HONOURING THEIR OWN Michael Feeney, founder of Mayo Peace Park, pictured in 2007 at the grave of his grandfather, Private Patrick Feeney, with his wife Mary and their children Patrick and Ana.
He whom this scroll commemorates
was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all
that was dear to them, endured hardness,
faced danger, and finally passed out of
the sight of men by the path of duty
and self-sacrifice, giving up their own
lives that others might live in freedom.
Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.
Official papers like this ‘roll of honour’ scroll sent by the British War Office were, for many years, the only tangible tribute the Feeney family had to their husband, father, brother and grandfather.
Private Patrick Feeney of The Connaught Rangers was killed in action in World War I but for many decades his sacrifice and the sacrifice of over a thousand more from Mayo killed serving in the ‘Great War’ was all but forgotten.
In the complex political climate of pre- and post-Treaty Ireland, having served with the British was not always a badge of honour.
It mattered not that the Irish political mood at the outset of the war was somewhat favourable to the British war effort.
Everything pivoted on the 1916 Rising and by the time World War I ended, as WB Yeats wrote, ‘all changed, changed utterly’ and the ‘terrible beauty’ that was born had little regard for those who fought for or with the British.
Those lucky enough to return alive from the trenches spoke little about their experiences and tended not to draw attention to their war involvement. It was worse still for the families of those who perished in World War I.
There were just shy of 1,200 people from Mayo killed in action in World War I. It is a huge figure and looked upon from a contemporary perspective, one can’t help be amazed at how unmoved many people at home were to their efforts and sacrifices.
But Ireland was on the brink of nationhood and on the verge of overthrowing their imperial overlords.
Attitudes towards the British were hardening and those who fought under the Union Jack were caught in the metaphorical crossfire of this crucial and complex stage in Irish history.
They were remembered, of course, by their families but in a private and reserved way. Perhaps befitting of the stoicism of the time but certainly in tune with the political climate of a new Ireland.
This was summed up with how Patrick Feeney was remembered in the home his grandson, Michael, grew up in.
“We heard very little about him, though his picture hung proudly on the wall of our family home,” said Feeney in his book, Remembering Mayo’s Fallen Heroes.
It was not Private Feeney’s first experience of war. From Gallows Hill in Castlebar, he was born on February 5, 1881. He joined the British Army aged just 16, serving for ten years and earning the rank of corporal. He was discharged in 1907 and his discharge certificate described his conduct as ‘exemplary’.
One year later he rejoined the army to service with reserve forces for four years.
He served the full term of his engagement and was discharged in 1911. He had fought in the Boer War and, now married with six children, the outbreak of World War I may not have appealed to Patrick Feeney at that stage in his life.
However, while he lost his rank when he was discharged, he had to wait on standby in the event of a major war. Veterans like Patrick Feeney had no choice when World War I broke out, they had to join the war effort.
So it was that he was sent to France as part of the First Battalion of the Connaught Rangers on March 24, 1915. He was killed in action on July 22 the same year, aged 34. Later that day the Connaught Rangers were pulled back from the front line after spending 16 days there. It was a matter of hours too late for Private Patrick Feeney.
Mayo Peace Park
“Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten.”
The final words of the roll of honour were aspirational in the Ireland in the aftermath of World War I and for decades more afterwards.
But his grandfather’s sacrifice always stirred something deep inside Michael Feeney, a desire to properly remember Mayo’s fallen war heroes.
He first mooted, in 1988, and then drove plans for a fitting memorial to Mayo’s war dead.
Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar now stands as a wonderful monument to their memory.
“This day for me is the fulfillment of a personal lifetime ambition, to finally have a fitting memorial erected to honour and commemorate all the Mayo people who served or died in wars and conflicts around the world,” said Feeney on the opening of the Park in 2008.
Men like Patrick Feeney went to war over 100 years ago believing it was ‘the war to end all wars’.
It wasn’t and his family knew that better than anyone. His eldest son, Joe, fought for the Free State Army in Ireland before emigrating to the USA. There, his son George became a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army and he was wounded in the Vietnam War.
His second son, Paddy, emigrated to Leeds after also fighting for the Free State Army. He was called up for World War II and fought for the British in Burma for the duration of the war.
They both lived to tell the tale while Michael Feeney has ensured that the sacrifices Patrick Feeney and thousands more from Mayo who died in a host of wars on foreign fields around the world are properly commemorated on home ground.