Three poignant places where the past is recalled and commemorated

The Welsh Red Dragon Memorial at the scene of the Battle of Mametz.
The Welsh Red Dragon Memorial at the scene of the Battle of Mametz.

Roamer’s page today embarks on a trio of memorable journeys through time and place, each signposted by a reader’s much-appreciated letter.

Whilst many folk across Northern Ireland and around the world are commemorating an historic battle fought in 1690, the 12th of July also marks the end of six days of fighting during the Battle of the Somme that is particularly poignant in Wales.

WWI bestowed history with countless sad anniversaries and commemorations marked by people of all nationalities around the globe.

The attack by the 38th Welsh Division on Mametz Wood in France, today in 1916, is marked with a sculpture of the Welsh red dragon at a one-mile-square area of densely forested woodland on the Somme battlefront.

Mametz was heavily fortified with enemy guns, packed trenches and deadly mortars.

The battle began on the 7th July 1916 with the Allied Generals expecting victory within hours.

But massed German defences fiercely countered the relentless Welsh assaults and on the first day over 400 of the 38th died.

During the next five days of horrendous casualties on both sides the forest was laid bare by artillery shells.

Fighting was furious, often with hand to hand combat as men battled for an inch of ground, and then retreated.

The poet Robert Graves, a Mametz veteran, wrote “The wood was full of dead men and not a single tree remained unbroken.”

The final day of the battle on the 12th July concluded with a complete German retreat, but brought further casualty figures to the Welsh of another 46 officers and 556 other ranks killed.

The total tally of Welsh wounded and missing at Mametz was nearly 4,000.

It was presumed that the numbers of German dead and missing was similar.

While King William’s white horse unfurls on banners across Ulster today, a Welsh red dragon stands silently over Mametz.

A fifth book by genealogist and author Dorothy Arthur has just been published.

Titled ‘St. Patrick’s Church Graveyard, Armoy’, it includes photographs of each headstone, maps of the graveyard and an invaluable index for quick reference.

Dorothy has also provided a brief history of this fascinating and ancient ecclesiastical site and the archaeological discoveries found there during recent excavations.

For those of us not familiar with the local Armoy landscape, she has added an essential list of the many impenetrable local townland names and an accompanying map which will enable readers to identify where their ancestors lived.

Among the headstones at Armoy, Dorothy reveals the background of people from all walks of life; farmers, labourers, shopkeepers, blacksmiths and railway porters share their resting place with eminent clergymen, Olympians, Lieutenants in the Royal Navy, poets and Oscar Wilde’s uncle!

There are the parents of 15 children and relatives who evidently couldn’t agree about the spelling of their family name! (Is it McGuigan, McGoogan or McGugan?)

The oldest legible headstones date back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, although early medieval bones unearthed during church renovations in 1997, including leprosy victims, prove that interments occurred long before that.

Large recumbent slabs mark the mass graves of those unfortunates who, local people tell us, died of the plague.

Other interesting headstones include the tall, thin stone of Alex McDonel, who died in 1744, and the unsophisticated, yet memorable, carving for Barnet McElvar, of Nock (possibly Knocklayde or Knockans?) who died in 1767.

Dorothy’s book has the endorsement of the Parish Church who generously allowed her access to their records in order to complete her research. It’s worth mentioning that Dorothy adds her thanks to her accomplished support team - among them the vastly experienced genealogist and researcher Kathleen Connolly and map surveyor Bill Simpson - and others who contributed to the finished product.

Further information about ‘St. Patrick’s Church Graveyard, Armoy’ by Dorothy Arthur is at ballymoneygraveyard.com

Roamer’s third historic journey today comes courtesy of Londonderry’s Siege Museum which is launching a new and unique walking tour vividly illustrating the story of the Siege of Londonderry.

The Siege of Londonderry in 1689 is one of the landmark events in British and Irish history - an event of such importance that its outcome has shaped and continues to shape the history of both Britain and Ireland.

For 105 days up to 30,000 Protestant people held the walled city in the face of the Catholic King James II, until the relief fleet broke the boom across the River Foyle on 28 July and the Jacobite forces commenced their retreat on 1 August 1689.

Friends, families and community groups will soon be able to travel back through time to those momentous events with an expert guide, walking the walls and ‘meeting’ the people who faced the horror of starvation, disease and the bombardment of the city.

Each walking tour will be accompanied by actors and performers playing and retelling numerous dramatic roles in the Siege story.

The tours last approximately one hour and the maximum size of a group is 30 people.

The tour costs £3 per person and includes admission to the Siege Museum.

Tours leave the Siege Museum at 12pm and 2pm on the following Saturdays - July 15, July 22, July 29, August 19, August 26, September 2 & September 9.

Full details are on the museum’s website at thesiegemuseum.org