There are many stories of brothers being killed fighting in the same war. No account of Galway military families could be complete without referring to the Furey brothers from Loughrea.
Although various military records have been explored, they have not yielded definite evidence to substantiate the following story. However, there is other evidence available that simply cannot be ignored that indicates that this family contributed, and suffered more than most, in the horror of the Great War of 1914-18.
Under the heading ‘A Brave Galway Family, A Loughrea Batch Of Heroes’ The Tuam Herald of 28 August 1915, published a shocking account of ten brothers from Loughrea who had enlisted for service on the Western Front. At the time, it was reported that five of them had already been killed. According to the newspaper article, a similar report had been published previously in the Daily News and the Leader by J. Doughlas.
The reporter stated that the story was being recorded so that every man, woman and child in the empire would be able to admire the matchless self-sacrifice and duty done by ‘humble souls’. He also stated that it was published to ensure that King George V would be aware of their sacrifice and to have them honoured among the great soldiers of the empire.
The brothers were the children of William and Mary Furey of Loughrea. William was originally from Tynagh and had served in the Connaught Rangers for 21 years. He died in 1903. Mary was a member of the Ward family from Ballinasloe. She was 17 years old when she married William Furey in Ballinasloe on 11 October 1873. According to documents relating to the family, they also had three daughters – Bridget, Elizabeth and Catherine.
The report described Mary Furey as a mourning widow whose image should be ‘…chiselled in marble like the mourning widows of the great Serbian sculptor, Mestrovic.’ However, she was a quiet, reserved lady who did not wish to have the story of her sons made public. Nevertheless, the reporter felt that it was too tragic and courageous to be ignored, so he published the story and included an apology to her for doing so.
It was while recovering from wounds in Kinsale that her son, John had informed the reporter, J. Doughlas of the fate of his brothers. His commanding officer, Colonel Lewin D.S.O., had encouraged him to talk to the reporter.
According to John, all of the brothers were mobilised in August 1914 and five of them had already been killed somewhere in Flanders or France. He also stated that his mother was dreading the first anniversary of the war and it was his sincere wish to be with her on that day.
John Furey’s statement that five of his brothers had been killed was confirmed almost two years later in The Tuam Herald of 30 June 1917. This report stated: ‘From wounds received in action, William Furey (Inniskillings), a native of Loughrea, died in Derry. There were eight brothers in the army, six of them have now fallen, leaving a widowed mother, but leaving Loughrea an imperishable record of courage and loyalty.
According to the first report, the brothers who lost their lives included Malachy, killed in action at Ypres on 7 April 1915; Martin Francis; Willie; Henry and Willie John, all Connaught Rangers. The surviving brothers included Michael and Edward, both Royal Irish Rifles. The latter was wounded at Mons, while Martin, John and Thomas were captured.
The last three brothers were reported as Connaught Rangers. One immediate problem with the reports is that three of the brothers have or were called by the same name, Willie – Willie John and William. This seems unlikely, but it is equally unlikely that their brother would have given inaccurate when naming his own brothers. Or did the reporter simply record the names inaccurately?
Nevertheless, if both newspaper accounts are accurate, then this means that six brothers were killed. The state birth records give a number of home addresses for the Furey family in Loughrea, with ‘The Hill’ being the main location. Bride Street is another address recorded for this family.
Another soldier, Private Alick Furey – 4240, of the First Connaught Rangers was recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being killed in action on 7 April 1915. He was 18 years of age at the time and was the son of William and Mary Furey of Bride Street Loughrea. His death is recorded for the same date that Malachy Furey was reported killed. Given that the names of the parents and the address are the same, is this the same man, with the name recorded inaccurately, or was he a seventh ‘unnamed’ brother to be killed? The following poem in memory of these brothers was composed by Eamonn McNally from Loughrea:
The Final Bell
The hammering sounds of the thinsmiths last, the bantam crows at will.
The piebald pony prances, on the rocky stony hill.
The fiery headed youngsters, who raced around boreen come.
And the women who stood at the doorways, when the final bell was rung
The flashing light on bayonets, that jerks the youthful mind
The love of an adventure, and the loved ones left behind
Like bluebells on the lakeshore, on that April sunny day
The young enlisted foolish, left, to give their lives away.
All the Fuery’s have enlisted, they have answered to the call
They will fight for king and country, in the nineteen fourteen brawl
Their widowed mother stood beside them, as they line up from the crowd
Somehow through her sadness, she felt, their father would have been proud
There was John, and Tom, and Mikie, and their brother Willie John
And young Edward who got accepted, when he put his long trousers on.
Their mother was there weeping as they marched down to the glen
The Fureys have enlisted, her little boys are fighting men
The marching sounds from soldier’s boots, as they set along the way
Down Barrack street and cross west-bridge, to the outskirts of Loughrea
The sun was shining in their face, the drum was beating loud
They’ll fight for king and country, it would make their old man proud
Tomorrow all the rabbits, can rest on Knock Ash Hill
The half bread one-eyed greyhound, has preformed his final kill
And the half stripped naked fighters, who fought like the great John L
They’re all memories now, of life that was then, before that final bell.
One would think that such a tragedy occurring in one family would be well known and equally well recorded. If it is true, then why was the story ignored for so many years? Perhaps the answer is similar to other soldiers of the Great War, in that their sacrifice was not recognised because of the change in public opinion following the 1916 Rebellion and the War of Independence.
It is common knowledge among the people in Loughrea that the Furey brothers were members of the travelling community. This comes as no surprise, as many members of this community did indeed enlist for service in the Great War and several of them were killed.
It is also no surprise that the contribution and sacrifice made by these men was forgotten. One well-known member of this community who survived the war was Martin Ward from Ballinasloe. When he enlisted in Ballinasloe, he boasted that he was the best ‘scrapper’ in Ireland. In an interview many years later, he said that his proudest moment was when he marched into the Rhineland in 1918, happy in the knowledge that the people of Belgium were free again. The recruiting officers had certainly done their job well.
After the war, he was honourably discharged from the army and returned to travelling the roads of Connacht, where he plied his trade as a tinsmith. When he passed away in 1951, it was reported that this man who was ‘born on the side of the road, had lived all his life on the roads, except for four years that he spent in the trenches of the Western Front, and eventually died on the side of the road’.
Some years ago, a military historian told an interviewer that members of the Irish Travelling Community were a welcome addition to the British Army during the Great War. He said that British officers were delighted to have these people serve in their ranks, as they could suffer the brutality and hardships of trench life without much complaining.
Events of note: On Saturday last 10 November, a plaque was unveiled at the County Council Offices, Barrack Street, Loughrea to the sacrifice and dedication of the Furey brothers. Ms Marie Mannion, Heritage Officer Galway County Council, and Councillor Mr Moegie Maher, former mayor of Galway, were coordinators of the event.
The St Bridget’s Terrace Residents’ Association are organising a Christmas party for 14 December at 8pm in the Western Hotel, Prospect Hill. (Sit-down meal €15) It is part of the 100 year anniversary celebrations and tickets are available from Brian Kennedy on 091-562495.