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Major William Hoey Kearney Redmond M.P.


Locre Hospice Cemetery - Isolated Grave outside the boundary of the cemetery

6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, 16th (Irish) Division

Age 56.

KIA 7.6.17

Husband of Eleanor Redmond. Nationalist Member of Parliament for Wexford since 1884. Awarded the Legion of Honour (France).

 

Early Life

He was born in 1861 in County Wexford, Ireland the son of William Archer Redmond and Mary, nee Hoey from County Wicklow. He was educated at Knockbeg College and St Patrick’s Carlow College before going onto Clongowes College in County Kildare leaving there in 1876. He was employed on a merchant vessel before he joined the Wexford Militia Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment in 1879 becoming a 2nd Lieutenant in October 1880 before he resigned in 1881.


Redmond photographed in 1912

Political Career

He resigned his commission in order to join the Irish Land League Movement, its primary aim was to abolish landlordism in Ireland and enable tenant farmers to own the land they worked on. He went to the USA with Michael Davitt, a fellow Nationalist, on a fund-raising tour and in 1883 went with his brother John on a fund-raising tour to Australia. It was while in this tour that he met and married Eleanor May Dalton. While absent from Ireland he was elected M.P. for Wexford and on his return in 1884 took up his seat in Westminster. The seat was abolished in 1885 and he was then elected for the new constituency of Fermanagh North and in the 1892 General Election was elected M.P. for the East Clare constituency which he served until his death in 1917. As an ardent nationalist and like other Irish members of parliament he hated British rule in Ireland, he was ejected from the commons on several occasions during the 1880’s and 1890’s for violent confrontations with Unionist M.P.s. In 1902 he was sentenced to three months in Kilmainham prison for inciting resistance when opposing a local eviction this was one of three occasions in which he was imprisoned for his stand. He undertook tours around the world and was impressed by the Dominion status of Canada and Australia and sought this for Ireland.

 

This debate around Irish Home rule was to lead to a crisis in 1912 with the introduction of the third Home Rule Bill. The Unionist/Loyalists in the six counties in the north formed the Ulster Volunteers to oppose the passage and implementation of the bill by force of arms. In response the nationalist movement formed the Irish Volunteer Army whose declared aim was ‘to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland’. Redmond supported the Irish volunteers and undertook a mission to Brussels to obtain arms for the volunteers. Increasing rapidly to a strength of nearly 200,000 by mid-1914, it split in September of that year over John Redmond's support for the British war effort during World War I, with the smaller group opposed to Redmond's decision retaining the name "Irish Volunteers’.


World War 1 and his War Service

His brother John called on Irish Volunteers to enlist in Irish regiments of the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions of Kitchener's New Army in the hope that this would strengthen the cause of later implementing the Home Rule Act, suspended for the duration of the war. This caused a split in the Volunteer movement and Willie Redmond was one of the first to volunteer for army service as a member of the National Volunteers. He was already in his fifties and deemed to be too old to join a fighting unit however, he aided recruitment by addressing vast gatherings of Volunteers, Hibernians and the UIL, and encouraging voluntary enlistment in support of the British and Allied war cause.

 

In November 1914 he made a famous last recruiting speech in Cork when standing at the open window of the Imperial Hotel he spoke to the crowd below: ‘I speak as a man who bears the name of a relation who was hanged in Wexford in ’98 – William Kearney. I speak as a man with all the poor ability at his command has fought the battle for self-government for Ireland since the time – now thirty-two years ago – when I lay in Kilmainham Prison with Parnell. No man who is honest can doubt the single-minded desire of myself and men like me to do what is right for Ireland. And when it comes to the question -- as it may come – of asking young Irishmen to go abroad and fight this battle, when I personally am convinced that the battle of Ireland is to be fought where many Irishmen now are – in Flanders and in France – old as I am, and grey as are my hairs, I will say ‘Don’t go, but come with me’


An illustration from the Illustrated London News depicting Willie Redmond leading his men. He refused to ride and insisted on walking with his men.

Redmond felt that he might serve Ireland best in the firing line – ‘If Germany wins, we are all endangered’. He was one of five Irish MPs who served with British army Irish Brigades, J. L. Esmonde, Stephen Gwynn, D. D. Sheehan being the others, as well as former MP Tom Kettle. In February 1915 and at he age of 53 he was commissioned as a captain in the 6th Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, he had served 33 years previously, He underwent refresher training and was posted to the 16th (Irish) Division in December 1915 and was given command of ‘B’ Company, 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment. He was Mentioned in Despatches. He rather naively believed that the shred experience of trench warfare was bringing the Unionist/Loyalist of the north closer to their ‘brothers in arms’ of the south. The 1916 Easter Rising shattered that delusion and affected him terribly. Following the British states ruthless suppression of the rising and the reaction of the people of Ireland to this, Redmond’s delusional dream was over.

 

He was promoted to Major on 15 July 1916 however, his health deteriorated and he was sent on sick leave. He made his last parliamentary speech whilst on leave in March 1917. He defended Ireland’s sacrifice and involvement in the war and petitioned the British to introduce the suspended Home Rule Act still clinging to the delusion that the war would bring the nationalist and Loyalist sides together.

 

His Death

Redmond was a divisional staff Officer and this frustrated him. In preparation for the Battle of Messines Ridge the 16th (Irish) Division were in Locre with the divisional staff housed in the convent near to the village. On the 7 June the Division was to go into action at Messines Ridge. In the days leading up to the attack Redmond had pleaded with the division’s commanding officer Major-General Hickie to allow him to go in with his Battalion. His persistence paid off and he was allowed to go but only with the third wave. Disobeying this order he joined the men of his old ‘B’ Company and went over with them. At 3.10am the British detonated nineteen mines, one of which was in front of the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiments positions at Maedelstedt Farm, that blew up many of the strong points and signalled the start of the Battle of Messines.


Linesman

The 16th (Irish) Division with the 36th (Ulster) Division on their right, took their objectives. The 16th (Irish) Division taking Petit Bois, Red Chateau, Unnamed Wood, and the Hospice west of the village of Wytschaete. As the 6th Battalion Royal Irish went forward to their first objective of Petit Bois Major Redmond was struck first in the in the wrist as he climbed out the trench and soon after he was wounded in the leg. One officer recalled that a shell exploded near to Redmond and that he fell however, at the time it was thought that his wounds were not serious. The ground were Redmond fell is between Petit Bois Wood and the Grand Bois Wood some 200 metres to the east.

 

The attack went on and the Battalion took their objective with relatively light casualties compared to other offensive, 100 men dead wounded and missing in the attack. Redmond was found in no-man’s land by a private from the 11th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers however, he was struck by shrapnel while attempting to carry Redmond to an aid post. He was later discovered by a party of stretcher bearers and was taken to the aid post at the hospice at Locre. The shock of the wounds proved too much for Redmond, a younger man it was said would have survived the wounds, and he died at 6.30pm that evening. His body was taken to the Locre convent chapel were it was laid in front of the alter. He was buried in the grounds of the convent at 6.30pm on 8 June and for many years after the war his grave was tended by the nuns of the convent.


Illustrated London News Nuns & village children at Redmond's grave

At the request of the family his grave was later exhumed and moved some 500 metres across the road to be reinterred outside the grounds of the Locre Hospice Cemetery a Celtic Cross marking the site of his grave which can be found along a 100 metre grass path on the northern side of the cemetery.


William Redmond MP Grave outside of the CWGC cemetery. Authors image

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