Old Connie – he fought with valour but who ever knew?

Old Connie – he fought with valour but who ever knew?
He served in the First World War in France 1914 to 1918 but he never spoke of it. Rumour went that he was not a real soldier but was a batman or servant to a General. Here Sally Neary tells, in her own unique way, the story of Connie Hegarty, from Dunkineely, who did indeed fight in World War One, but as was so often the case in Ireland, the fact that he did was rarely, if ever spoken about. She concludes by suggesting it is past time we remembered people like Connie Hegarty.

He served in the First World War in France 1914 to 1918 but he never spoke of it. Rumour went that he was not a real soldier but was a batman or servant to a General. Here Sally Neary tells, in her own unique way, the story of Connie Hegarty, from Dunkineely, who did indeed fight in World War One, but as was so often the case in Ireland, the fact that he did was rarely, if ever spoken about. She concludes by suggesting it is past time we remembered people like Connie Hegarty.

A black Stanley 7 range was the centre-piece of our kitchen; it warmed the entire house; all our meals were cooked on it and the oven baked the two scones of bread which fed our family of ten, our parents and eight children. The kitchen boasted one comfortable armchair, which placed near the range, was usually the preserve of the adults or a child returning from playing outdoors in the cold, would be told, “Sit down there and warm yourself. You’re foundered”.

This was the seat offered to Old Connie on his daily visits. Tea would be served hot and sweet accompanied by the freshly baked bread. Conversation was limited and polite. No Connie had come to read our daily news paper and preferred a quiet kitchen.

Once, during a school holiday period when all our family were home, the resultant noise discommoded Connie so much he put the paper down, turned to my mother and said, “Mrs Galvin, if I am ever asked if I spent time in an asylum, I can say no. But I did spend a morning in Galvin’s kitchen”.

Connie, always known as Old Connie, to differentiate from his nephew of the same name, was no more than 5ft two or three, neat and dapper in his dress and always wore a cravat. He read extensively, using small round spectacles, and although his voice never rose to argue a point, he gave the impression of having knowledge beyond the confines of our small parish in south Donegal.

Into battle

It was known he served in the First World War in France 1914 to 1918 but he never spoke of it. Rumour went that he was not a real soldier but was a batman or servant to a General.

Connie Hegarty, born in Dunkineely in 1891 joined the British army 6th Brigade Royal Fusiliers, in Glasgow under the name, Conn Haggerty, then aged 22 on the 1st September 1914 and went to fight in the Great War in France.

Witnesses spoke of unrelenting cannon noise. I wonder how the 8,000 men and women from Donegal who took part in the war, adjusted; they had, in all probability, never heard anything louder than the beat of the threshing machine or the pounding of the Atlantic.

1,200 of that 8.000 lost their lives.

Familiar names such as Mc Hugh, Mc Nern, O’Donnell, Gallagher, Scott, Wilson and Walker, are commemorated in memorials in France, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, England and other countries throughout the world.

The survivors returned to a different Ireland.

While they were fighting in Europe the 1916 Rising saw the Irish nation separate from the Empire and although men from differing Irish communities stood side by side in the trenches, it must have been strange to return home not to a victor’s welcome but a silent denial of their sacrifice.

One family from Inver, James and Ann Mc Cready lost their three sons, Robert, Francis and Andrew. Although the memories of the fallen were commemorated by the protestant faiths, the wider community viewed fighting for the British army almost as a betrayal of our emerging national identity. The Mc Cready family’s terrible loss could only be spoken of softly; their grief borne privately.

What of Connie?

He remained in the army until 1926 when he returned home to Donegal. Initially he worked in Boyle’s grocery and was known as a friendly and genial shop assistant. In the 1950s and 60s he worked as a compeer and caretaker of the ‘Ballroom of Romance’ St. Mary’s dance hall Dunkineely.

He lived quietly in a little cottage near what was the old cow mart in Dunkineely and was cared for by his late sister in law and niece prior to his death in the mid 60’s.

Few knew of his valour and courage. His medals, the British War Medal, Victory medal and Meritorious medal are now passed on to his relatives. The glowing reference given to him on his discharge form the army was never shown. For the remainder of his life he carried it in his breast pocket, along with the ‘Dunkineely Roll Of Service’ which listed the names of those who served, many of whom were listed as ‘Killed in Action’ or ‘Missing’. Connie’s only nod to a different life was the name he choose for his cottage ‘Mont la Vache’ It is past time we remembered.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.