• Stephen Callaghan

The Service of Captain Gilbert Powell 1913 - 1928


Countless times I have passed the grave of Capt. Gilbert Powell in Clonoghill Cemetery in Birr, County Offaly. Some brief attempts to research him never really turned up anything of note until recently when I took a more focused approach which revealed the following story.


Gilbert Patrick Powell was born in Parsonstown, King’s County on 14 March 1897. He was the son of John Powell and Margaret Powell (née O’Connor). John was a journalist, editor and owner of the Midland Tribune, a nationalist leaning paper in contrast to the other main paper of the county, The King’s County Chronicle which was strongly unionist.


Gilbert started school at age 3 years on 2 May 1900 in St Brendan’s Boy’s School. The 1901 census records the family living at 11, John’s Place, Birr. John and Margaret are recorded as having 7 sons and 3 daughters, a nephew and 2 domestic servants are also recorded.


The 1911 census shows the family living in 16 Cumberland Square. Margaret was now a widow, John having died suddenly in 1901, with his death she inherited the Midland Tribune.


On 13 July 1913 Gilbert attested for service in the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) at Birr. The AOC acted as a supply and repair corps and was an essential service in the British Army for the supply of weapons and repair of various military equipment and guns. Upon Gilbert’s enlistment he was recorded as 5 foot 5 inches tall, having brown coloured hair and eyes. His previous trade was given as a printer, which is not surprising considering his families newspaper background.


On 2 August 1913 Private Powell was posted to the Curragh Camp, County Kildare upon completion of his training, from February to August 1914, he acted as a storeman.


On 18 March 1914 at Curragh Camp, Private Powell was absent without leave from 12:30 pm until the following day. For this offense he was confined to barracks for 7 days and forfeited 2 day’s pay. On 10 April 1914, again at Curragh Camp he was absent without leave until 10pm on 11 April, for this offence he was confined to barracks for 10 days and forfeited 2 day’s pay.


With the outbreak of war in August 1914 the AOC would have a massive task ahead of them. Private Powell landed at Le Havre, France with his unit on 15 August 1914.


On 27 November 1914 at Le Havre at 5:30pm Private Powell was noted as absent from parade without permission, he was found the following day at Reveillon, some 120km from Le Harve as the crow flies! For this offence he received 5 days confined to barracks and was deduced one day’s pay. On 11 September 1915 at Flesselles at 8:30pm Private Powell was yet again recorded as absent from roll call until he reappeared at 8:40pm. For this offense he was sentenced to 3 days confined to barracks.


On 10 June 1917, Private Powell was transferred from the AOC to the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, however he only served 2 months with his new unit before he left without permission, this time for good. On 10 January 1918 a court of inquiry was held in the field over this illegal absence. Private Powell had gone on leave on 17 September 1917 and was due to return on 27 September, but failed to do so. The court of inquiry listed all the items he was in possession of at this time of desertion, which included his full uniform, equipment including rifle and bayonet.


Now labelled as a deserter and a wanted man Gilbert made his way back to Ireland where he joined the 5th Battalion, Mid Clare Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. During the War of Independence Gilbert was a Section Commander of the Mid Clare Flying Column and took part in the ambushes on Monreal in December 1920, the capture of Ruan Royal Irish Constabulary barracks in March 1921, the ambush at Corofin in June 1921 and the ambush at Lisdoonvarna in July 1921. Gilbert’s experience with the pre war British Army would have been invaluable for the Irish Volunteers. Gilbert worked his way up to the rank of Captain and acted as an ammo and rifle instructor for ‘E’ company of the Mid Clare Brigade.


Gilbert was attested and imprisoned for a short period in 1920 but was eventually released after going on hunger strike.


With the Anglo-Irish treaty in place, Gilbert joined the newly formed National Army in Ennis, County Clare in February 1922 where he was made a Lieutenant. His activities during the ensuing Civil War are unknown.


On 17 July 1922 Gilbert married Mary Anne Gardiner at St Joseph’s Church, Ennistymon, County Clare. Mary later died on 22 April 1928 at Lisdoonvarna, from cerebral hemorrhaging. Lieutenant Powell retired from the army several days later on 28 April 1928, having served in the British Army, Irish Volunteers and finally the National Army.


Gilbert married Mary Josephine Feehan on 27 November 1929 at St. Cronan's Church, Roscrea. Both were listed as living on Newbridge Street, Birr.


In October 1932 Gilbert put in a claim for a military pension, stating that he had lost his British Army one due to the Anglo-Irish war, which he received. Gilbert died on 8 January 1973, he was interred in Clonoghill Cemetery on 10 January.


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