Annaghdown’s Army – One Hundred Annaghdown Men ‘In Service’

By Steve Dolan

A seldom discussed aspect of Irish history is the number of Irishmen who served in the British forces, a number which exploded in the nineteenth century reaching two in five of all British soldiers. Irishmen are understandably slow to acknowledge their participation in an empire won partly, and policed largely, by their countrymen.

This short study focuses on the one hundred men from Annaghdown who served in British forces prior to the twentieth century, and it is important to note that this study includes only those who survived to discharge. The total number of men from Annaghdown was therefore considerably more, several times more indeed, in an era of war and particularly poor conditions for servicemen.

Nationally, close to three quarters of Irish soldiers were from rural areas and, in general, the men enlisted ‘for life’ (i.e. unlimited service) or, into the nineteenth century, for twenty-one years. The men were more often illiterate, well over half in the case of Annaghdown, with them making ‘their mark’ on attestation and discharge. This was an impediment to their promotion.


A third of the men listen herein attested in the winter months indicating that ’empty bellies’, as referenced by one recruiter, was one push-factor. In terms of previous occupations more than three quarters of the men had been labourers prior to attestation. Where stated, more than half of the men enlisted in County Galway, with several enlisting in Tuam.

The oldest soldier on attestation, aged 29 years, was John Whelan, with James Thompson the oldest on discharge aged 56 years. The youngest soldier on attestation was John Graney aged 14 years in the eighteenth century, with Thomas Lyons and Owen Connor aged 16 years. Almost half of the men were teenagers on attesting, with the average age on attestation of all the men being under 21 years.

The longest serving was ‘Driver’ Hesson of the Royal Artillery, who served from 1877 to 1908, 31 years and 119 days, more than a third of which was in India. The following tables present the year of birth, year of enlistment/attestation (Attest), regiment (Regt) generally referring to regiments of foot, and year of discharge are given (Disch), as is their respective reasons for discharge.


Irishmen and Annaghdownmen were attesting in the British army in increasing numbers from the middle of the eighteenth century; see the table below. The first soldier listed, Timy Morgan, served in Major Wallers Corps and may have served in America during their revolutionary war, as apparently did Graney in an extraordinary 26 years and 8 months of service.

None of these ‘pioneers’ were in good health on discharge. Heavy, of the 32nd light dragoons, fractured his leg ‘in a dreadful manner’ after a fall from a baggage wagon in August 1795. And Donahue, of the Ancient Irish Fencibles, was invalided on the island of Malta in 1802, having taken part in the operations against the French in Egypt the previous year.

SurnameForenameBirthAddressAttestRegtDischDischarge Reason
MoranTimy1737Anadown1762MWC1784Disability – Rheumatism
GraneyJohn1757Armassdown17718th1798Wounded – Rupture
HeavyJohn1765Annadown179232nd d1795Wounded – Fractured leg
DonahueJames1780Anadown1799AIF1802Disease – Invalided
Pioneers: the earliest recorded Annaghdown men in service
Distribution of service locations

British North America

The listing for the one hundred men is compiled primarily from discharge papers and, with one exception, lists all those Annaghdownmen who enlisted up to 1900. In addition to discharge papers, another register provides details on soldiers and officers in British military units that served in Canada. Seven parishioners are listed here; see the table below. Note, Beckett also appears to have served in India.

Soldiers and officers in British military units that served in Canada


The one hundred men represent different eras in military life and different standards in terms of their performance. On issue was desertion from the army, and given in the table below is a listing of those who deserted and who may not have returned to their regiments or who may have died in service. All four had been labourers prior to attestation and all had deserted in the summer months.


These were not the only desertions, as the likes of Patrick Flynn and Michael Quinn from the main listing had also deserted before being returned to their regiments and going on to have fine careers. Indeed one soldier, James Kelly deserted four times in five years – 1836, 1837, 1839 and 1840 – but returned to serve a further eight years.

Other Forces

Another three military men are James Fannan of the Royal Marines and Privates Moran and Ford of the Manchester and Welsh regiments of militia, listed in the table below. The militia were a distinct military force from the army, with the county militias often fulfilling ‘policing’ rather than military functions. The marines were the Royal Navy’s amphibious troops and Ford was discharged directly to Haulbowline Hospital.

SurnameForenameBirthAddressAttestRegtDischDischarge Reason
FannanJames1843Annydown1861RM1875Disability – General
MoranThomas1865Annadown1883MR1883Early discharge
Other forces

Nineteenth Century Soldiers

The general list of soldiers is given in the following two tables. The following regiments listed are the numbers of regiments of foot, d denotes dragoons or mounted infantry, AHC is an abbreviation for Army Hospital Corps, ASC is Army Service Corps, CR is Connacht Rangers, GR is Gloucestershire Regiment, RA is Royal Artillery, RAC is Royal African Corps, RB is Rifle Brigade, RCR is Royal Canadian Rifles, and RIR is Royal Irish Regiment.

SurnameForenameBirthAddressAttestRegtDischDischarge Reason
LyonsThomas1786Annadown180245th1821Early discharge
CahillJohn1782Arnadown180389th1827Disability – Worn out
FinnertyJames1776Anneydown180389th1816Wounded – Left thigh
GregoryWilliam1784Annadown180531st1816Wounded – Hand
MooneyMartin1778Armadown18063rd1821Disability – Worn out
MorrisPatrick1789Annadown180951st1816Wounded – Hand
BarryGeorge1791Annadown18137th1836Disease – Abroad
ConnellThomas1796Anadower181395th1819Disability – Blindness
BurkeJames1797Anadower1815101st1818Wounded – Rupture
LynettMartin1796Arungdown181531st1838Disability – Worn out
WhelanJohn1786Annadown1815RAC1821Disease – Abroad
SmithJames1792Annadown181664th1826Disease – General
LeonardJohn1798Armadown181751st1842Disability – Rheumatism
DempseyWilliam1805Annadown182351st1824Disability – Deafness
ConnorOwen1808Annadown182499th1841Disease – Fistula
ConnorsEdmund1806Annadown182530th1840Disease – Liver
GarveyPatrick1801Anydown1825RB1840Disease – Cough
GordonPatrick1806Annadown182519th1847Disability – Rheumatism
LeonardJames1805Anydown1825RB1846Disability – Varicose veins
FlynnJames1805Annydown18263rd1843Disability – Worn out
FordPatrick1812Annadown183166th1847Disability – Blindness
MonaghanJohn1814Annadown183234th1853Disability – Rheumatism
KellyJames1811Annadown183323rd1848Disability – Blindness
KilkellyMartin1821Anna Down183919th1845Disability – Blindness
FlahertyHugh1820Anydown184020th1861Disability – Rheumatism
HanleyThomas1824Annadown184145th1859Early discharge
QuinnMichael1823Annadown184155th1849Disease – Stomach
FahyJohn1827Anydowne184649th1855Wounded – Several
SwiftHenry1829Annadown184688th1853Disease – Lungs
FeeneyJohn1827Annadown18477th d1854Disease – Tumour
MacDonoughMichael1827Annaghdown184787th1864Disease – Bronchitis
GlynnMicheal1829Annadown184857th1849Disability – Blindness
McDonoughBrien1829Annadown184859th1863Early discharge
FordPatrick1830Annadown184912th1870Disease – TB
McDermottJohn1829Armadown184968th1856Disability – Rheumatism
SurnameForenameBirthAddressAttestRegtDischDischarge Reason
MurphyJohn1834Annaghdown1852RCR1870Early discharge
DunnJohn1832Anadoran1853109th1865Disability – Blindness
BurkePeter1833Anadown185461st1859Wounded – Shoulder
CreavenJohn1835Anmadown185488th1856Wounded – Left knee
BurkeJohn1833Annydown185530th1859Disease – Lungs, liver
DooleyJohn1837Annadown1855AHC1874Wounded – Paralysis
CavanaghPatrick1837Annadown185669th1866Disability – Varicose veins
HenlyMichael1838Annydown185645th1868Disease – Fever
HigginsDaniel1839Tanadown185719th1867Disease – Melancholia
CanavanBartholomew1835Anne Down185876th1860Disability – Deafness
GlynnJames1840Anadown185988th1868Disease – Abroad
GlynnThomas1839Anadown1859RA1864Wounded – Hernia
ScullyRichard1839Anne Down1859103rd1874Disease – Brights
MurphyMartin1837Anadown1860RA1871Disease – Ague
GibbonsPatrick1858Annydown1876RA1888Disease – Invalided
Nineteenth Century Soldiers, continued

Later Nineteenth Century

By the final two decades of the century, the declining number of attestations was matched by the unsuitability of the men with eight of the twelve discharged early – most within days.

SurnameForenameBirthAddressAttestRegtDischDischarge Reason
KellyJohn1869Annadown1887CR1895Early discharge
GlenanMichael1864Anydown1888CR1888Early discharge
FlanaganMichael1865Anydown1889CR1889Early discharge
O BrienJames1871Annadown1893CR1893Early discharge
GoalyThomas1874Annadown1893RIR1893Early discharge
LavellePeter1879Armydown1897CR1897Early discharge
FarrellMichael1878Annisdown18971st d1897Early discharge
MartinJohn1869Annadown1900RIR1900Early discharge
Later Nineteenth Century


The men served across the globe policing a seemingly ever-expanding empire. By far the principal posting for the men however was the East Indies (the region encompassing modern India, Afghanistan, etc.), followed by the Mediterranean (Gibraltar, Malta, the Ionian Islands), and British North America/Nova Scotia/Canada.

While the nineteenth century began with European service during the Peninsular War, other postings would include Mauritius and China in the East; the West Indies (Bermuda, Jamaica, etc.) in the West; and Africa (Cape of Good Hope/South Africa, Abyssania, Egypt, Gambia, and Sierra Leone) and Van Diemen’s Land in the southern hemisphere. Interesting too was the service in Argentina and Uruguay.


From the mid nineteenth century, gallantry and conduct medals began to be issued in earnest following battles or wars. The earliest decorated of the Annaghagownmen listed was Bartholomew Burke, receiving the ‘Candahar, Ghuznee, Cabul’ medal 1842 and a Bronze star for the Battle of Maharajpore of 29 December 1843.

He was soon followed by Hanley with the Kaffir War Medal 1846 awarded to men who served in the Cape of Good Hope during the Xhosa Wars, while McHugh was awarded the Punjab medal with clasps for Chilianwala and Goojerat 1848-49 which ended in the British annexation of the Punjab. The battles of Chilianwala and Goojerat took place on 13 January 1849 and 21 February 1849.

By far the biggest war of the mid nineteenth century was the Crimea War, a conflict fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which Russia were defeated by a British-led alliance. It was also the conflict which involved the highest number of men from the parish. It was quickly followed by the Indian Mutiny.

While not stated on their records, it is likely that Fahy who was wounded at the Battle of Inkerman, Corporal McDermott whose illnesses were attributed to the Crimea and whose 68th were almost wiped out at Inkerman, and Creaven who suffered a bayonet wound in left knee at Inkerman may all have been awarded Crimea medals. John Burke was also four months at Crimea.

Definitely decorated for Crimea [Crimea and Turkish medals] were Flaherty, Murphy, Dooley and Richard Connor. Connor was also awarded the medal for long service and good conduct. Long service and good conduct medals were also awarded to Nolan, Joyce, Patrick Forde of the 12th, the poorly behaved Smyley, Allen, and Hesson.

In addition to Crimea, Flaherty was also awarded the Indian mutiny medal 1857 with a clasp for Lucknow; while another double-medal recipient was Michael Ford decorated with the mutiny medal and medal for China and clasp for Pekin. Skirrett was also decorated with the mutiny medal and was Dunn whose medal included a clasp for Central India.

Finally, Cloe was awarded the South African medal 1877, 78, 79, often referred to as the Zulu War medal, after Britain was involved in a series of South African tribal wars between 1877 and 1879, most notably for the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. An indifferent soldier with a drink problem, Cloe had also overcome deserting to distinguish himself in battle. This was not uncommon.

Other Wars

The century began with the Peninsular War. Finnerty was among those who fought in several battles on the continent, suffering a gunshot to right thigh and left arm. Others serving in the Peninsular War were Thompson, Mooney, Sergeant Stewart, the ‘tolerably good and efficient’ Barry, and Burnett. And at least two men fought in the definitive battle of the era, with Gregory and Morris wounded at Waterloo.

The wars of empire also took the men to less know conflict zones. For example, in addition to his later service in Europe during the Peninsular War, Lyons’ 45th served in the ill-fated British invasion of the River Plate and it saw action at the Second Battle of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in July 1807. British forces had captured the city of Montevideo, Uruguay, after a battle, the previous February.

Two decades later, in 1846, Annaghadown men were back in Uruguay as Hanley and a battalion of his 45th participated in the defence of Montevideo in 1846 against an Argentine attack. Elsewhere, Cahill fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War 1924-26 and Lynett was also in the campaigns of Ava under Sir Archibald Campbell in 1825 and 1826 in that war.

Discharge Reasons

More than a quarter of the men were discharged in reasonably good health which is broadly in line with other areas/studies, as is the numbers suffering from disability or disease. Already referenced were several of the wounded soldiers with others, like Peter Burke, suffering from less serious wounds like ‘immobility of the right shoulder joint from a wound’.

In terms of disability, this discharge reason was dominated by those suffering from blindness and those suffering from chronic rheumatism. In terms of blindness, typical was Kilkelly who suffered from chronic catarrh. A poor soldier, regularly in confinement, he reported to fellow parishioner Corporal Gordon. Canavan suffered from deafness of both ears, constitutional infirmity, and acute ophthalmia.

Some diseases were specifically attributed to service abroad. For example, Henly, whose service included Abyssinia, appears to have suffered from malaria – febris intermittens (septic temperature). Other diseases were less clear-cut with Connors suffering from both both a liver complaint and an impediment of speech, while Feeney had an abdominal tumour and other complaints.

Higgins was released suffering from ‘melancholia’, depression, with his fits of anger and violence attributed to same. He was of good character but the death of his wife, possibly in Burmah where he served for almost two years, had permanently changed matters. He was left with the marks of treatment and the view that he would never again work.

Equally tragic was the case of Patrick Gibbons, invalided out of the army on his return from India on 27 April 1888. He died at Herbert Hospital in Woolwich less than four months later on 19 August 1888. Several of the men spent expended periods in hospital and their discharge papers details if any of their illnesses or diseases were attributed to ‘vice’.

Discharge Reasons


Alcohol was often an issue, but dramatically less so for Annaghdownmen. Monaghan was a good soldier, but was once court-martialled when drunk on guard duty. James Glynn was indifferent, but a clean and sober soldier. The highest ranking of the men was Quarter Master Sergeant Smyth of the Gloucestershire Regiment who was described as an exemplary soldier, and a very good clerk.

Reflecting the wider county, increasingly those enlisting were unsuitable or were released early for various reasons and this is quite pronounced in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. O’Brien appears to have lied about his age, Goaly purchased his discharge, Lavelle and Farrell were unfit and released within days, while Martin had already been discharged from the Connacht Rangers (CR).

Prior to this, the early discharges were due to reductions/disbandment in regiments as with Lyons and Murphy, while Hanley, McDonough, John Kelly and Flanagan were released by request/agreement or by technicality in the case of Glenan who gave a false answer on his attestation papers. The average length of service the men, excluding the last two decades, was 15 years.

Number of attestations by date

This article is an effort to shine a light on what is a challenging topic for some. It is not an endorsement of empire or occupation, rather an effort to acknowledge the role of Annaghdownmen in British military history. That the empire was built on a military dominated by Irishmen is an uncomfortable truth. It is a most ambivalent heritage, but it is nonetheless a significant aspect of our heritage.

How many of these boys and men were seeking adventure, or just a wage to escape starvation, we will never know. What is clear is that they were present from the early days of the empire. The men listed herein represent only a fraction of those who served in the British army in the nineteenth century. It is a modest acknowledgment of their lives and contribution to history.

Steve Dolan is a historian with Annaghdown ancestry. He holds an MBA from NUI Galway and an MA in History from the University of Limerick. He is the CEO of Galway Rural Development, a part-time lecturer in history and heritage, and has contributed to dozens of history journals.

Note: This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 Newsletter.

Annaghdown’s Army – One Hundred Annaghdown Men ‘In Service’

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