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Plaque unveiled to Donegal First World War hero

Staff Reporter

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Staff Reporter

Plaque unveiled to Donegal First World War hero

A plaque has been unveiled in Letterkenny to commemorate the only Donegal man who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.

James Duffy was born in Crolly in 1889 and moved to Letterkenny as a child. He was awarded the VC for his actions as a stretcher bearer during service in Palestine while serving with the 6th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

While taking part in a British infantry offensive on Jerusalem in December 1917 he saved two wounded men by carrying them over his shoulder while under enemy fire. Another stretcher bearer lost his life in the incident which occurred at  Kereina Peak.

James Duffy returned to Letterkenny after the war and lived in Drumany. He worked at Rodden’s Bar on the town’s main street, the location of Dillon’s Hotel today.

The blue plaque, which was placed by the Ulster History Circle with financial support from the Ulster-Scots Agency,  was unveiled by James Duffy’s daughter, Mrs. Nellie

O’Donnell. It was unveiled on a building on Castle Street in the Cathedral Quarter, the offices of local barrister Peter Nolan,  close to where he worked.

In words read by her daughter Evelyn Gallagher, Nellie O’Donnell said it was a very proud day for the Duffy family.

“My father was a very kind and humble man. He liked a spot of fishing on the river Swilly and enjoyed a wee whiskey in Rodden's bar, Letterkenny and later the Dry Arch Bar his home in Drumany.”

Speaking at the unveiling of the plaque,  Judith McCarthy, Curator of Donegal County Museum, said  James Duffy, like many other Donegal soldiers, carried a pouch of Gartan clay with him during the war. The clay is said to have been blessed by Colmcille and possesses special powers including keeping the person carrying the clay safe on journeys.

At a reception at the Donegal County Museum, poet and writer Hillary Rolston read a poem about James Duffy which referred to the hostility he faced when he returned home.

“But I came back and each 11th of November, I went to Derry to remember my fallen comrades of the Inniskilling Fusiliers. It was there I had no fear of being shunned or spat upon, like they did to me in my own town, to their eternal shame.”

James Duffy is one of four Irish recipients of the Victoria Cross who are to have stones unveiled in their honour at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin this weekend.