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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

The tragic workplace death of Henry Warnekey

Usually here on the Barrack Square, we look at the lives of soldiers and their families. However, in today’s post, we will deviate slightly from this and look at the life of a general labourer, who while working at Birr Barracks, King’s County (modern day Offaly), tragically lost his life, in what today would be classed as a workplace fatality.


Henry Warnekey was born circa 1855. His Father was Frederick Warnekey. It’s unclear whether Henry was Irish born, but regardless, Crinkill became his permanent home.


On 27 August 1878, Henry married Jane Fitzgerald in St Brendan’s Catholic church, Birr. Their marriage certificate list’s Jane’s father as Laurence Fitzgerald, a pensioner.


Henry and Jane had their first child Mary Anne Jane, on 1 October 1878. Jane’s father being present at the birth. At the time their address was noted as Crinkill. Their next child was Dennis, who was born on 2 December 1880, unfortunately he died on 2 January 1881 as a result of croup.


Looking through petty season records, Henry had some run ins with the law. On 1 June 1888, he was fined one shilling, with one shilling costs for allowing an ass on a public road in Crinkill. On 8 March 1889, he was fined six shillings, with one shilling costs for being drunk on a public street in Crinkill. On 20 June 1890 he was fined six pence, with one shilling costs for allowing an ass on a public road in Crinkill, something he was later charged with again on 20 April 1900, but the case was dismissed.


On 21 May 1900 Jane died as a result of cancer of the womb. She was interred in Clonoghill Cemetery the next day; the cemetery register notes her profession as a laundress.

Well shown on barracks plan

On 24 September 1900, while working in the barracks, Henry was 23 meters deep, down in one of the wells. This was work possibly in connection with the overhaul of the drainage systems in the barracks, as the wells had been contaminated by drainage water in 1897, which resulted in an outbreak of enteritis.


While working in the well, Henry became overpowered by gas, and suffocated and fell into 3 meters of water. Another labourer by the name of Joseph Day attempted to save Henry, but was unable to do so. Day had previously been working in the well for one hour and a quarter, but had to come up to the surface for fresh air. There had been a candle in the well around 2 meters above the water, for light, and Mr George Jacques of the Royal Engineers later said during the inquiry he believed there was foul air below the candle.


After the inquiry, it was recommended that Henry’s daughter Mary, be awarded military compensation. Whether she received this or not, is another question. Henry was interred in Clonoghill Cemetery on 26 September. The person responsible for the burial is listed as Thomas A. Sweeney, either the son or brother of William A. Sweeney, a major local contractor, who was awarded many military contractors. So Henry’s employer organised and probably paid for the burial.


Mary is recorded on the 1901 census as servant for ex officer Harold Kinsman, in Crinkill.  By 1911 she is recorded as a servant in Hampshire, but it is unclear what happened to her after.

Henry’s story is one of many of the ordinary general labourer, easily overlooked. It is hoped this post serves the memory of this labourer tragically killed in a workplace accident.



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