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3/8826 Rfn Edward Donnelly, 1st Royal Irish Rifles

Letter an War Office message


    • Message from the War Office ; Letter written 7 June 1916
    • 3/8826 Rfn Edward Donnelly. Born at 19 Beaver Street, Dublin, 8 November 1891, the son of James and Ann Donnelly. He was the youngest of a family of six children: Ellen, Michael (1869), Mary Ann (1883), Nora (1884), John (1887), and Ned. His father was a labourer with the Dublin Glass Bottle Works and his mother reared pigs in their back yard and sold seconds of military equipment purchased from the Junior Army and Navy Store. They all resided at 50 Railway Street in one of the poorest areas of the city and notorious for its red-light district. When he was fifteen he went to Philadelphia, having been invited over by an uncle. This was his chance for a better life but he was too homesick and returned home within eighteen months. He trained as an electrician and became great friends with James Thompson Taylor who lived around the corner in Foley Street. James, the son of Scots Presbyterian immigrants, became infatuated with Ned’s sister, Nora, but she would not allow him to court her, as she was a Roman Catholic. Secretly, James took religious instruction and was baptized at Gardiner Street Church in 1910. His father created a furore with the church authorities over this as James was only nineteen and had not received his parent’s permission to convert. Eventually a settlement was reached, James and Nora being married on 8 January 1911 with Ned as the best man and Katie Devereux as bridesmaid. Ned married Katie’s sister, Mary Ellen Devereux (b. Govan, 28.2.1891), at the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 19 June 1912. She was the daughter of Matthew Devereux, 15 Upper Buckingham Street, Dublin. Ned continued with his work and, in October 1915, he and two friends were sent by their employer to complete an electrical contract in Govan, Glasgow. One evening in a bar, while they were well under the influence, they were approached by a group of women who handed them white feathers. This was an accusation of cowardice and the three men responded by immediately enlisting. Ned had no fondness for his employer and it did not take much for him to consider another option. Indeed, in a letter to James sent from the trenches, he advised: ‘If I was you I would stick the job you are in. I have been in the other one and I know it does not pay. You know the way the Gaffers in it treated me. I was never out of trouble. You can never do enough work day and night for less money than the job you have. When this war is over I am not going to work for him again.’ He went to 3rd RIR at Portobello Barracks, Dublin, for training and got caught up in the 1916 Easter Rebellion. After the rebellion he was posted to No. 9 Platoon, C Coy, 1st RIR. In May 1916, he wrote home describing the Albert Basilica: ‘I just came out of the trenches this morning and I feel very tired. We did not have a very bad time, only for the mud and rain I would not mind it. I wish you’d seen this place where we were. There is a chapel and it had a spire of the Blessed Virgin holding our Lord in her arms. The Germans shelled it and the Blessed Virgin got struck. She is bent over with her face towards the ground still holding our Lord.’ Another letter followed: ‘I am still alive thank God. We had a very bad night on Saturday. We were out digging when the Germans shelled us. I don’t want you to think that they were bursting all around me; none came near, no. You should have seen our artillery at them. It was interesting looking at the shells going over to them. We could see them going through the air. This place is nothing like what I expected. There are times you would think there was no war on at all. Just now there is some artillery firing but it is over our heads. Fellows that have been here a long time say this place is one of the worst. It is nothing like what you would read in the newspapers; but maybe I have not been here long enough for to see it. The only thing I miss is dry ground. Everywhere, without telling lies, is covered with mud. In the trenches we are standing in about 2 foot 6 inches of it … They had a great time at home. They saw an aeroplane. I wish you had seen the Germans trying to hit one of our aeroplanes. They are all deserving of a VC for the chances they take … I found a Scotch woman’s address in a stocking I was given and a Glasgow fellow wrote to her and she sent him a big parcel of grub.’ KIA at Ovillers on 1 July 1916. A comrade reported that he was hit by shrapnel in no-man’s-land during the attack and lost part of his foot. He was placed in a shell-hole but was buried alive by a subsequent explosion and officially reported as wounded and missing. His body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. His daughter Alice Ellen was born 26 November 1916 but she died of bronchitis 12 December 1918. His widow lived at 73 Melrose Terrace, Lower Gloucester Street, Dublin. A brother, 42638 Pte John Donnelly, survived service with 99 Company, Machine Gun Corps, although his wife also died in the epidemic. Their brother-in-law, 9461 Pte George Wolfe, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died in Belgium, 10 May 1915, a week after he had arrived in the trenches for the first time. His only son, John, was reared by Nora Taylor. They had all resided at the same address




  • Temporal:

    • 2013-11-28 10:48:13 UTC
  • Place/Time:

    • Western Front


  • Source:

    • User contributed content
  • Identifier:

    • 10417
  • Institution:

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  • Providing country:

  • First published in Europeana:

    • 2014-01-10
  • Last updated in Europeana:

    • 2016-07-27

References and relations


  • Place/Time:

    • Western Front
  • Subjects, resource types, genres and forms (Concepts)