Navigate Site   

St Johnston & Carrigans
Donegal

NATIONAL DAY OF COMMEMORATION, ‘LUCK OF THE DRAW’ SECURES SPECIAL INVITATION TO REMEMBER GRANDFATHER


By Paddy Walsh Donegal News Friday July 26 2019

Has three medals, earned by Matthew in the First World War and another medal marking his involvement in the War of Independence.

As he reflects on an emotional National Day of Commemoration at Collins Barracks in Dublin, Brian O Donnell is remembering.

He remembers his grandfather sitting in the corner of the kitchen smoking his pipe.

Recalling a quiet man, “And a gentleman. That’s what he was, a gentleman.”

Matthew Peoples had babysat his children but for many others like him there were no such moments to savour. Like many of his peers, including his friend, William Doherty, he had fought in the First World War. Fought and received a shrapnel injury from which he recovered and returned to France.

He survived the war and came back to become involved in another one – the War of Independence.

Again he emerged relatively unscathed, if such a condition is possible given the horrors of what he would have seen, particularly on the bloodied battle fields of France.

“He had joined the British Army when he was sixteen going on seventeen. He told them he was twenty-one”, his grandson Brian reveals.

Matthew’s friend, William Doherty, who hailed from the same locality, joined up with him on the same day. “He was twenty-one.”  For William, there was to be no return – he suffered a wound from which he didn’t recover. Yet another Donegal statistic from the so-called Great War.

Matthew’s involvement in the War of Independence is still clouded in some mystery. No doubt that he had fought in it. “But we weren’t sure what side he was on”, says Brian.

When the war was over, he took to flax cutting in the fields near his Kinnycally home.

And it was at Moody’s farm that he met the woman who would become his partner in life. Mary Cannon, a native of Dunlewey, had been hired out and the couple went on to have nine children.

“I remember asking him, ‘What was the war like, Grandad?” And he’d say to me, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ And he didn’t. He just never spoke about it.”

Matthew, who taught his nephew, Tommy Peoples the fiddle – the latter would go on to become one of the best ever exponents of the instrument but sadly passed away last year – died on June 3rd 1972, while his spouse, Mary, followed him twelve years later.

Of their nine offspring, only one survives, Mick, who resides in St Johnston.

For Letterkenny man, Brian, it was literally the luck of the draw that secured him a special invitation to last Sunday weeks’ National Day of Commemoration in Dublin.

The names of surviving relatives of those Irish who fought in the respective wars were put in a hat and war researcher, Sabina Purcell, contacted Brian to inform him that he was one of thirty relations who would travel for the ceremony.

“It was a moving enough experience and I was very pleased to be there on behalf of the family and my grandfather”. And indeed on behalf of all those Donegal families who have links to all the wars commemorated at Collins Barracks.

Brain has three medals, earned by Matthew in the First World War and another medal marking his involvement in the War of Independence.

Other memorabilia, too, form part of a highly personal family history.

The only thing missing is his grandfather's own account of that horrendous war that lasted from 1914 to 1918.

“That’s a story that will never be told,” Brian poignantly remarks.