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“YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU” – was the message from Lord Horatio Kitchener, as he invited young men to go to war!
He was a Kerryman, born in Ballylongford, near Listowel.
The first and only person to ever speak with me about his experience in the First World War was the late Christopher Ledwidge.
Born at the Old Spa on 18th August 1901, he went to England looking for work at the age of 14.
Christopher had saved his fare out of the four pence halfpenny an hour which he earned in Hills Mills, while pointing the roof of the mill with his father.
On going to England:
“What a fright I got on that journey. When I got to the boat one of the crew handed me a life belt and said ‘Put that on and keep it there. Your life depends on yourself now’. I had never seen the sea or a boat before. I had a look towards the stern of the boat. There was another crewman and he had a large gun. I was frightened with what the other said about the safety belt, but I watched for a while. He threw what looked like a wooden box into the sea, and as we went on he fired 3 shots at it, but did not hit it. I think myself and most other people where shivering by this time.
I don’t know exact dates, but there was one of these boats sank with a heavy loss of life and the name of that boat was the ‘Lusitania’. But thank God we made it alright. I have just about got over the fright.”
(The Luisitania was sunk on the 7th May 1915)
Soon he found himself serving in the Royal Irish Rifles in France, where he was wounded, and spent much of the war in hospital in Belgium. After hostilities ceased in 1918, Christopher’s unit was disbanded, and he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch where he was posted to Germany, eventually taking part in World War II.
He came back to Lucan in 1997. His memories of life at the beginning of the 20th century were those of great poverty. He recalled his father getting bits of work wherever he could, and his mother picking potatoes in fields between Tandy’s Lane and the Celbridge Road. The second of seven children, he left school and joined her in the fields at the age of 9.
It was surprising to hear of such poverty in Lucan, given that we had Hill’s and Shackleton’s Mills at the time. For Christopher and his brothers and sisters, the only way out was to take the boat.
Christopher died on January 9th 1999 aged 97.
There may well have been great poverty in Lucan, but the War did have an upside.
Hills got a large contract for uniforms for the allied forces.