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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

Finding the grave of a Peninsular War Veteran - Major Richard Woods

Over the past few years I have been researching Birr’s forgotten cemetery, which over time has garnered the unflattering name Bully’s Acre. All previous known memorials have been carefully recorded, with several previous unrecorded memorials uncovered. However, one grave has eluded recording, a burial plot surrounded by iron railings, and covered by decades of ivy and moss growth.


Recently, in an effort to ensure completeness of the cemetery survey, and with the use of ladders and snippers, this long ignored grave site was finally cleared. The decades of muck and dirt carefully washed away thus revealing via the inscription that the burial site belonged to Major Richard John Woods, of the 8th Royal Veteran Battalion, and his wife and children.


Headstone of the Woods children in St Brendan's graveyard Birr

To my delight, I had previously researched Major Woods, and I had wondered where his final resting place might be and if it would even be marked. While recorded the memorials of old St Brendan’s graveyard in Birr town, I had come across a memorial he had erected to two of his children, Eleanor who died on 1 January 1822, aged 18 months, and Jonathan who died on 29 April 1822, aged 7 years.


In the usual fashion of this blog, we’ll explore Richard’s life and military service. Born around 1786. Richard was commissioned in the 7th Garrison Battalion as an Ensign on 2 December 1806. He was subsequently transferred to the 3rd Regiment of Foot on 18 August 1807. He was further promoted to Lieutenant on 20 November 1809.


During the Peninsular War Lieutenant Woods was present at the battles of Talavera, Busaco and Albuhera. At the latter battle he had part of his right leg blown off along with part of his nose and cheek. For his wounds he received a military pension of £70 per year, which later increaded to £100 per year. Later in 1847 he received the retrospective campaign medal, the Military General Service Medal with the clasps Talavera, Busaco and Albuhera.


Despite his serious injuries, Woods remained in the army and was promoted to Captain of the 5th West India Regiment on 13 August 1812, and then transferred to the 2nd Royal Veteran Battalion, that October. He was later appointed to the 8th Royal Veteran Battalion, until he was placed on the retired list on 25 June 1816.


Richard married Anne Bourns in Dublin in 1812. Anne was the daughter of Charles Bourns of White Church, County Dublin, who is also buried in the adjacent burial plot. Richard and Anne are recorded on the 1821 census, living on William Street, Birr. The census records their children, Anne, Jonathan, Charles B, Dorcas and Ellen. In addition to the family, there were also three servants. Pigot’s Directory of 1824 records Captain Woods as living on William Street. He later moved to Oxmantown Mall, as indicated by the Griffith Valuation of 1854.


Anne died on the 16 September 1861, and later followed by Richard who died on 6 July 1864. His obituary appeared in the King’s County Chronicle on 13 July 1864.


A good man has gone from amongst us, and the inhabitants of this town have sustained a loss which will long be felt in the death Major Woods, which took place on Wednesday evening, the 6th instant, at his residence on Oxmantown Place. Major Woods was a practical man, and useful in our local institutions and charities; his judicious guidance, sterling good sense, and unwearied perseverance, were mainly institutions with which he identified himself. As a friend, Major Woods has ever been firm, faithful and undeviating, ever ready with useful counsel and good service, and his death has been felt by each within the sphere of his influence as a personal and individual loss. Into the private circle of his family we will not intrude, further than to give expression to the sympathy universally felt for them in their loss. Major Woods commenced his military career as an ensign in the 3rd Buffs, on the 2nd December, 1806, and he served with the regiment in the Peninsula, at the Passage of Douro, and capture of Oporto, the battle of Talavera and Busaco, the Lines of Torres Vedras, action of Campo Major, and battle of Albuera, where he was severely wounded, having lost his right leg. He received the war medal with three clasps for Talavera, Busaco, and Albuera”

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