Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland




Heartbreak of the Somme in Lisburn recalled

The Ulster Tower. US26-707SP
The Ulster Tower. US26-707SP

THE heartbreaking voids left in many homes throughout Lisburn by the Battle of the Somme are recalled in a new book published to coincide with the 90th anniversary of what is now regarded as one of the bloodiest events in military history.

In Lisburn, as in cities and towns throughout Ireland, parents who watched more than one son march off to war received the dreaded telegrams telling them not all their offspring would be returning.

Such a couple were Thomas and Maggie Abbott of McKeown Street.

Their three sons enlisted in the 11th Royal Irish Rifles on the outbreak of war.

William, the youngest of the trio, was later transferred to the 108th Company Machine Gun Corps and it was while fighting with them that he was killed on July 1, 1916.

His remains were never identified and his name is among those inscribed on the 'Thiepval Memorial to the Missing' which overlooks the spot where he died.

William was among the countless thousands from Ireland, both Unionist and Nationalist who fought and died on the Western Front.

Many people with Lisburn connections are recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, such as James Downing, a lieutenant in the Third Royal Irish Regiment.

The 32-year-old, who had been working in the Dublin office of the Belfast-based firm of Robert Watson and Co, was the fifth son of John Downing of Hill Hall.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. US26-706SP The King's certificate. US26-708SP

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. US26-706SP

The King's certificate. US26-708SP

Captain Henry Parker Beggs had played cricket for Lisburn and was prominent at athletics events in the town.

The 26-year-old, who lived at Dunmurry and also played for Cliftonville cricket and hockey teams, was serving with the Eighth Royal Irish Rifles when killed.

Private William Cunningham's connection with Lisburn was a little different - he served in the town as a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Originally from Co Donegal, the 24-year-old Irish Guardsman was killed on September 12, 1916.

Captain Alexander Allen Wright was educated at the Ulster Provincial School in Lisburn.

A member of Collegians rugby club, he had worked for the Audit Office at Belfast City Hall before the war.

He was killed on August 6, 1916, while serving with the First/Fourth The King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment).

The 36th (Ulster) Division had its headquarters and divisional medical facilities in the village of Forceville during much of its preparation for the Battle of the Somme and many of those buried in the cemetery there are from the province.

They include Rifleman John Clay, who was just 18-years-old when killed on March 28, 1916.

From Lambeg, his loss must have been felt greatly by his comrades for they erected a wood cross which bore the words:

Soldier, rest, thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows no breaking;
Dream of fighting field no more,
Day of toil and night of waiting.

� 'The Irish on the Somme', by Steven Moore, is available from the Star offices as well as high street bookshops.

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Ulster Star