was known as the ‘Irish Raja‘ and he was the most successful General in India during the 1790’s. He was finally defeated and captured by Sindhia’s army under General Pierre Cuillier-Perron and he died on August 22nd, 1802, as he was been led down the Ganges.
Lieutenant General Michael Joe Costello, who was born on July 4th, 1904, in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary, came from a very nationalist background – his godfather was the 1916 Easter Rising Leader Thomas MacDonagh. After seeing his father being arrested by the Black and Tans, Michael Joe became involved in the War of Independence between 1919 and 1921. Then, during the Civil War of 1922 and 1923, he joined the Irish National Army and fought on the Pro-Treaty side. Michael Collins had promoted Michael Joe Costello to Colonel-Commandant when he was just 18 years old, and he served as National Army Director of Intelligence from 1924 to 1926. From 1926 to 1927, he attended the U.S. Army’s Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and based on his performance there, he was recommended for the U. S. Army War College. Further to this, Michael Joe predicted the advent of blitzkrieg warfare in a series of articles in the Irish Military Journal An t-Oglach, while he was also appointed Director of Training in 1931 and Commandant of the Irish Military College in 1933. During the Emergency between 1939 and 1945, Michael Joe Costello commanded the Irish Army’s First Division, which was responsible for the defence of the south coast of Ireland. He was promoted to Major General in 1941 and to Lieutenant General in 1945, before retiring from the Army in 1946. Lieutenant General Michael Joe Costello passed away on October 20th, 1986.
India’s First War of Independence (Indian Mutiny)
Private Patrick Donohoe was born in Nenagh, County Tipperary during 1820 and he was another Tipperary recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC). It is reported that he was approximately 37 years old and a private in the 9th Lancers of the British Army during the ‘Indian Mutiny‘, or India’s First War of Independence, when on September 28th, 1857 he performed the following deed, of which he received the VC. A Despatch from Major General Sir James Hope Grant, K.C.B., dated April 8th, 1858, read that: “For having, at Bolundshahur, on the 28th of September, 1857, gone to the support of Lieutenant Blair, who had been severely wounded, and, with a few other men, brought that officer in safety through a large body of the enemy’s cavalry.” A further note to the life of Patrick Donohoe is that he married Mary Anne Glasscott in Bombay in India, and so becoming the Stepfather of Anna Leonowners. Through her own journals of her life in Siam, Anna became the inspiration for the novel Anna and the King of Siam, which later was turned into a successful musical called The King and I. Patrick Donohoe died in Ashbourne in County Meath on August 16th, 1876.
Denis ‘Sonny’ O’Neill wasn’t born in Nenagh town or outside it, but he lived most of his life in a town that became a protector and an adopted home for an individual who actually changed Irish history. So who was Sonny O’Neill? Well, he’s none other than the man who shot the Irish patriot and Leader Michael Collins. The story goes that the anti-treaty forces had set up an ambush at Béal na Bláth on August 22nd 1922 to assassinate Collins. The ambush squad consisted of Tom Hales, Jim Hurley, Dan Holland, Tom Kelleher, Sonny O’Neill, Paddy Walsh, John O’Callaghan, Sonny Donovan, Bill Desmond and Dan Corcoran. Seemingly the squad had decided to disperse and were clearing the road as well as diffusing a roadside bomb, when the convey of vehicles that included Michael Collins came upon them. A gun battle ensued and as the anti-treaty forces retreated, a shot rang out from O’Neill’s weapon that entered Collins forehead and blasted a hole at the back of his head. Michael Collins was dead and Sonny was soon on the run. He eventually made it to North Tipperary and before long he took lodgings in Queens/Mitchell Street in Nenagh town, where he remained for the remainder of his life. His secret was kept safe by those that knew who he was in the town and he was even one of the founding fathers of the Fianna Fail party in North Tipperary. Sonny O’Neill is buried in Tyone Cemetery, Nenagh.
Now I’m sure there are a number of other warriors from North Tipperary who I have failed to mention here, but if there is someone you’d like to mention to me, please drop me a line and I’ll gather a second collection of North Tipperary warriors together.
Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee