One hundred years ago last Thursday, Thomas O’Shea died at home with his family in Labasheeda, just a few days after he arrived home from fighting in World War 1. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh spoke to his grandson Charlie O’Shea about his story and the war.
For Charlie O’Shea, it was an extra-proud moment, even though he’s been no stranger to moments like these over the years in Labasheeda Church and beyond.
It was New Year’s Day and O’Shea sang in his local church, in tribute to and in memory of his grandfather, who like himself was a soldier and served in foreign parts.
The difference was that while Charlie O’Shea came home safe and sound from his peacekeeping duties with the Irish Army, Thomas O’Shea didn’t live to tell the tale, dying soon after World War 1 ended and thus paying the ultimate sacrifice after enlisting.
“I was very proud singing in the church on New Year’s Day, when there were prayers said for the repose of his soul,” says Charlie O’Shea, 100 years after his grandfather’s death.
“Fr Tom McGrath celebrated the mass that was dedicated to my grandfather and his family. I sang all the hymns and was delighted to do so, while I also went to his grave 100 years to the day of his death to mark the centenary. It was very important to do that,” he adds.
Thomas O’Shea died on 3 January, 1919, less than two months after the war had ended and just days after he made it home to Ireland, to West Clare and to his home place of Labasheeda, before he finally became a casualty of war after what turned out to be a very short goodbye.
O’Shea was one of 13 from the county to die in 1919 as wartime became peacetime and as the world counted the cost of a conflict that should never have started and even after it had should never have dragged on as long as it did.
Thomas O’Shea was one of five people from Labasheeda to die in World War 1 — the first three died in the opening months of the war.
Brothers Edward Lucitt (30) and John Lucitt (22), both of whom were in the Irish Guards, perished on 14 September and 6 November respectively.
Michael O’Neill (26), who was another member of the Irish Guards from the village, also died on 6 November, 1914. Meanwhile, the last casualty from Labasheeda before Tom O’Shea’s passing was the third Lucitt brother, Joseph (29), who died on 14 April in Tralee, where his father, Edmond Lucitt, a former RIC sergeant in Labasheeda, resided.
Others from Labasheeda to serve in the war included Sinon Edward Callanan, who enlisted in the US military as a 21-year-old in 1918; Michael Furey, a veteran of the second Boer War, who joined the Royal Tanks Corps in 1916 and William Joseph McMahon, who enlisted in the Australian Army as a 29-year-old in 1914.
Then there were the O’Sheas, gunner Thomas O’Shea’s two brothers, who also served, but who survived the war and came back to live in the area after the war.
“There was Jimmy O’Shea — he got badly injured and ended up with a very bad walk— and there was Mick, they used to call him ‘The Bull’ Shea,” reveals Charlie.
“Jimmy lived in Labasheeda and he had a pony and trap and Mick ‘The Bull’ stayed with his sister Nora Staunton. They lived reasonably long lives after the war but we didn’t really hear many stories from the war.
“It was very hard for me to know anything about my grandfather because my father didn’t really know anything. My father was the oldest of five when his father died — he was only nine, so he really knew nothing about him, but whatever he knew he never got a chance to tell me because I went away to the army myself when I was young.
“He was a gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was born in 1883 to a family of 12, with three of them going to war.
“All I really know is that my grandfather was just 36. He survived the war but died as a result of the war and the injuries he received. No one knows whether it was from a bullet, or whether it was disease, but he died four days after coming home.
“It’s only in recent years, maybe going back for the last 10 years, that we have gathered a bit of information. When my father wasn’t able to gather much about his father, it was very hard for me to find it.
“When he died, he was back at home in Labasheeda with his wife Ellen (nee Breen) and his five children. I knew my grandmother, as she lived until 1970 and she told me stories, but didn’t tell me the main details of the war because I was too young and maybe it would be too much trauma for me.
“She was looked after by the British. The British Army did something that the Irish Army did — they looked after people who had fought for them. Not alone their soldiers, but they looked after the people that came after them,” he adds.
Gunner O’Shea’s son Michael went on to serve in the Irish Army during the Emergency, while Charlie joined up in 1968 and served with the United Nations in Cyprus in 1970.
“I can’t describe the pride I have in my grandfather,” concludes Charlie. “Even though he served in the British Army, I am so proud of him and what he did. He was a labourer in the village of Labasheeda, he had a young family and he went away to try and provide for them and paid the ultimate sacrifice for doing so.”