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Ruling the Waves: South-East Galway Men in HM’s Navy and Marines (1850 -1899)

Steve Dolan

In previous newsletters, we have highlighted the massive contribution that men from the county have made to various European armies, most notably the British Army. In this edition we have collated a list of the men from South-East Galway who contributed to the Royal Navy (and the Royal Marines) in the latter half of the nine-teenth century. While those from the west of the county and the city make up the majority of those enlisting from the county, there were nonetheless a large number of recruits from further inland.
The expansion of the British Empire from the eighteenth century owed as much to the dominance of the Royal Navy, as to perhaps any other military or indeed political factor. The Navy held an overwhelming advantage over all other national or even combined fleets and ruthlessly dispatched any power that threatened that domi-nance. The Navy also protected the world's seaways from pirates and they truly did ‘rule the waves’. The role of Irish Seamen in that history has largely been an untold story.
As far back as the mid-eighteenth century, Galwaymen were volunteering in HM’s Navy. As tension with France rose, King George II made a proclamation encouraging seamen to join HM's ships of war. A bounty of 30 shillings for every able-bodied seaman between the ages of 20 and 50 and soon Galwaymen set off to battle the French! Regional newspapers reported that “the churchyard boys of Galway, to their honour let it be said, as soon as they heard of his majesty’s proclamation... offered themselves (as) Volunteers to serve on board the fleet… in a few days 200 may be lifted”.
While the numbers thereafter enlisting appears erratic, by the early part of the nineteenth century men from Gal-way were volunteering to the Navy, and also to the Marines in sizeable numbers. Among those enlisting in the Marines in the opening decades were men the likes of George Halloran (aged 17) from Carraban (Carrabane) and John Eagan (21) from Teenaugh (Tynagh) who enlisted in 1809; Patrick Glynn (31) from Beaugh (Beagh) in 1811; John Malone (28) from Grange (New Inn ) in 1812; and Hugh Moran (25) from Dunirey (Duniry) in 1813. All of these Galwaymen had made their way to Kent in England, before enlisting at Chatham Dockyard.

The numbers of men from the county enlisting increased from the middle of the century and the following is a breakdown of 42 men from south-east Galway who enlisted in the Royal Navy in second half of the nineteenth century. The year given as ‘from’ below is generally, though not always, the year of initial volunteering.

Surname, Name Number Place of Birth Birth From NA Ref (ADM)

Marshall, John 003807 Athenlen 1839 1853 139/39/3807
Brunskill, Persie N 012765 Loughrea 1836 1854 139/128/12765
Flanagan, James Patrick 015100 Loughrea 1835 1854 139/151/15100
Ford, John 014647 Ballinasloe 1838 1854 139/147/14647
Fallon, Bryan 024365 Kilconnal 1822 1855 139/244/24365
Tracey, Michael 024914 Loughrea 1838 1855 139/250/24914
O'Shaughnessy, Thomas 21011A Ardrahan 1843 1861 139/611/21011
Ward, George 15640A Kinvara 1840 1861 139/557/15640
Garrity, John 38483A Ashcre 1838 1866 139/785/38483
Ryan, Edward 38082A Bullaun 1851 1866 139/781/38082
Clarke, William 03003B Kilclooney 1852 1867 139/831/3
Miller, Henry 04946B Ballamacourt 1837 1868 139/850/4946
Kelly, Patrick 09217B Athenry 1845 1869 139/893/9217
Howden, William 11054B Portumna 1840 1870 139/911/11054
Pierce, Thomas 11405B Athenry 1854 1870 139/915/11405
Sheppelle, Henry 12609B Ballinsloe 1854 1870 139/927/12609
Flynn, Patrick 081223 Athanry 1857 1873 188/74/81223
Gormlay, Charles 052019 LoughRee 1851 1873 188/25/52019
Griffin, Patrick 049767 Ballyvaughan 1853 1873 188/21/49767
Larty, Joseph 082004 Gort 1857 1873 188/75/82004
Gilligan, Michael 089467 Craughwell 1859 1874 188/95/89467
Burns, John 090623 Tynigh 1845 1875 188/97/90623
Mellick, George 107074 Gort 1863 1878 188/129/107074
Connolly, Patrick Joseph 110165 Kilbiacanty 1864 1879 188/135/110165
Dunne, Joseph 147115. Loughrea 1872 1888 188/209/147115
Bermingham, William 148685 Ballindernn 1872 1889 188/212/148685
Hehir, Michael 157532 Gort 1874 1890 188/230/157532
Flynn, Thomas 178779 Ballymacward 1878 1894 188/295/178779
Kelly, Thomas 276431 Killeen 1870 1894 188/439/276431
Sinnott, Patrick Joseph 350098 Gort 1871 1894 188/529/350098
O'Beirne, John Joseph 280158 Ballinasloe 1876 1895 188/447/280158
McDonald, Alexander 182682 Mountshannon 1877 1895 188/305/182682
O'Connell, Daniel Michael 283266 Lochray 1874 1896 188/453/283266
Healy, Malachy 282827 Loughrea 1872 1896 188/452/282827
Hodgens, Peter 283562 Ballinstoa 1874 1896 188/454/283562
Flynn, John 195259 Ballymackward 1881 1897 188/337/195259
Hopkins, Michael 194539 Portama 1881 1897 188/335/194539
Leith, James Cootes 193708 Ballinasloe 1882 1897 188/333/193708
Carroll, Patrick 287727 Loughsea 1875 1898 188/462/287727
O'Sullivan, Frederick Ralph 001860 Ballinasloe 1878 1898 340/105/7
Williams, Charles Price 199203 Portumna 1881 1898 188/345/199203
Warren, Richard 342558 Ballinasloe 1875 1899 188/518/342558

The following is a list of those enlisting in the Royal Marines from 1850:

Carrick, Lawrence 111113 Kilcolyun 1836 1854 157/1310/111
Kirk, Martin 182185 Loughrea 1834 1858 157/1362/182
Moran, John 294296 Ballinasloe 1838 1858 157/1306/294
O’Neil, Martin 001002 Bahe, Gort 1838 1863 157/1144/1
Slater, Robert 019020 Caraban 1832 1863 157/1148/19

The majority of these men gave their local major town as their place of birth (Loughrea and Ballinasloe most prominently), but with an even spread across the south-east Galway region. The list excludes those who just pro-vided ‘Co Galway’ as their home, at least some of whom would have been from the east of the county.
In all, 26 of the 47 listed men were teenagers, with the average age on enlisting just 20 years - somewhat higher than in other areas of the county.The youngest listed was John Marshall, who was a mere fourteen years, six months and three days when he volunteered to the navy on the 28 September 1853. As with the vast majority of those in the regular army in this period, these men were almost exclusively ‘Labourers’ before ‘attestation’.
In terms of the Royal Marines, the first two listed men are known to have survived to discharge in somewhat tolerable health. Firstly, Lawrence Carrick from Kilcolgan was discharged aged 30 having reached his service period limit – in his case, 12 years. Secondly, Loughrea’s Martin Kirk was the only one of the 47 who reached the maximum length of service allowed, that of 21 years, in the year 1879. It should be noted that some men from other parts of the county bought themselves out of service for a charge in this period also.
Of the men who survived the harsh existence, disease, and the naval battles, many were in poor health and so were discharged for that reason. Two men who had attested at Woolwich, and were discharged in 1863, were Martin O’Neil from Beagh (‘Bahe, Gort’) aged 25 after five years’ service and Robert Slater from Carrabane (Kilconierin) aged 31 after ten years’ service.
It was all too common for men like O’Neill to be invalided for illness ‘contracted in the service’. Slater, prior to his discharge, had the honour of serving aboard HMS Victory (right) and his refusal to engage in a mutiny aboard HMS Edgar in April 18605 speaks to his character. Ballinasloe’s John Moran was also discharged ‘invalided’ the next year (1864), aged 26.
It is evident that men from south and east Galway were ever-present in the British naval forces throughout the nineteenth century, and while the Officers from our region are much documented (e.g. the decorated Wilson Rathbourne), too often the contribution made by the many so called ‘ordinary’ Seamen are ignored. These were ordinary Galwaymen, who gave extraordinary service. "Bíonn súil le muir ach ní bhíonn súil le tír".

This Chronicle was created using information originally published in the South East Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter No. 16

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