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Sheehan O'Connor family from Cork -- seven served on the Western Front
A family goes to war
A museum display case (item 1) showing a collection of memorabilia, photographs and artefacts, relating to the seven Sheehan O'Connor family members who served in the Great War on the Western Front, followed by 24 photographs (items 2 to 25) with details of their individual stories.
Captain DD Sheehan (1873-1948) was a journalist, barrister and Member of Parliament (MP) for mid-Cork, Ireland (1901-1918). He served as Captain in the 9th Royal Munster Fusiliers (RMF) (Service) Battalion of the 16th (Irish) Division and the 2nd (Regular) RMF Battalion, with the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front in France 1915-16. Daniel Desmond Sheehan, despite being aged 41 and father of a large family, enlisted at Buttevant, county Cork in November 1914. Born near Kanturk, county Cork, his family suffered eviction in 1880 during the Land War. He championed from an early age the labourers’ cause and co-founded in 1894, the Irish Land and Labour Association, later its President. Standing on a Labour platform, he was elected in 1901 as youngest Irish MP at Westminster. DD Sheehan actively implemented the 1903 (Wyndham) Land (Purchase) Act and the 1906 Labourers (Ireland) Act, providing ten thousands of cottages on an acre of land for rural farm workers. In 1909 he launched with William O’Brien MP a new political movement, the “All-for-Ireland League”, which sought an All-Ireland Dominion Home Rule settlement with the inclusion of Ulster. At the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, DD Sheehan and his party voiced enthusiastic support for the Allied cause in Europe. In the spring and summer of 1915 he undertook the organisation of three special voluntary enlistment campaigns in Limerick, Clare and Cork and received Captaincy and company command in July. Sheehan served during 1915/16 in the trenches with the 9th RMF Battalion, which he had largely raised, on the Loos Salient in France. He was joined by six family members, including his three sons, 2nd Lieutenants Daniel J, Martin J and Michael J Sheehan. His two elder sons were killed on active service: Daniel with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) piloting a Sopwith Pup, killed near Noyelles, France, in May 1917 and Martin as observer and gunner in a Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8, killed near Cambrai, France, in October 1918. DD Sheehan’s brother-in-law Sergeant Robert O’Connor (Leinster Regiment) was killed July 1917 at Passchendaele in Belgium. His daughter Eileen (VAD nurse and ambulance driver) and his brother Private John Sheehan (Irish Guards) were severely disabled. His third son Michael, who enlisted at aged 15 1/2 (RMF), was at 16 the youngest commissioned officer in the army on the Western Front and was twice wounded (later Brigadier Michael J Sheehan OBE CBE, Indian Army, WW2 Burma Campaign). Whilst in the trenches at the front, DD Sheehan contributed a series of widely quoted articles in his own name to the Daily Express, Irish Times and Cork Constitution newspapers. Re-assigned for health reasons at the end of 1916 to the 3rd RMF (Reserve) Battalion, he acted as a Lewis gun and Anti-Gas Instructor. Due to ill-health and partial deafness from shell fire, DD Sheehan was de-commissioned from the army in January 1918, retaining the honorary rank of Captain. During the 'Irish Conscription Crisis' in April, he unequivocally denounced the British intention of imposing conscription on Ireland, in a dramatic anti-conscription speech made in the House of Commons at Westminster. He and his party did not contest the December 1918 Irish general election. Intimidations by militant extremists who opposed his earlier recruiting, necessitated that he and his family abandon their Cork city home and move to London, where Sheehan had just failed to gain election for Labour. After earlier circumstances ceased to be an impediment following the end of the Civil War, the family returned to Dublin in 1926, as his ailing wife died.