IT may have taken 100 years but the grave of a Limerick soldier who fell at the Somme is about to get its first visit from a relative.
Nuala Connolly, a native of Old Clare Street who emigrated to Canada in the 1960s, has finally got to the bottom of the mystery of the soldier in the tobacco tin - an heirloom entrusted to her by her late uncle Christy Lowe 20 years ago.
His namesake, Christopher Lowe, was a private in the Royal Irish Regiment and his grandniece Nuala, now 68, believes he was in his early 30s when killed at the front in 1916.
Her grandfather Michael was a twin brother to Christopher; fought with the Leinster Regiment but survived the slaughter of World War One.
The brothers were from St Patrick’s parish and came from a protwestant family, which Nuala said explains why so many of them ended up working for Boyd’s on William Street.
Michael Lowe would convert to Catholicism on marrying. His daughter, Josie Lowe, married Tony King and Nuala is the 10th of their 11 children.
Amazingly, all 11 would emigrate to Canada, all but one of them settling around Toronto. “A lot of the older ones in the family went in the mid-50s,” recalled Nuala on a trip home this week.
“When my father died in the 60s, there were three of us left behind with my mother. She couldn’t wait to get out of Limerick and be with the rest of her family. I always say I never emigrated I was transplanted because I didn’t want to go. I was 17 and just finished school. My brother Christy too. He never should have left at all. He was Limerick through and through - always on the river, in the Abbey Regatta and playing rugby for Richmond.”
But emigrate they all did and when her uncle Christy wanted to pass on a family heirloom, it was to Canada he travelled. Memorabilia relating to the twins’ war service was contained in a tin of Will’s Gold Flake tobacco given to Nuala by her uncle.
“A lot of people in Limerick might remember Christy. He was from Garvey’s Range and came back to Limerick after many years in England.
He walked around all the time with his dog; took his dog to the pub, took his dog to Mass. He used to tell the women that the dog stood for the gospel because when he stood up, the dog stood up as well,” said Nuala.
She would come to regret not having asked her uncle for more detail on his namesake, Private Christopher Lowe. “He would have known all about it,” she said.
The tobacco tin itself was her grandfather’s and is incredibly well-preserved.
“My husband was always more interested in the box than what was inside it,” said Nuala.
“I used to have a look at it every now and then and would be asking myself what was I going to do with it. My conscience would bother me and I wondered whether there was something I should be doing about it because when I’m dead, who’s going to bother with this, right?
“But (Nuala’s grand-daughter) Sophia used to open it all the time and it is probably from her opening it that I decided to take the time out to go through it properly.”
A record from the War Office shows Christopher Lowe’s estate was settled in favour of his twin brother for all of three pounds, seven shillings and one penny. There was also Christopher’s war medal in the tin and other clues.
Armed with this basic information, Nuala spent long and fruitless months researching her granduncle’s story online until she finally came across the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Christopher Lowe is buried in the military cemetery in Forceville, Picardy. And Nuala plans to visit his grave with relatives some time next year.
“I know nobody has ever been. He wasn’t married. Why would anybody else go? But having gone through this, it really touched me and myself and my sister decided we would go. At least his grave will have been visited.
“I don’t mind what it looks like as long as we can put a little something on it that he knows in this or whatever world, somebody is thinking about him and that we have been. It might have taken 100 years but that someone has been,” said Nuala.