18 November 2016 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Michael Fisher

  “He was a true hero and a truly remarkable man”. The words of the British Ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett as he unveiled a plaque paying tribute to Private Thomas Hughes of Corravoo, Castleblayney of the 6th Battalion, Connaught Rangers. Hughes is one of 27 Irish holders of the Victoria Cross for whom the British government arranged a paving stone to be placed at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. They are being paid for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

  In all, four plaques remembering World War One VCs were added on Armistice Day last Friday alongside the cross of sacrifice that had been unveiled two years ago. Ambassador Barnett was accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle. Along with Private Hughes, there are now plaques for Private (later Corporal) Frederick Edwards VC of the Middlesex Regiment, Lieutenant John Vincent Holland VC of the Leinster Regiment and Private (later Sergeant) Martin O’Meara VC of the 16th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force. The Cross is the highest British military award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

  Public Spending Minister Paschal Donohoe led dignitaries, including several ambassadors to Ireland, in laying wreaths at the Cross of Sacrifice, in memory of the Irish men and women who died in the Great War. “The sacrifices made, and the bravery shown by them, is remembered with pride and admiration,” he said. The simple and dignified ceremony was preceded by an ecumenical church service at the Church of the Resurrection. It was conducted by Reverend David Oxley, Rector of Glasnevin, Finglas and Santry, and Jesuit priest Fr Bernard McGuckian, who said prayers and gave a blessing.

  The unveiling of the plaque for Private Hughes was attended by his niece Josephine Sharkey (Hughes) from Dundalk, and members of her family including her daughter Siobhan. Other relatives included Peter McDonnell, Chair of the Monaghan Association in Dublin. His father’s mother and the mother of Thomas Hughes were sisters. Other relations came from the Donaghmoyne area, including Ann Christy, a grand niece.

  Siobhan Sharkey read a poem which had been specially composed for the occasion of the presentation of the Victoria Cross to Private Hughes by King George V in 1917. Part of it is as follows:-

“In Flanders, France and Belgium, from Seine to Grecian shore,
Brave were the deeds and bright the hopes of boys we’ll see no more.
‘Mongst them times forty thousand men picked out from Ireland’s sons,
Who went to fight the Austrians, the Bulgars, Turks and Huns,
How few returned with due reward their valour to repay,
But Thomas Hughes of Corravoo, V.C., is here to-day.
A Blayney man whose noble deeds uphold our country’s pride,
Who saved his comrades, took the gun, cast thought of self aside,
And changed defeat to victory in blood-soaked trenches when,
He ranked with bravest of the brave — the Connaught Rangers men.
Tom Hughes was reared where sun at dawn makes shadows lightly fall,
Across Fincarn’s ancient hill so sacred to us all;
For there tradition tells an Irish hero proudly rests,
Strong Finn McCool, the warrior, enshrined in Irish breasts,
Near by the road in Lackafin, beside lone Corravoo,
Remains of Irish chiefs are found in cromlech plain to view,
Among these scenes his youth was passed, no recreant was he,
For when his chance to fight arrived he well won his V.C.

He faced grim death while all around like Autumn leaves men fell,
He fought good fight and gained the day despite the raging hell
Of bullets, bayonets, shrapnel, Jack Johnson’s gas set free.
Now raise three cheers, and three times three, for Thomas Hughes V.C.!”

 VC Portraits Exhibition
Minister for the Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD, saw the plaque for Private Hughes during a visit to Glasnevin Cemetery for a different event on Sunday. On Monday last week she opened an exhibition at the County Library in Clones. It explains the stories of nineteen Ulstermen who fought in the British Army and Navy during the Great War and whose heroic actions were acknowledged with the awarding of a Victoria Cross.

  Two of them are from County Monaghan, Private Thomas Hughes, who is buried in Broomfield and Sergeant (later Major) David Nelson from Stranooden.

  The Ulster Scots Agency commissioned a series of portraits of the soldiers by the County Antrim artist Philip Armstrong. These have been included in the exhibition. It is open to the public during normal library hours and will remain there until 5th December, when it will move to Carrickmacross Civic Offices until the New Year.

  In her speech Minister Humphreys said that as Minister with responsibility for the Ulster-Scots Agency, she was particularly pleased to be present as they remembered and marked the achievements of these gallant Ulstermen, who received the Victoria Cross in World War I and and to launch officially the Ulster Scots Great War Exhibition of paintings commemorating the occasion.

  She said it was amazing to listen to the tales of the courageous 19 Ulster V.C. heroes of the Great War. It was worth remembering that the Victoria Cross was the highest award of the United Kingdom honours system and was awarded for heroic bravery “in the face of the enemy”.

  Referring to Sergeant David Nelson of ‘L’ Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, she said his award was one of the earliest VCs of the Great War. He won the distinction at the young age of 28 for his bravery and actions at Néry near Compiegne in northern France. Born at Deraghland in Stranooden, near Threemilehouse in County Monaghan in 1886, Nelson joined the Royal Field Artillery in 1904 as a regular soldier. He transferred to the Royal Horse Artillery and was promoted to Bombardier with ‘L’ Battery on 3rd April 1910 and to Sergeant on 5th August 1914 ….

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