Castlewellan, County Down
DSC03293 castlewellan 2

Castlewellan, County Down
Castlewellan War Memorial is located beside the A25 in the centre of the village. The Plaque is fixed to the south wall of the Old Courthouse beside a car park.
It has been impossible to determine a precise date when it was dedicated/unveiled. In 1919, at a public meeting in the Courthouse, steps were taken to perpetuate in some tangible form the memory of the local men of His Majesty’s forces who fell in the war.
The following year arrangements were made for the lettering of the granite slab, which was to be placed on the wall of the Courthouse.
Wreaths were laid at it during the Second World War.
(Annsboro is a very small village about 1 mile north of  Castlewellan.)
To the left hand side of the the memorial tablet is a much smaller tablet commemorating the arrival of the 141st Armoured Signal Company U.S.A., who trained in the Castlewellan area during the 2nd World War. It is dated 8th June 1942.
The inscription on the Great War Memorial Tablet is;-

THE GREAT WAR 1914 – 1918.

Annesley Francis (6th Earl) Sub-Lieutenant RNVR

Cooper Leonard Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles

Cooper William

Corcoran Thomas (former R.I.C.) Irish Guards (see below)

Craig William

Curran John Lance-Corporal 12th Royal Irish Rifles

Dixon James

Flinn William

Gilmore William

Gilmore George Rifleman 13th Royal Irish Rifles

Gilmore Albert

Henaghan Patrick

Ingleson James Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles

Johnson William Sergeant 

Jones Albert

King Edward

Kirkpatrick Robert

Mageean Nicholas

McCance John

McCracken George Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles

McLughan George

McCoubrey Francis

McNeill Charles Private Scots Borders

McVeigh Patrick  Private Canadian Infantry

McEvoy William

McEvoy Hugh

McClean Michael

Murnin Bernard

Quinn Alexander Rifleman 12th Royal Irish Rifles

Quinn Thomas Rifleman 13th Royal Irish Rifles

Rowan William Lance Corporal

Rodney Hugh

Rafferty Patrick Private 2nd Royal Irish Regiment

Steenson James Private Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Thompson George

Truesdale William

Weir James Corporal 16th Royal Irish Rifles


Beattie Brian

Flanaghan Patrick

Harper Shaw

Lawson David

Love James

McCormick Myles

McCormick William

McAlarney Joseph

Nixon Joseph

O’Hare Edward

Rodgers Philip

Steele William

Thompson James

Treanor Alan


To the left hand side of the memorial tablet is a much smaller tablet at ground level commemorating the arrival of the 141st Armoured Signal Company U.S.A., who arrived on the 8th June 1942 to train in the Castlewellan area.

Castlewellan 3


The Fallen from Castlewellan and Annesborough District.

Allan, Henry Anthony, Private. Brother of Mrs. S. A. Lawson, of The Castle Gardens, Castlewellan, Co. Down, Ireland.
Annesley Francis (6th Earl) Sub-Lieutenant Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
Cooper, Leonard, Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles.
Cooper, William, See below.
Corcoran Thomas,
Lance-Corporal, (formerly Royal Irish Constabulary) Irish Guards. Selected for service in Irish Guards during the war and enlisted 3rd April 1915. Died of wounds 28th November 1917. Son of James and Bridget Corcoran, of Derry, Eyrecourt, Co. Galway.
Craig, William,
Curran John,
17523, Lance-Corporal, Royal Irish Rifles, died of wounds France 21st June 1918, born Castlewellan. Son of Thomas and Susan Curran, of Annsborough, Co. Down.
Dixon James,
Donnell Charles,
15289, Private, Connaught Rangers, 5th Batt., killed in action France 8th October 1918, born Ballylough Castlewellan.
Donnelly James, 26335, Lance-Corporal, 2nd Batt., Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, killed in action France 9th August 1916, born Castlewellan.
Flinn, William,
Forsythe John,
7837, Private, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, killed in action France 26th April 1915, born Castlewellan, County Down.
Gilmore Albert, 520, Rifleman, Royal Irish Rifles, 2nd Batt., killed in action France 6th September 1918, born Castlewellan, County Down.
Gilmore George, 5096, Rifleman, Royal Irish Rifles, 7th Batt., died of wounds and exposure after leaving the trenches, France 21st January 1917. Born Castlewellan, County Down.
Gilmore William,
Henaghan, Patrick,
Ingleson, James, Royal Irish Rifles,
Johnson William, Sergeant,
Jones, C. D., Sergeant, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, Castlewellan
Formerly a gardener at the Castle, Sergeant C. D. Jones, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, was killed in action on the 20th October, 1914. On the day before his death he got the Distinguished Service Medal for endeavouring to rescue some wounded comrades.
Down Recorder, November 21, 1914
Jones, Albert,
King, Edward,
Kirkpatrick, Robert,
Lamb Adam,
14512, Private, Border regiment, 8th Batt., killed in action France 10th April 1918, born Castlewellan, County Down.
Mageean, Nicholas,
McCance, John,
McClean, Michael,
Private, Royal Irish Fusiliers. Son of James and Catharine McClean; husband of Elisabeth McComb McClean, of Cumran House, Clough, Co. Down. Born at Tullaree, Kilcoo, County Down.
McCoubrey, Francis, Rifleman, Royal Irish Rifles. Son of Francis and Annie McCoubrey, of Bridge St., Downpatrick, Co. Down; husband of Agnes McCoubrey, of Clough, Co. Down.
McCracken, George, Rifleman Royal Irish Rifles. He died in a field hospital, where his brother, Richard, lies seriously wounded. Both acted as stretcher-bearers.   Their father, Mr. G. M’Cracken, is employed by Messrs. James Murland, Ltd.
To Mr. and Mrs. M’Cracken, Annsborough who, as already reported, have lost a son in France, another has been wounded, there has been addressed the following letter, written on behalf of Colonel Savage and the remaining officers and men of the Downs by Rev. W. J. M’Connell, Presbyterian Chaplin ; It is with much sorrow that I write to express our deepest sympathy with you in the loss of your son, who was killed during the recent attack in which Ulster played so brilliant a part. With many of his brave comrades he fought a good fight, and made the greatest sacrifice a man can make. Today your home and many homes are darkened. Great-hearted Ulster is sore stricken because so many of her bravest and worthiest sons who covered her name with glory in the day of battle shall return to her no more. Their loss to us is heavy also, and we mourn with you for them. We cannot, however, but believe that at home will manifest in their day of grief the same high courage and strength of soul as sent and sustained their beloved to do their duty in the day of trial.
McEvoy, Hugh, Private, Royal Scots. Son of Henry and Catherine McEvoy, of Burrenbane, Castlewellan, Co. Down.
McEvoy, William,
McLughan, George,
McNeill, Charles,
Private, Royal Scots Borderers. Son of James and Catherine McNeill, of 13, Blue Row, Castlewellan, Co. Down. Charles has succumbed to wounds received in northern France on the 16th September, 1914.   Recently his brother, a signalman at Castlewellan station, sent out packages of cigarettes.  A few days ago a message, terse but sympathetic, came from a sergeant in the Borderers, who once visited here when on leave, that M'Neill had ‘died like a true British soldier,’ and it was added that the cigarettes had been distributed amongst his former comrades.   
McVeigh, Patrick, Private, Canadian Infantry, formerly a breadserver here, has been killed in action. His widowed mother lives at Clonvaraghan.
Murnin, Bernard,
Quinn Thomas,
Rifleman 13th Royal Irish Rifles
Quinn, Alexander, Rifleman 12th Royal Irish Rifles
Rafferty, Patrick, Private 2nd Royal Irish Regiment. Son of Michael and Rosina Rafferty, of Ballymoney, Kilcoo, Co. Down.
Rodney Hugh
Rowan, William,
Lance Corporal
Steenson James, Private Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Thompson, George
Truesdale William,
Weir, James,
Corporal 16th Royal Irish Rifles. Resident at Gargory, the father of Corporal Jim Weir, 16th Royal Irish Rifles, whose death in action was announced last week, has received a letter of sympathy from the company officer, Capt Chase, formerly a master at Campbell College. Weir was acting as stretcher bearer to one of the wounded, being carried through  shell fire to the dressing station, when a shell burst among the party, killing him and three others. Weir was one of the best N.C.O.s in the company, and in due course would have got his third stripe. A cross with a suitable inscription has been put over his grave in the cemetery. Another brother, Private William Weir, is serving with the 16th battalion.



Article written by Michael Cooper and Catherine Switzer.

During the First World War, 752 men of the Royal Irish Constabulary served in the British army, many of them with the Irish Guards. One of these men was William Valentine Cooper. Few men could boast an RIC connection as strong as William's; not only was he the third generation of his family to don the green RIC uniform, but three uncles, a brother and a brother-in-law also served with the force. His grandfather, Head Constable George Cooper, had service that spanned more than three decades between 1837 and 1868.

William's unusual middle name seems to be due to his date of birth: 14 February 1894. He was the eldest son of George and Margaret Cooper. George had joined the RIC in 1879 and was serving in Bandon, County Cork, at the time of William's birth.

The Coopers went on to have total of 13 children and George progressed through the ranks to Sergeant. Around the time of his promotion to Sergeant, George was transferred from Bandon to Glengarriff, also in County Cork. Sadly the Coopers' youngest child, Emma, never knew her mother, because Margaret died in May 1911, from complications during Emma's birth.

The following year, William followed his father into the RIC and was posted to Castlewellan in County Down. Although only 18 years old, William already stood 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 196 pounds.

William's policing career lasted three years before he enlisted in the Irish Guards on 3 November 1915. He was not the only member of the Castlewellan force to enlist; Constables Corcoran and Henaghan had also joined up and local people gathered in Castlewellan courthouse for an evening in early November to give them an enthusiastic

The Down Recorder reported that “Mr R McAleenan, J.P. and Mr T. Blackwood, in short, telling speeches, expressed the pride with which the community regarded the three constables, the certainty that they would worthily do their duty, and the hope that they might live to be welcomed back like O'Leary and Somers. Suitable gifts were then presented to the guests, and ‘They are jolly good fellows’ was enthusiastically sung. Dancing was kept up to an advanced hour.”

All too soon, William was on his way to Caterham Barracks in Surrey where Foot Guard regiments trained. He spent 17 months with the 3rd (Reserve) battalion of the Irish Guards, where he trained as both an infantry soldier and a signaller. In January 1917 he received a promotion to Lance Corporal with a qualification as an assistant instructor of signalling.

However, the call for manpower on the Western Front became ever more pressing and on 24 April 1917, William boarded the ship at Southampton that would take him to the French port of Harfleur. Once in France, the journey to the front was a long one and William did not join up with his new battalion, the 1st Irish Guards, until 13 May 1917.

The battalion served as part of the Guards Division, one of the most highly-rated divisions in the army due to its core of highly-trained professional soldiers. However, by the summer of 1917, many of these original men had been killed or invalided out of the army, leaving less experienced, often younger, men like William to take their places.

The military authorities had identified the Ypres Salient in Belgium as their prime focus in 1917, after a concentration on the Somme front in France the previous year. The British-held salient was a narrow area of ground around the shattered market town of Ypres. Virtually everywhere, strongly-fortified German positions overlooked the British trenches.

Events in June seemed to have marked a turning point. A massive and meticulously planned attack had cleared the Germans from the Messines Ridge. Commanders aimed to take advantage of this breakthrough with a series of further assaults throughout the summer.

The Guards Division was pencilled in to act as a reserve during an initial assault close to the village of Boesinghe on 31 July.
Two days before the assault, a small group of soldiers from William's battalion were sent into No Man's Land to investigate a concrete blockhouse held by the Germans. Rudyard Kipling’s history of the Irish Guards takes up the story: “On the 29th July a patrol was sent out to look at a concrete blockhouse which our artillery reported they were unable to destroy with the guns that were in use at that moment. The patrol drew fire from the blockhouse, went on into the dark, and found that the enemy's line behind it was held by small posts only. Returning, it would seem that they were fired at again, an N.C.O. and man had been wounded, but they wounded and captured a prisoner, who said the post was held by twenty men.” A Guardsman was left behind overnight to keep the blockhouse under observation.

“Next morning they observed five or six of the enemy lying out in shell-holes around the blockhouse, which was too small for the whole of its garrison. This overflow was all sniped in due course, till the blockhouse, with fourteen unwounded prisoners, surrendered, was absorbed into our outpost-line, and held against enemy fire. Considering that fire at the time - which included 5.9's, 4.2's, and 77's -it was a neatly expeditious affair."

William seems to have been one of the men involved in this action. On 5 August, he wrote to an uncle, describing a little of his recent experiences: “Just to say that I am still alive & well and very thankful to God for bringing me safely through this last big advance. I am glad to inform you that my company commander considered that I distinguished myself in a place known as no man's land and he told me he recommended me for a decoration. The deed was not a great one, it was only to capture a blockhouse which was strongly held and take its garrison prisoners. I am looking forward to far greater deeds when the weather gets fine as at present the mud is waist high in places. I received your letter during the first days of last week on either Monday or Tuesday last. Hoping all are well.” William's modest words understate the bravery of his actions. On 27 August he, along with a small number of other men in the battalion, was presented with medal ribbons to recognise their achievements. Rudyard Kipling's history of the battalion observed that these were men who “had won honour in the Boesinghe battle, either by their coolheadedness in dealing with ‘surprise situations’ or sheer valour in the face of death or self-devotion to a comrade; for there was every form of bravery to choose from.”

William received a Distinguished Conduct Medal, an honour second only to the Victoria Cross in the British army's hierarchy of gallantry awards. The award was made official on 17 September, when the citation was published in the London Gazette: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On his own initiative he determined to capture a blockhouse which commanded our position and from which snipers were inflicting casualties upon our troops. Posting eight men to give him covering fire, he worked round the flank with four others, rushed the blockhouse and killed and captured the garrison, over twenty in number. His splendid leadership and skilful disposition materially strengthened our position by the capture of this most important point.”

The battalion spent the next few weeks in and out of the line in the Ypres area. In mid-September they received training in how to combat the new German tactic of fortifying shell holes, chosen in such a way that each had a field of fire which covered its neighbours.

This was in preparation for their involvement in an attack scheduled for 9 October. Their allotted task was to capture German-held territory near a muddy stream known as the Broembeek, but horrendous conditions underfoot made it a daunting prospect. Kipling describes the area between the stream and the ultimate target in Houthulst Forest, 3,000 yards away, as “semi-fluid country with no landmarks other than the line of smashed rail on their right, and whatever fortified houses, farms, pill-boxes and shell-holes they might encounter during their progress. When they had overcome all obstacles, they were instructed to dig in on the edge of the forest.”

The Guards' advance began in three feet of water, and as they moved forward they discovered how formidable the German defences were; in Kipling's words: “There were pill-boxes of concrete in front: there was a fortified farm buried in sandbags, Egypt House, to be reduced: there were nests of machine-guns on the right which the troops on the right had not yet overrun, and there was an almost separate and independent fight in and round some brick-fields, which, in turn, were covered by the fire of snipers from the fringes of the forest. Enemy aircraft skimming low gave the German artillery every help in their power, and the enemy's shelling was accurate accordingly.”

William's sister believed that he died near the fortified farm known to the soldiers as Egypt House. Before the men were relieved the following day, they lost four officers and 47 other ranks killed, seven officers and 158 other ranks wounded and a further ten missing. Amongst the dead was William Cooper. He was aged just 23.

Back in Glengarriff, George Cooper learned of his son's death on 26 October. The Sketch [newspaper] reported the death as early as 31 October, but it would not reach the pages of Belfast Telegraph [newspaper] until 8 December.

However, The Sketch article raises an intriguing question. It reports how "Corporal Cooper was recently awarded the D.C.M. for meritorious service on the field of battle, and more recently recommended for further honours." Two weeks earlier, during an account of proceedings in Skibbereen Quarterly Sessions, the Southern Star [newspaper] recorded an exchange between George Cooper and the judge presiding:

"His Honor [County Court Judge Hynes KC]: I am very glad to see, Sergeant, that your son has been recommended for the V.C.
Sergeant Cooper: I thank your Honor." The regulations of the Victoria Cross made it the only gallantry award which could be awarded posthumously, but no such award was made to William. No evidence for the award seems to have survived, so it is unclear whether this was a misunderstanding, or whether William narrowly missed out on the British army's highest honour.

William Cooper's body was recovered from the muddy battlefield and today his remains lie in Poelcapelle British Cemetery. He is also commemorated in St. Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork and on the town war memorial in Castlewellan.


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