• Stephen Callaghan

Solving the Mystery of James Flynn


Grave of James Flynn in Clonoghill Cemetery, Birr.

My early days of researching soldier’s in Birr began with spending countless hours wandering around Clonoghill Cemetery, which is just a short walk outside the town. Considering the cemetery opened in 1869, during the heyday of Birr Barracks, it contains many officers, soldiers and pensioners. Sometimes this is clearly indicated on graves in the form or a rank or regiment, however in some cases military service is more obscure and not indicated.


While wondering around the cemetery on a gloomy December’s day in 2010, I came across a grave which puzzled me, the grave belonged to James Flynn of High Street. James had died in 1957. The grave was well maintained and someone had gone to the trouble of laying a a Christmas wreath and a poppy cross despite nothing in the inscription to indicate he was an ex-soldier. I took a picture for my records and later forgot about it.

Victory Medal.

Fast forward to present day, I was recently re-researching a Victory Medal which came into my procession in 2012. The medal was names to James Flynn of the Leinster Regiment, his pension card indicated he lived on High Street, Birr. While searching through old photos I re-discovered the photograph I had taken back in 2010 and everything made sense.


Further research on James revealed the following he was born in Ennis, County Clare on 12 February 1880. He was the son of Patrick Flynn and Catherine Flynn (née Houlihan). They lived on Mill Street, Ennis. Patrick worked as a porter and had married Catherine on 10 January 1874.


James enlisted in the Leinster Regiment at Ennis on 21 October 1898. Upon enlisting he specified that he was a serving member of the 5th (militia) Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers. His occupation was as a labourer. He was recorded as having blue coloured eyes, dark brown hair, being 5 foot 5 inches tall and of the Roman Catholic faith.


Initially posted on home service, he was later sent to South Africa to fight in the Second Boer War with the 1st Battalion. For his service he received the Queen’s South Africa medal with the clasps ‘Wittenburgen’, ‘Cape Colony’ and ‘Transvaal’ and the King’s South Africa medal with the clasps ‘South Africa 1901’ and ‘South Africa 1902’. He was transferred to the 2nd Battalion and remained in South Africa until January 1906. The battalion moved to Mauritius in January 1906 and remained there until October 1907. Then moved to India from October 1907 to October 1908. Private Flynn then spent two years on home service.


Private Flynn reengaged to complete 21 years’ service at Birr on 9 July 1910, however he was discharged at his own request on 31 October 1910. Only 21 days prior he had married Mary Bridget Barnes in St Brendan’s Church. Mary was from High Street, Birr and the daughter of an army pensioner. James and Mary moved to Ennis and lived at 4.2 Simms Lane. They didn’t stay long and returned to Birr where their first child, George was born on 19 October 1911.


Despite having left the army, James enlisted in the army reserves for 4 years in December 1910, which meant he could be called up for service should war break out, which is what exactly happened in August 1914.


James was mobilised for service with the British Expeditionary Force at Birr on 5 August 1914. He disembarked for France with the 2nd Battalion, Leinster Regiment and landed at St Nazaire on 12 September 1914.


On 29 June 1915 Private Flynn was wounded in the face and scalp by shrapnel. Found no longer physically fit for service he was discharged from the army on 13 January 1916. His service entitled him the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.


Returning home, James settled back into civilian life. Despite being entitled to an army pension James found himself in financial trouble. An article in the Leinster Reporter on 21 April 1923 indicated that James was in 42 weeks of arrears on his rent for the house they were in on Mill Street. In the article it was stated his wife said she would be happy to pay the rent once her husband found work. The house went back into the procession of the owner and the Flynn’s are next recorded as living on High Street, where they remained.


James died at Tullamore Hospital on 22 September 1957, aged 76.

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