ON the day when the world marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania, an oar from one of her lifeboats was one of countless compelling exhibits on opening night at City Hall of Stand Up and Fight: Limerick’s Military Tradition from the Wild Geese to Gallipoli.
The oar, swept along by the Atlantic tide until it reached Kilkee, was donated to Limerick Museum in August 1916. It had never been put on display before, but is a wonderfully fitting addition to the new exhibition by Limerick Museum and Archives. Stand Up and Fight is strongly focused on the First World War but also covers Limerick’s long military and naval tradition in the centuries prior to 1914.
From flowers sent home by a soldier on the Western Front to his mother in Limerick to a beautifully presented memorial listing all those local soldiers who perished between 1914 and 1918, the exhibition captures the essence of the contribution made by Limerick people amid the most trying of circumstances. If the enthusiasm shown by the opening night crowd is anything to go by, it will drawn visitors in tremendous numbers.
Not surprisingly, more than a few among the large attendance were proudly wearing uniforms replete with medals and badges – and there can hardly have been a prouder Limerickman on the night than Paddy Brosnahan of the Irish Naval Association. Looking around him at the thronged City Hall ‘street’, the man from Marian Avenue quipped: “One of the lads just said that the last time he saw a crowd like this was above in Dublin when Young Munster won the All Ireland League in 1993!”
It was Paddy who contacted Jacqui Hayes of Limerick Museum and Archives back in September, reminding her of the significance to Limerick of events in Gallipoli and other WW1 battlegrounds.
In her own well received speech, Ms Hayes recalled the meeting that ultimately led to the Stand Up and Fight exhibition: “Paddy basically said, ‘We have to do something for the military next year’. His mantra since we started working on this exhibition has been: ‘This is for Limerick’ – and we couldn’t agree with him more.”
Warming to that theme, Paddy himself had a message for the guests who were welcomed to City Hall by the rousing music of the St Mary’s Fife and Drum Band: “I want ye to tell everyone ye meet and promote the exhibition. Promote our military heritage and let everyone in the world see it. Promote Limerick and always look at the good side.”
The exhibition was launched by metropolitan mayor, Cllr Michael Sheahan, who said that it “reveals to us all an aspect of Limerick’s history that was forgotten for generations, namely our long and proud military and naval tradition”.
He added: “Over the past 300 years, Limerickmen have fought in nearly all the world’s major armies – those of Russian, Austria, France, the USA and most of all, the British Army.
“Limerickmen have served on every continent from the frozen wastes of Russia to the baking deserts of Australia.
“Limerick has also produced numerous great generals including my fellow Askeaton man, Sir George de Lacy Evans, who was involved in the burning of the White House by the British in 1814. He also made a major contribution to army reform as he successfully campaigned for an end to flogging in the British Army.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of many other major wartime tragedies, and Jacqui Hayes thanked the families of the some of the eight young men from Coonagh who were lost when HMS Goliath was sunk by a Turkish destroyer 100 years ago this week, on May 13, 1915, and whose photographs are a poignant part the exhibition (see also story below).
“These,” she said, “are some of the 4,000 men born in Limerick that were caught up in this first total war.
“The war touched Limerick. If 4,000 men left Limerick today, attracted by the prospect of steady wages and seeing the world, we would all know quite a few and would all know some that died. Over 1,000 did not return. This exhibition gives us the chance to remember them. We remember them by displaying their names on a memorial wall in the museum. Whether they signed up in Limerick, or Liverpool whether they were members of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers, or the Canadian Infantry, their names are recorded in alphabetical order, how they died and where they are commemorated.
“We thank the researchers who compiled this important list –known as the Widow’s Penny list – and we are happy to pay respect to their memory in the city and county of their birth.”
Josephine Cotter-Coughlan, director of service at Limerick City and County Council, predicted that Stand Up and Fight “will be one of the most popular exhibitions that we have ever undertaken” and said it was timely: “For over 90 years Ireland’s contribution to the First World War was not openly acknowledged. Happily this has changed.”
For those whose sacrifices were long forgotten – indeed pointedly ignored by so many in their native Limerick for decades – the Stand Up and Fight exhibition is an eloquent and frequently moving tribute.
Editorial, page 18