Ceremony to honour an ‘outstanding Irishman’
Australian Ambassador to Ireland Gary Gray visited Lorrha last week to see the birthplace of First World War hero Martin O’Meara.
O’Meara (1885-1935), who emigrated to Australia around 1912, won the Victoria Cross for bravery he displayed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. A Lorrha committee had hoped for O’Meara’s cross to be put on display in the village last year, though the plan was scuppered by the pandemic.
It is now intended that the VC, along with O’Meara’s other medals and associated memorabilia, will be on view early next year in Lorrha's community hall, honouring the war hero’s link with a home he always held close to his heart, as underlined in his leaving of some £1,300 (around €100,000 in ‘today's money’) to the local community in his will.
Visiting Lorrha for the first time last Friday, Mr Gray assured he would do everything possible to have the medal brought to the village for a temporary display period, most likely commencing next spring.
“It will happen,” Mr Gray said. “It’s appropriate that it happens. It's the right thing to do by this wonderful community and it’s the right way of recognising the extraordinary connnection between this significant man and his significant deeds - saving lives, preserving life, and yet making a wonderful contribution himself to his home community.”
The ambassador arrived to a warm welcome with refreshments at the Social Community Enterprise for the Advancement of Lorrha/Rathcabbin (SCEAL) shop in the community hall. A number of presentations were made, including a drawing of O’Meara’s heroic action at the Front depicted by local artist Ute Duggan; the drawing is to feature in the display when O’Meara’s VC is brought to the hall.
Mr Gray - whose grandfather also fought at the Somme - told of how he grew up in Whyalla, around 50 miles from where O'Meara worked on Australia's trans-continental railway line before the war. He was also very familiar with Collie, where O’Meara subsequently lived, as the ambassador’s late wife’s family had a vineyard just south of the town.
Intimately familiar with the Lorrha soldier’s story, Mr Gray described him as “a proud, fierce, humane, decent member of the Australian infantry in numerous battles throughout Europe”. He was “an outstanding Irishman, who made a contribution to two continents and numerous countries”.
TOUR OF LORRHA
Local historian James Heenan then brought the ambassador on a tour of Lorrha and its fascinating historic sites, including St Ruadhán’s Abbey and the adjoining Church of Ireland church, the Augustinian Friary, St Ruadhán’s Well, the Dominican Priory, St Rudhán’s RC church, and the grave of O'Meara's brother John, who died in 1961.
The tour also included a visit to Pat Hough’s pub. Mr Hough remembered John O'Meara. He told of further connections between the local community and Australia, including that of Kim Beazley, current Governor or Western Australia and a cousin of Mr Hough’s. Mr Gray took Mr Beazley’s seat in parliament after the latter resigned in 2007, and said the two had been close friends for 30 years.
The tour ended with a visit to the O’Meara memorial, where the ambassador laid a wreath on behalf of the Australian people. Rose Mannion, chairperson of the Martin O’Meara Victoria Cross Committee, also laid a wreath.
Bill O’Hara, a grandnephew of the war hero, read out the citation for the Victoria Cross awarded to his ancestor. Committee members Ger O’Meara and Michael Hoctor recited ‘For the Fallen’ ‘as Gaeilge’ and in English, while Mr Heenan invoked the many other men from Lorrha, or whose family came from Lorrha, who served in the Great War.
“We remember their Australian and New Zealand comrades, as well as their comrades from other nations. We remember the Irish soldiers who died in other wars, as well as the members of the Irish armed forces who lost their lives while on peacekeeping duties with the United Nations.”
Mr Gray reflected on the significance of the occasion. “A commemoration of war is not a celebration of war,” he remarked. He added that it gave him great pride that Martin O’Meara's final resting place is Karrakatta cemetery alongside so many other great people of Australia.
The ambassador enjoyed a meal at the Friars Tavern before being taken to Redwood school. O’Meara had wanted his €1,300 – some of which was raised through a testimonial to him from the local parish – to go towards restoration of the Dominican Priory. This was not feasible, so the money was instead spent on the school.
Mr Gray’s visit concluded at the remains of O’Meara’s homestead at Lissernane, where the ambassador laid another wreath in memory of the local man and his gallant deeds of bygone times.