First Irish regiment fatality in WWI was an Ulsterman

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Roamer’s page regularly reflects the build-up to the forthcoming centenary of August 4, 1914 when at 11pm British time, midnight German time, the two countries commenced hostilities and the First World War officially began.

Today comes another account from the numerous locally sourced WWI narratives that readers are sharing on this page as that sad centenary approaches.

Private Christopher Fitzgibbon, thought to have been a native of Kilkeel, is believed to have been the first Ulster fatality serving with an Irish regiment in the Great War.

Karen O’Rawe, chair of History Hub Ulster, explained that her recently formed organisation is asking people living in the Kilkeel area or further afield for help to find more information about Private Fitzgibbon.

Amongst its many aims, History Hub Ulster promotes and produces community projects and partnerships with the aim of instilling “a sense of pride in their ancestors’ achievements.”

Research to date has produced very little information about Private Fitzgibbon.

“It is believed Private Fitzgibbon (service number 9750) enlisted in the Connaught Rangers in Dublin around August 1909 and died on 17 August 1914,” Karen O’Rawe recounted.

“He is buried in the Ferozepore Military Cemetery in India” in Plot F. Grave 337.

Karen provided some details from the Connaught Rangers’ war dairy, taken from a page that gave a location and date - Ferozepore August 17, 1914. (Also spelt ‘Firozpur’ or ‘Ferozepur’ - an ancient city in Punjab.)

The diary noted - “Battalion entrained for Karachi. Marching out strength - 14 officers and 878 other ranks. Owing to intense heat 10 men had to be left at Ferozepore suffering from heat stroke. Of these three died.

Most of the remainder subsequently re-joined. One man died from heat stroke in train.”

The diary named the four casualties as Private Jeremiah Cronin from Cork, Private Christopher Fitzgibbon “from Kilkeel”, Private Martin Keeley from Galway and Private Michael Lapparth from Mayo. The first three are all remembered on the Kirkee War memorial near Pune in Maharashtra, India. Private Fitzgibbon is named on the Karachi memorial.

“This indicates that he was most likely the soldier who died from heat stroke on the train,” Karen noted, adding “his early life remains a mystery as his birth has not been sourced nor was he entered on either the 1901 or 1911 census in Kilkeel.”

Amongst the information that the History Hub Ulster would like to receive are details of his family and his birth and childhood in Kilkeel. Perhaps there are relatives still in the area, or maybe his name is on a local war memorial. And someone might know from their family records who took receipt of the British War Medal that he was awarded.

“We are asking Kilkeel residents to contact us if they are aware of any Fitzgibbon families in the area,” said Karen, “perhaps he enlisted under an alternative name or was not born in Kilkeel at all.”

History Hub Ulster is wanting to highlight Private Fitzgibbon as the first Ulster casualty serving with an Irish Army Regiment on the centenary of his death on August 17, 2014.

“We would like to be able to invite his family if we can source them,” Karen added, asking for any information to be sent to research@historyhubulster.co.uk History Hub’s intriguing website is historyhubulster.co.uk