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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

The story behind Private Hennessy's memorial plaque

A few years ago I was lucky to enough to be given the memorial plaque of Lance Corporal Patrick Andrew Hennessy from a relation of his. While Patrick was born in Navan, County Meath he also spent some of his youth in Birr, County Offaly. Born into a middle class military family, he enlisted into the Leinster Regiment during the Great War and was ultimately killed in 1917. This is his story.

Born at Flower Hill, Navan, County Meath on 13 January 1898, he was the son of Sergeant Patrick Hennessy and Emily Hennessey (née Deare). Patrick had married Emily in Birr on 30 November 1893. Patrick had been stationed in Birr Barracks at the time, and Emily was living close by on Swag Street (Crinkill).

Patrick, a farmer's son, was a soldier in the Leinster Regiment, he had joined the army at Maryborough, Queen’s County on 28 July 1885.

Emily was the daughter of Private William Deare and Ellen Deare (née Comerford). She was born in the West Indies. William and Ellen married in Birr on 29 March 1864. Private Deare was a soldier with the 53rd Regiment of Foot and had served in the Indian Mutiny.

The 1901 census records Sergeant Patrick Hennessy, his wife Emily and their children William, Patrick, George and Emily’s mother Ellen. At the time Patrick was serving with the local militia, the 5th Battalion, Leinster Regiment.

Sergeant Hennessy died on 15 September 1901 from phthisis, in their home in Navan, Emily was present at his death.

The 1911 records widow Emily living in Seffin, Birr with her mother and youngest son George. The eldest son William, had joined the Leinster Regiment at Dublin on 27 October 1909, as a boy soldier, just aged 14 years old. Patrick is nowhere to be found on the census and from his army number of 9959, likely joined the army around 1912 or 1913.

In 1912, Emily married James Ryan in Birr on 14 February. James was an ex Colour Sergeant in the Leinster Regiment. They started a family together living in Seffin.

With the outbreak of the Great War, Patrick was not initially sent to France, due to his young age. He made out his will at Victoria Barracks, Cork on 23 January 1917, leaving all this possessions to his mother Emily.

Once in Belgium, Lance Corporal Hennessy served for 6 months before being killed in action on 31 July 1917, at the start of the Third Battle of Ypres. He has no grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres. Emily received the memorial plaque with Patrick’s name on it, and the British War Medal and Victory Medal which was entitled to for his service.

Menin Gate Memorial, image courtesy of Johan Bakker via Wikipedia

Both older and young brothers were in the army at the time of Patrick’s death. Older brother William served with the British Expeditionary Force and was later a prisoner of war. Younger brother George had joined on 23 September 1916 and saw service in during the Malabar Rebellion of 1921.

Emily and James remained in Birr, where some of their descendants still live today.

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