Paddy Maher, 2nd South Wales Borderers, KIA 4th April 1916

On April 6th 1916, barely three weeks before the Easter Rising, Paddy Maher  (a 35 year old British Army veteran who had seen service in China and Gallipoli) from Lower Conaghy, County Kilkenny, had just arrived at the Front. The Battalion had shipped into France from Egypt in March as part of the latest push against the German Army on the Somme. After three days in the mud, a massive German bombardment began. In a period of just one hour, over 8000 howitzer and mortar shells rained in on Paddy’s stretch of trench. The following day Paddy and 12 others in Mary Redan (a salient) were recorded missing, their bodies buried in the collapsed trenches in the fields of Northern France.

Paddy Maher

Pictured above: Paddy Maher

Ralph J. Whitehead describes in detail the events of that night in his book ‘The other side of the wire’ (2010), excerpted below;

On the night of 6/7 April RIR {Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment} 119 sent out four patrols from the II Battalion against Mary Redan in sector 47…. The raiding party consisted of three officers and 78 other ranks….

1. Coy, 2nd South Wales Borderers occupied Mary Redan on the night… It was their first time in the trenches and they had only been in the line for the past three days. It was to be an experience the men would not soon forget…. The preliminary bombardment was very effective as entire sections of wire entanglements were destroyed, dugouts were smashed in, telephone lines were cut and much of the front line trench was blown in….

Three patrols moved into the British trenches as planned while the fourth remained to the rear as protection and to supply support as needed. The raid lasted no more than 15 minutes and the result was the capture of 19 prisoners from the 2nd South Wales Borderers who became trapped inside a dug-out due to the intense bombardment.

At 10.30 p.m. the bombardment suddenly ceased and the Battalion could reoccupy the front trench and set about investigating and repairing the damage. This had been considerable. It was ‘a terrible shambles’, one officer writes, ‘bay after bay being blown in and killed and wounded being buried under the blown in trenches.’ Not only the front line but the communication trenches were badly knocked about, the wire had practically been completely demolished…. The bombardment of the British lines completely smashed the front line trenches… The total casualties suffered by the 29th Division amounted to 112 officers and men; one officer, 33 other ranks killed….

Jack Sheldon’s ‘The German Army on the Somme’ (2005) also describes the raid. He notes that it was led by Leutnants Kaiser, Burger and Sternfeld, was well planned and executed.

The War Diary for the day also describes the event (lifted from this blog post relating to the death of Private Edmund David Cook who also died on the day and who probably served alongside Paddy Maher throughout the war):

‘The 4th and 5th April were without incident but on 6th April at about 9pm, a very heavy bombardment was opened by the enemy. This bombardment was concentrated on the right half of ‘C’ Company commanded by Capt F.S. Blake, on communication trenches leading up to it and on the portion of trench further north from which the front of ‘C’ Company’s trench could be enfilladed. The bombardment lasted until 10.30 pm when it ceased as suddenly as it had begun. It is not an exaggeration to say that the bursting of shells was so frequent that the communication trench from Bn H.Q towards the front line was lit up continuously. The trench held by the right half of ‘C’ Company was demolished…’

Paddy’s body was never recovered. He is recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission files as Patrick Maher (Served as WALSH), Son of James and Mary Maher (nee Walsh), and both his real and enlistment name are inscribed on Pier and Face 4 A of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme (over 72,000 missing). He was awarded the Victory and 1914-15 Star medals for his service.


Patrick Maher on the Thiepval Memorial

His death was reported in the Kilkenny People on Saturday April 29.

Paddy Maher KIA

Killed in Action

News has just reached Conaghy notifying the death in action of Pte. Patrick Maher which occurred on April 6th. Deceased, who had 12 years service, was a son of Mrs. James Maher, Lower Conaghy, and had gone through some severe engagements. Mr. James Burke of Conaghy, has also received news of the death of his nephew, Pte. Michael Burke, who was killed on March 27th. He had been in France since the start of the war, and was a signaller in the Royal Engineers. He worked with Mr. Maher, Lower Conaghy, before the war and was a prominent member of the National Volunteers and instructor of the Lower Conaghy branch. Much sympathy is felt for the relatives of deceased men who were deservedly popular in the locality.

Paddy Maher was my mother’s uncle, my granduncle. Since learning of his existence 8-9 years ago I’ve been researching his service record and motives.  Why he enlisted under his mother’s maiden name is unclear, but it may have something to do with the activities of his brothers and their involvement in the fight for Irish Freedom (see footnote), but I’m uncertain of their activities in that regard in the first decade of the 20th century. He enlisted in Cardiff in 1904. By 1910 the 2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers (SWB), were stationed in post Boer War South Africa. The Battalion was sent to the Far East in 1912, so at the outbreak of the war Paddy is likely to have been at Tientsin in northern China. In September 1914 the Borderers were sent to Lao Shan Bay for operations alongside Japanese troops against the German territory of Tsingtao. The German garrison held out for nearly two months despite being outnumbered 6 to 1 and subjected to heavy, sustained bombardment.

By January 1915 the 2nd SWB were back in Britain training for France where they came under orders of the 87th Brigade, 29th Division before embarking at Avonmouth for Gallipoli on St. Patricks Day, 1915.

On the 25th of April 1915 they landed on S beach at Cape Helles. Unlike other landings the Borderers succeeded in reaching their objectives relatively unscathed. They would, however, be among the last to leave the Gallipoli campaign in January 1916. The 29th Division took part in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battles of Krithia before moving to Suvla Bay where they were deployed in the Battle of Scimitar Hill. Paddy’s C Coy served as the frontline alongside D Coy on the charge against Hill 70 on August 21 1915, which, despite dense fog, they succeeded in capturing. They were forced to withdraw in the evening suffering the loss of one third of their men. Casualty figures for the Gallipoli campaign vary, but it is likely that over 100,000 men were killed.

On 11th January 1916 the Borderers moved to Egypt and went on to France, arriving at Marseilles on 15th March 1916 and on to the Somme.

On a very wet and dreary day with rolling, angry clouds overhead in mid-March 2008 I visited the location of Mary Redan. Clearly visible in aerial photographs as a chalky cropmark, it sits at the top of a low ridge.

Aerial Map

It’s roughly 500m east of the Newfoundland Memorial Park and north west of the Ancre British cemetery in Auchonvilliers (rendered ‘Ocean Villas’ by the British troops) in Picardy. The Park presents a largely preserved section of battlefield along with memorials to the 51st (Highland) Division and the Newfoundland Regiment which suffered great losses on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme later in July 1916.


Pictured: Caribou Memorial to the Newfoundlanders

Mary Redan is accessed via a field to the east of the Park, which in March 2008 had been recently ploughed and was heavy underfoot. In wet weather the churned-up soil turns to a gluey chalk-patched loam, a spongy mess. The soil at the site of the trench is a reddish brown with lumps of chalk indicating where the ground had been disturbed.


Declan at Mary Redan

All around there are chalky patterns in the clay indicating the locations of other trenches or shell crater sites. My muddy shoes collected a harvest of shrapnel, a cap badge and spent bullet shells. Activities such as ploughing still turn up shells and other ordnance in the area. Farmers often pile these shells in farmyards or the side of fields awaiting collection by the French or Belgian armies – it’s known as the ‘Iron Harvest’.

The surrounding landscape is undulating and today is mainly unenclosed arable fields with occasional small stands of woodland, military graveyards and memorials. The site of Paddy’s trench is now a pleasant open vista of greens and yellows towards the east, as opposed to the pock marked, cratered, brown and grey sea of mud he must have witnessed. It’s hard to look over today’s pastoral landscape and picture the mudscape of 1916 and impossible to imagine the horror of that bombardment in April 1916.

Of the three Irish divisions numbering 210,000 Irishmen (most of them volunteers) who fought with the British Army in World War I it is estimated that over 35,000 died. Thousands of other Irishmen such as Paddy fought with other British units and in the forces raised by the overseas dominions of the British Empire.

As to Paddy’s motives we can only speculate as no family knowledge of his reasons for enlistment have been passed down.  Irishmen enlisted for a variety of reasons; some in defence of small nations, others for more local considerations. Many nationalists were persuaded to join up by John Redmond with the promise of an Irish ‘home rule’ parliament in Dublin. Paddy was the eldest of the family and enlisted well before the First World War so maybe none of these motives apply – perhaps he simply didn’t fancy life on a small Kilkenny farm.


‘If these men must die, would it not be better to die in their own country fighting for the freedom of their class, and for the abolition of war, than to go forth to strange countries and die slaughtering and slaughtered by their brothers that tyrants and profiteers might live?‘  (James Connolly, 15 August 1914).

The same issue of the Kilkenny People mentioned above headlined the ‘Terrible Scenes in the Capital’ as the Easter Rising erupted. Rumour had reached Kilkenny early on the Monday that the Irish Volunteers had rebelled and practically occupied Dublin City.

That week James Connolly’s words must have held special resonance to Paddy’s brothers, Nicholas and Edward Maher, as they mobilised with the Irish Volunteers in Kilkenny City. My Grandfather, Michael Maher and another brother, Jimmy, may have been persuaded to stay home at the farm in Conaghy  with their mother and four sisters (although Michael later served during the War of Independence). Perhaps she didn’t want to run the risk of losing all her sons in the same month.

Nicholas, Captain of the Conaghy Company, and Eddie mobilised on Easter Sunday. Tom Treacy dismissed the men and ordered them to return and form up again on Easter Monday. They mustered throughout the week, but news of the surrender in Dublin arrived on Easter Saturday and all their weapons were stowed away and the volunteers were sent home. Nicky and Eddie appear to have then gone into hiding or gone on the run for some time after. Later, they served in the War of Independence alongside my Great Grandfather and my Grandfather, who were later interned in the Curragh during the Civil War (where they escaped alongside a large group of IRA men through a tunnel they had assisted in digging, for a time). But that’s another story altogether.


Sheldon, J., (2005). The German Army on the Somme 1914 – 1916. Pen and Swords, England.

Whitehead, R.J., (2010). Other Side of the Wire Volume 1: With the German XIV Reserve Corps on the Somme, September 1914-June 1916.  Helion and Company, England.

Other sources:

The British National Archives , Kew, Surrey, UK

Kilkenny People, Kilkenny

Post Script: I wasn’t going to post this publicly – this was originally intended for family and friends only, but in the course of researching the post I came across the blog post about Pte Cook and decided to share the post as a result. Maybe relatives of the other men of Mary Redan will be interested and can add to the story. Feel free to correct any of the information in the comments section.



Readers may recall the appalling ‘Nazi War Diggers’ TV Show which was cancelled by the National Geographic channel in 2014, and by Foxtel in Australia this year, after much concern was expressed by the professional archaeological community and others worldwide. Now it’s reared its ugly head again under the guise of ‘Battlefield Recovery’ and has been bought by Channel 5 UK for it’s first outing this evening.

Here’s what we had to say about ‘Battlefield Recovery’/’Nazi War Diggers the last time. Regardless of whether the new show has been sanitised, the treatment of the human remains during filming remains a disgrace.

National Geographic Channel have outdone themselves with this clip from what looks to be an appalling ‘Archaeology’ of WW2 show called ‘Nazi War Diggers’ (Update – Clip seems to have been removed, No.. Back again, slightly edited…). The name alone raises alarm bells. The ‘talent’ who are charged to race ‘against time to save this history from being looted or lost’ are listed on the website as a metal detectorist, a World War 2 enthusiast and a ‘leading militaria and antique dealer’.

It’s caused quite a bit of concern in the archaeological community on Twitter and Facebook. The clip shows a femur roughly tugged from the ground and mistaken for a humerus. But it’s Okay – these tough digger guys shed some tears and get a little emotional about the War Dead.

Paul Barford has more on the Stars here.

Here’s Deathsplainings response..

Conflict Antiquities poses a number of questions to the producers here (and has received some sort of response) – update – National Geographic Channel are preparing a Q & A.

The initial defence of the programme has come on twitter from one of the presenters – Kris Rodgers who says (Update: Kris says he’s received threats, hatred and spite – Paul Barford elaborates.. Criticism of the clip is perfectly reasonable but threats, not nice – As Paul says ‘If people, archaeologists in particular, really have been doing this, then let’s name and shame them together’...) :

Our Day of Archaeology 2015

Last Friday was the Day of Archaeology….


Have you ever wondered what archaeologists really get up to? Is it all just digging or is there a lot more to it? The Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world. The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate with us in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video on this website. The resulting Day of Archaeology project demonstrates the wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe, and helps to raise public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world.

So here’s a preview of our post for 2105.


Most years so far the Day of Archaeology has coincided with the closing down of the west of Ireland, and in particular, Galway City and County. We’re in the middle of Festival Season with the Galway International Arts Festival just finishing and the Galway Races about to start.

Galway journalist, and ‘demonstrably the best rock ‘n’ roll interviewer in the world’, Olaf Tyaransen describes the feeling of all Galwegians well in a recent article:

“Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left” – Victor Hugo

No sooner has the Arts Festival ended than the Galway Races begin. All bets are off with this one. It’s like a mad race to the bottom. The city becomes a giant vomitorium, you can’t get a seat in a restaurant (not even Supermacs), and the hospital emergency rooms – or rather room – jam up with weeping women in silly hats who’ve slipped on their impractical stilettos.

After the Races:

There’s the Tuam Arts Festival, the Roundstone Summer Fest, the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, the Ballinasloe Horse Fair, Clifden Arts Week, and many more besides. Even the Aran Islands aren’t safe.

They have Tedfest. But that would be an ecumenical matter.

For the rest see the website.

Michael (M.J.) Burke letter on eve of execution, January 1923

Regular readers will remember the chance discovery of Frank Cunnane’s letter on the eve of his execution in 1923 behind a dresser in a cottage in Headford. The posting of that letter has instigated a very rewarding section of this blog. We’ve received photosmass cards and letters from the period and have been very happy to facilitate the conversation which has arisen.

Recently Gerard Corry got in touch and forwarded a copy of a letter which was written on the Friday night of the 19th January 1923 and posted to his aunt Mary. The letter was written by one of the 11 men executed in January 1923 – Michael (M.J.) Burke from Caherlistrane, Co. Galway.  The other Anti-Treaty prisoners executed in Athlone were  Thomas Hughes (Athlone), who is referred to in the letter below; Stephen Joyce (Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway); Herbert Collins and Michael Walsh (from Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway).

We’ve published a letter from Michael Burke previously -that one to his cousin Kathleen Greaney in Headford, also referred to in the letter below (Michael asks that Mary forward his watch to her). We’re delighted to be able to post the letter below and hope that by posting it we can continue to do some justice to the sacrifice these men made.

The Jack and Tom referred to are Gerard’s uncle and father respectively.

The scanned original below is followed by a transcript. We’ve also posted an image of the envelope with its unusual stamp (perhaps some kindly philatelist will let us know more about the stamp?).




back of envelope

The letter reads

Custom Bks
Friday Night

Dear Mary
I suppose you will be surprised to read this note. So don’t cry for me or Tom Hughes when you receive this I will be happy with the angels in heaven I will see you reading this note. Will you remember me to your father, Jack and Tom. I hope you will not think ill of me we fought so often but I was your trusted friend if you needed me. Say me to all the Boys for I done my best for all. Good bye and pray for the repose of our souls. You well deserve this note from me Mary But I hope we will meet another day

Good Bye from
M.J. Burke
Custom Bks

Will you send my watch to Miss Kathleen Greaney Ballinapark Caherlistrane
Co. Galway

Tell her for my Brother J Burke.

Unveiling of archaeological sign at Terryland



Brian Burke (Galway City Council), Declan Moore (Moore Group) and Jerry O’Sullivan (Galway County Council) attend the unveiling of a new archaeological sign at Terryland.

Galway City Council unveiled the sign commemorating the discovery of the skeletal remains adjacent to Terryland Castle which were excavated in 2013 by archaeologists from Moore Group. The remains were uncovered at the site when Galway City Council’s Transportation Unit began to install a pedestrian and cycle ramp off the Quincentennial Bridge down to the Dyke Road at Terryland in early 2013.

Moore Group, along with an osteo-archaeologist, Linda Lynch were engaged to investigate the finds. The Galway City Council’s heritage office and engineers, along with the National Roads Authority archaeologist worked in close conjunction with the site archaeologist and the licensing authorities in the National Monuments Service and National Museum of Ireland to facilitate the recovery of the finds.

Human skeletal remains of ten individuals – four men, three women and three juveniles – were discovered buried without coffins in shallow graves. All the burials were orientated east west – however three of the individuals, contrary to traditional practice, were interred with their heads to the east,indicating that they were buried without much care or ceremony. Analysis of the bones revealed no evidence of violent deaths and their profiles do not fit with combatants dying in a military action. What the bones do tell us is a general tale of hardship during these people’s short lives.

Some post-medieval pottery sherds, nails, glass and clay pipe fragments were found in the graves. These objects were not deliberately placed but would simply have been lying about the site and became mixed into the grave fills accidentally at the time of burial. The combined evidence of radiocarbon dating, early maps and artefacts indicates that most of the burials had a likely convergence in the 17th century, but a few of them may have been much older.

The nearby ruin, known as Terryland Castle, was once a fine 17th-century house. It probably replaced a much older, medieval tower house. The burial ground may originally have been associated with the tower house and was reused from time to time in later years for hurried, informal burials of poorer people who died in times of famine, plague or conflict.

Ireland in the 17th century was a dangerous place. From the Confederate Wars (1641-49), through the Cromwellian conquest (1649-53) and the Wars of the Two Kings (1689-1691), the civilian population endured a lasting tumult that decimated the population. Given the scale of the calamities endured by the population it is reasonable to conclude that many individuals deprived of their homes, ravaged by war, disease and hunger died prematurely, were buried often in haste, in unconsecrated ground and with little rite or ritual.

The unusual burial positions and the lack of coffins suggests that the burials in Terryland do not represent a traditional cemetery for the community, but rather served a more immediate function for the disposal of the dead in a period of stress that disrupted the normal functions of society. Rather than attempting to tie the demise of these individuals into a known historical event e.g. the 1691 skirmish at the nearby castle, it is more likely that their premature deaths were caused not by the swift violence of war but by the equally brutalising and fatal consequences of it.

For more information see our post here: