• Stephen Callaghan

The Gallagher’s of Birr, County Offaly – Three Generations at War

While casually browsing the 1901 or 1911 census it is possible to pick up on interesting or peculiar facts about different families living in various towns. Just as easy as it can be to find a family of interest, it can only take a moment to look past another family who might seem normal or even mundane. On first glance the Gallagher family of Fayle’s Lane, Birr might appear to be one such normal family. The Gallagher’s are a working class family. The 1911 census records Michael and Ellen Gallagher with their two sons, a daughter, a daughter in law and three grandchildren living in a 2nd class house. However a closer look that at the Gallagher family shows that no less than three generations served in the British Army in three major conflicts, the Second Boer War, the First and Second World Wars. Of these three conflicts the latter has not gained as much recognition for the contribution of the ordinary Irish man as it should.

Fayle's Lane, where the Gallagher's lived

Our story begins with Michael, who was born in Birr around 1860, he was the son of Michael Gallagher, his mother’s name has not been established. Michael’s profession was as a labourer. Already a member of the King’s County Rifles (the local militia), Michael attested for service in the army at Birr Barracks on 18 January 1876. Upon his attestation Michael was described as being 5 foot 9 inches tall. He had brown eyes and black hair and was of the Roman Catholic faith. He joined the 70th Brigade Depot at Tralee, County Kerry as a private in the 104th Regiment of Foot two days later. Private Gallagher served in Malta, Cyprus, and Halifax. Michael was discharged in Birr on 17 January 1888 after termination of his first period of limited engagement.


Michael Gallagher's Queen's South Africa Medal

During Michael's first period of service, he married Ellen Walsh, a native of County Kerry. Michael and Ellen lived on Fayle’s Lane, later moving to Graveyard Street (High Street). After returning to Birr, Michael re-enlisted in the local militia, the 3rd Battalion, Leinster Regiment on 21 January 1888. He attended the annual training camps from 1888 to 1891. Upon the outbreak of the Second Boer War, Michael was embodied for active service overseas with the battalion and served in South Africa for two years. He returned home along with the rest of the battalion in May 1902. For his service he received the Queen’s and King’s South Africa medals.


Michael’s personal life wasn’t perfect, by evidence of his two spells in prison at Tullamore Goal. The first in September 1892 for being drunk and disorderly, the second time he was sentenced to a month of hard labour in July 1893 for beating his wife. His name appears many other times throughout the petty session’s records. Later in 1908 Michael and Ellen were charged with cruelty to their children. Michael died on 26 June 1915 and was buried in Clonoghill cemetery, the local burial ground.


Michael and Ellen had twelve children in total, by 1911 only six of them were still alive, of the Gallagher children, Michael and William served in the British Army and Royal Air Force (RAF). Michael joined the South Lancashire Regiment in Birr on 1 August 1904, he had previously been a member of the militia, like his father. He was recorded as being 5 foot 8 inches tall and having brown eyes and black hair. Michael served in India and upon the out break of the Great War was sent to France. He was later wounded in the hand and taken prisoner of war (POW) in Germany. He was held in the POW camp at Lindberg. On the other hand Michael’s younger brother William joined the RAF on 18 August 1918 for a term of four years service. Upon enlisting he was recorded as being 4 foot 10 inches tall. He served in Aden and India as an aero rigger. He was discharged on 23 August 1923 and lived with his mother on Dawson Street, Dublin.


The third generation of the Gallagher’s to serve in the British Army, was William Gallagher. William was born in Birr on 12 March 1911. William was the son of Michael and Bridget Gallagher. Michael and Bridget had married on 31 January 1908. William joined the 2nd Battalion, East Surrey Regiment in the 1930s. He had been posted in Singapore, where he was taken POW by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore in February 1942. He was held at Fukuoka POW camp in Japan for the duration of the war. William was just one of many from Birr who joined the British Army during the Second World War – which is a topic for another article.


Three generations of one family, three major conflicts, the Gallagher’s of Birr.

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