Roamer: Memorial in glass to the little-recounted Irishmen who fought at Trafalgar

The three Trafalgar windows in Dervock
The three Trafalgar windows in Dervock

I have no idea why it should have been, but the story of Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar seems to have been Roamer’s very first childhood encounter with history!

I have no idea why it should have been, but the story of Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar seems to have been Roamer’s very first childhood encounter with history!

Maybe we were told of other historic events and heroes, particularly from WWII which had ended only a decade before I started primary school in the early 1950s, but I seemed to know about Nelson before anyone told me about Winston Churchill!

This may be a retrospective perception dulled by my advancing age, but my memory is undoubtedly that Lord Nelson and Trafalgar was an enthralling first introduction to history.

Or perhaps the other remarkable historic accounts that we’d been told about as children were eclipsed by the story of the one-armed Admiral who had once ignored orders to retreat by putting his blind eye to a telescope, and who, against all the odds, won a crushing victory at Trafalgar before dying below deck on the magnificent, wooden, fully-rigged HMS Victory.

So today is rather special on my calendar – the day on which Nelson perished during the Battle of Trafalgar.

At about 1.15pm this afternoon in 1805 Nelson was hit by a 0.69in-diameter lead ball.

The shot slashed through an artery in his lung, lodged in his spine, and he fell to the deck, mortally wounded.

Nelson was already a national hero before Trafalgar.

He was the ultimate naval commander and a superb strategist.

Arch-enemy Napoleon Bonaparte respected him so much he kept a bust of Nelson in his private quarters!

On October 21, 1805 Nelson’s fleet annihilated the greatest threat that there’d been to British security for two centuries, and guaranteed Britain’s control of the world’s oceans, the very basis of her global power, for over a century.

Whereas I’ve remembered many of the details of the battle since my school days, particularly Nelson’s famous flag signal ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’, I was unaware until recently of the many Irishmen who served under Nelson.

Perhaps I should have guessed this, because I can recall Dublin’s Nelson’s Pillar prior to its eradication by an IRA bomb in 1966.

Completed in October 1809, the Dublin memorial was built over three decades before London got its iconic Nelson’s Column in 1843.

Apparently when the news of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar was reported in Dublin early in November 1805 it was greatly applauded, with celebrations in the city’s streets.

Rule Britannia was sung in Dublin’s drinking-houses and theatres.

Nor did I know until recently that there are some little-recounted memorials to Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar in Northern Ireland today.

Dervock’s Allen Adair Hall in Co Antrim, built by Samuel Allen in memory of his two parents’ families, the Allens and the Adairs, bears stained glass windows installed in 1936 depicting the history of those families.

One set of three windows vividly portrays the Battle of Trafalgar, commemorating Captain Adair, a family relation who died in the action.

The Captain is seen in one of the windows on board HMS Victory, close to Lord Nelson. This is probably the only memorial in Ireland, not only to Lord Nelson, but to Captain Adair of the Royal Marines.

Another single window shows HMS Victory and HMS Redoubtable.

I was recently corresponding with a News Letter reader about these remarkable Irish memorials to Trafalgar.

The reader sent me a photograph of the windows and a newspaper cutting from an article written by author, historian academic and journalist Dennis Kennedy.

The article confirmed that over a quarter and perhaps a third of the sailors in Nelson’s fleet were from Ireland, and quoted a British National Archive listing of the Royal Navy personnel who fought at Trafalgar.

There were almost 60 men at the Battle surnamed Murphy, the vast majority of them with home addresses in Ireland.

There were a similar number of men surnamed Sullivan, again mostly from Ireland.

One of Nelson’s ships, HMS. Tonnant, was captained by Dublin-born Charles Tyler.

Of almost 500 men aboard HMS Tonnant at Trafalgar, nearly 130 were Irish.

An old document about Tyler recounts that the captain “from the Emerald Isle, had a slight touch of brogue, and was replete with anecdote!”

The three stained glass windows in Dervock’s Allen Adair Hall capture a historic moment at Trafalgar.

It is October 21, 1805 and the time is 11.40 am.

Nelson’s famous flag signal is being hoisted.

In the left-hand window Lieutenant John Pasco, with an old-fashioned loudhailer in his hand, is supervising the hoisting of the signal.

On the centre window Vice Admiral Lord Nelson is talking to Captain Thomas Hardy and Irishman Captain the Hon. Henry Blackwood (with hat in hand), the captain of the Frigate Euryalus.

On the right-hand window Captain William Prowse, Captain of HMS Sirius, is looking through his telescope at the enemy ships on the horizon.

To the right of Captain Prowse is his nephew Captain Charles William Adair, with arms folded, the Commander of the Royal Marines aboard HMS Victory.

In the foreground is Mr John Scott, Lord Nelson’s secretary, bending over some documents.

Lord Nelson, Mr Scott and Captain Adair were later killed in the Battle.

Surgeon William Beatty, who tended the dying Nelson, came from Londonderry where his father was a customs official.