ON a cold and windy day in a graveyard in northern France this week, flowers were finally laid on a grave of a Limerick soldier who died in 1916 during World War One.
It was also, it’s believed, the first time any relative had paid a visit to the grave of one of Limerick’s fallen soldiers - Christopher Lowe - nearly 100 years after his passing.
For Nuala Connolly, a Limerick native who emigrated to Canada in the 1960s, it was an emotional and poignant journey, and a chance to pay her respects to a grand-uncle she never knew.
Nuala travelled from Canada with her grand-daughter Sophia, aged five, her sister Dolores and her grand-daughter Saoirse, aged 13.
After arriving in Paris, they caught the train to the town of Albert in northern France, where he is buried, and as they drew closer, “the stirrings” in her heart began to take over, as her young companions raced ahead to see if they could find the grave first.
Nuala was determined to make the trip before Christmas of this year, which will mark the 100th anniversary of his passing; 100 years since anyone knelt, prayed or paid their respects at his lonely graveside.
“There was a strangeness to the day,” admitted Nuala, 69. While trying to locate Christopher’s grave, she said their hearts were torn when they saw the names of so many other young Irish soldiers buried there - Kearney, O’Brien, the list went on, and she wondered whether anyone still remembers them.
“The children scurried through the aisles of headstones hoping that they would find him first, and they did. We heard the squeals ‘we found him, we found him’,” she recalled, as she arrived back in Canada this week.
And there he lay; ‘Christopher Lowe, Private, Royal Irish Regiment, killed on January 9, 1916’.
Finally, she said, he had his family around him. “The wind was blowing, the rain was falling, so he might not have noticed our few tears.”
Nuala planted an Irish flag, and placed a plant along with some holly to commemorate his last Christmas alive. They then sprinkled his grave with Holy Water, and left as their taxi waited for them to depart again.
For years the Clare Street native was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of the soldier, whose war medal and mementos were passed on to her in a Will’s Gold Flake tobacco tin - an heirloom entrusted to her by her late uncle Christy Lowe, some 20 years ago.
“Now my soldier is no longer in a little tin box. I now have a friend in heaven and he is very real to me.”
Christopher Lowe was a private in the Royal Irish Regiment and it’s believed he was in his early 30s when killed at the front in 1916.
He was not married and had no children. Nuala’s grandfather Michael was a twin brother to Christopher, and he fought with the Leinster Regiment but survived the slaughter of World War One.
The Protestant brothers were from St Patrick’s parish and Michael Lowe would convert to Catholicism on marrying.
His daughter Josie Lowe married Tony King and Nuala is the 10th of their 11 children. All 11 would emigrate to Canada.
When her uncle Christy wanted to pass on a family heirloom, it was to Canada he travelled.
But as the years went by, she would come to regret not having asked her uncle for more detail on his namesake, Private Christopher Lowe.
She would open it every now and then, examine the contents and wonder what to do.
Over the years, her conscience kept bothering her and this year she knew what the right thing to do was.
“It keeps coming back to me: ‘What were his last few days like, that Christmas, before he died?’”
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.
Eventually, through the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, she tracked his resting place down to Albert, the main town behind the lines for the Allies nearest to the 1916 Somme battlefields.
And there he lies, with all the forgotten and unknown soldiers.
Except Christopher will now occupy an even more impermeable place in the hearts and minds of two Limerick natives, and their respective grand-daughters, some 7,000km from where he took his last breath.