• Stephen Callaghan

An Unusual Military Funeral in Birr!

Birr, County Offaly (formerly King's County) is a town of many burial grounds, in fact, it contains the more burial grounds than any other town in County Offaly (For the full list see https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/burial-grounds-of-birr-by-stephen-callaghan/). The evolution of these burial grounds is interesting with St Brendan’s ‘old’ graveyard being the oldest, this was soon replaced with a new burial ground in Drumbane, and later a military cemetery opened and then Clonoghill cemetery (which is still used today). Today’s blog post takes us back to a funeral which took place in 1852 at the the burial ground at Drumbane.


On the 8 October 1851, Major Henry George Hart of the 49th Regiment of Foot, in full dress uniformed headed a procession of some 200 soldiers to the burial ceremony of a Protestant and Roman Catholic soldier. The funeral was well attended with many well-respected civilians from the town present.


To the military historian or researcher, the name Hart might be familiar. He published the unofficial army list know as ‘Hart’s Lists’. Hart was born in Glencree, County Wicklow, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.


During the ceremony some young boys had gathered on the burial ground boundary wall. While not disruptive to the ceremony, they seemed to irk the Major. Despite several members of the Irish Constabulary being present, the Major decided to take action against the boys. Picking up some yellow clay and stones from the freshly open graves, he began to throwing it at the little boys, his hat falling off with his exertion.


Once the Major had successfully dispatched the boys, for some unknown reason he decided to pelt some of the people attending the funeral! The Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent states about the event ‘His successes were great, and there was no doubt if he were at the Cape he would do wonders that, in fact, he would scatter the savages like dust before the whirlwind’.


One gentleman attending the funeral, Mr Thomas Winter, was pelted in the chest with a piece of clay containing a stone which hurt him, which lasted for a number of days. After this he was collared by some soldiers and forced to leave.


Mr Winter’s assault by the Major resulted in a court case. During the case, Mr Winter stated that he conducted himself in a respectful manner during the funeral. The Major Hart pleaded that he did not assault Mr Winter. The jury settled in favour of the plantiff and awarded him one farthing damages and sixpence for costs.

The scene of the crime, the burial ground at Drumbane, Birr.

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