Luke O'Connor (1831-1915) was the first ever soldier to receive the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award.
Born in Kilcroy, Hillstreet (the house now occupied by a distant relative) his family were evicted from their farm in 1839 and emigrated to Canada the hope of a better life in the New World. Tragedy struck, with Cholera killing both of his parents and a sibling en route; his father died at sea, and his mother and a baby brother succumbed immediately upon their arrival at Grosse Isle, Quebec. It was decided Luke should return to Ireland with his eldest sister to live with their maternal uncle in Boyle. (His other siblings remained in North America and some fought in the American Civil War). Luke's obituary in The Irish Times [6 February 1915] tells us that his Gannon relatives "possessed a small estate called Clooneraff...a grocery shop and a hotel in Boyle".
Luke recalled his time in Boyle in his autobiography:
"It was not strange that my earliest ideas had a military tendency, for Roscommon is famous for giving soldiers to the service, and, indeed, many of my own relatives have served in the army all over the world. My first and greatest delight was in playing at soldiers and drilling other children in the street; also occasionally making raids into the barracks, in defiance of the sentries, instead of attending school, for which I often received a severe thrashing. Little did I then think that later in life I should become a captain commanding a two-company detachment in the same quarters."
In 1847, Luke joined the British army, enlisting in the 17th Lancers. By the age of 23, he was a sergeant in the 23rd Regiment of Foot (later The Royal Welch Fusiliers) who were part of the British force sent to the Crimea.
In 1854, at the Crimean Battle of the Alma, Sergeant O'Connor was also shot but fought on. At the assault on the Redan (8 September 1855) he was shot through both thighs, yet again acted with great gallantry.
When the Victoria Cross was created in 1856, O'Connor was one of 62 Crimean veterans invested with it and the first recipient from the Army, (as opposed to the Royal Navy). His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum in Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd, Wales.
He was granted the Distinguished Service Reward and retired on March 2nd, 1887 with the rank of Major General. Luke was created a CB in 1900 and a KCB in 1913. In 1914, he was appointed honourary Colonel of his old regiment.
Sir Luke never forgot his humble upbringing. He gifted to the Roman Catholic Church in Elphin, a beautiful baptismal font and tabernacle light. The Old St.Joseph's Church in Boyle (destroyed by fire in 1974) had also been gifted a baptismal font by him. In his will, Sir Luke remembered the local nuns in Boyle and Elphin, as well as other religious institutions. He admired their charitable work and commitment to the local community.
|Date of Birth||21st Jan 1831|
|Date of Death||1st Feb 1915|
|Associated Building (s)||Old Barracks BOYLE, King House BOYLE|
|Mother (First Name/s and Maiden)||Mary Gannon|
|Father (First Name/s and Surname)||James O'Connor (born 1800)|
|Townland born||Kilcroy, Hillstreet, County Roscommon.|
|Names of Siblings||Catherine O'Connor (1816-1907) US| Patrick O'Connor 1818-1869 US| Margaret O'Connor 1820-1902 US | Michael / Owen O'Connor (?) | Thomas O'Connor 1828 - 1899 US |Mary O'Connor (?) b.1832 | Daniel O'Connor 1834-1925 US.|
|Occupation||British Army Major General|
|Place of Death||Died at Clarges Street, London. Interred at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Rise, London.||VIEW SOURCE|
|Biography: Sir Luke O'Connor||Ireland||VIEW SOURCE|