Wandering around Clonoghill Cemetery in Birr, County Offaly it is easy to uncover numerous interesting headstones. If rambling around the southern section of the cemetery, one might stumble upon the grave of James Carroll. The headstone records his service in the 14th Regiment of Foot. Interestingly his age is recorded as 118 years, when he died on 21 June 1927! This begs to ask the questions was James actually 118 years old when he died? If so, he would be one of the oldest people to have ever lived in the world. This post examines what we know about James’ life.
Most of our information about James comes from his obituary which appeared in the Irish Times. The newspaper records that James lives on Cornmarket Street in Birr. Despite his advanced age and being somewhat deaf he was noted to be quite sharp. Apparently one of his earliest memories was when his father brought him to see fireworks in the Slieve Bloom mountains to commemorate the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. He was reported as having been born in 1809, but is this true?
James enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, 14th Regiment of Foot. The battalion was formed in 1858 and was sent to New Zealand in 1860 to take part in the Maori Wars (1845-1875). He was recorded as having been wounded in the stomach by a bullet during the campaign, but there are no records to substantiate this claim. For his service James was presented with the New Zealand campaign medal, which he wore with pride.
After James’ army service he settled in Birr and married in 1879. He had four children with his wife Mary. Mary later died in 1917, her death certificate records her place of death as Birr Workhouse and her residence as Fortal (which is outside Birr).
James died from pneumonia. His obituary records that he was the oldest member of the Old Comrades Association of the 14th Regiment of Foot at the time of his death. His funeral was well attended, with representatives from the Birr Branch of the British Legion headed up by Captain Arthur Henry Whitehead, late Leinster Regiment. The last post was sounded during his burial.
Looking more closely at James’ death, his death certificate reveals his age to be 83 years, not 118 years. This corresponds with the fact that his age is the only part of his headstone not painted. Its possibly James told a few tall tales during his life, including his age. Nevertheless, he lived an interesting life which is worth recording.