Grave Rededications: John Roach
The Legendry Private John “Bata” Roach
The story of John Roach is no different than that of the thousands of other Mayo men who volunteered to fight in world war one, work was scarce at the time and even if you were lucky to get it, you were no better off, it was little more then slavery, for a pittance in wages, that was the harsh reality of the times. It was also a time of large families in Ireland, which joined together with the near poverty of the people, meant that the older ones had to flee the nest as soon as they were able to go I carried out extensive research into that period and it makes interesting reading, there were huge recruitment rally’s in the larger towns during 1914-15, and all the local newspapers carried advertisements extolling the virtues of the military services. I came across another interesting situation in that a Belgian Priest named Fr Gaston Brohee who was forced to flee from Belgium, from German persecution and tyranny; he escaped and came to Ireland. Fr Brohee gave sermons around Mayo about the war and the situation in Europe, he spelled out what was happening to the Belgian people and to the Church in Belgium which was persecuted, surely this must have had a profound effect of the ordinary impressionable and idealistic young men of this area. Fr Brohee went around to the different towns, and preached as he went and so the story of the war and its horrors was spread. It is hard to realise at this remove, that the Sunday Mass or Service was the Media of the day. Those that had access to newspapers were lucky and even if they had, not that many could read them, I know this from looking at the army registration papers of the time as quite a lot signed their X for their names.
Ireland was promised Home Rule, by the British Government in return for its support of the war effort; this was also a major factor for those men going out into one of the worst wars known unto mankind. There were large parades to the railway station, led by local and military bands, as they marched off proudly to go to fight in the war.
Private John Roach survived the war, he lived to a venerable old age in his hometown of Castlebar, for many children of that period he was a man to be feared as he worked as a bouncer “ attendant” in the Local Cinema, John carried a walking stick, and his job was stopping the noise and trouble, so many people thought the Bata was from the cinema job , as stick in the Gaelic is Bata, but it had more relevance to the famous Botha of South Africa.
John Roach was one of the last living survivors of world war one, he was decorated for bravery and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, this was a huge event in those times and there was a major gathering of the good and the great on the steps of the courthouse in Castlebar for the presentation of his Medal. He was buried in the old Cemetery in Castlebar and has lain in an unmarked grave since. This to me was a scandal, and I want to pay my complements to Ernie Sweeney our local historian, for locating his grave after so long, In recent weeks John Basquille from Ballyheane has volunteered to work on the grave, to install a proper base and headstone John deserves every support and thanks and I know he will be embarrassed that I have praised him for it, but such decency and humanity deserves to be recognised.
I think that John Basquille and Ernie Sweeney’s efforts, should be given every support, this is a noble task and Christian work, so perhaps anyone who has a passing interest in this story, his distant relatives or friends in Castlebar might come together and make a small contribution towards this worthy local project, and very soon this brave Castlebar man will be finally given the dignity of a properly marked grave for his final place of rest.
The story has a nice postscript, in that Mrs Nan Corley from St Martins Terrace, wrote to her Aunt Lily Kerpatrick in Wales, who had John Roachs war medals, she has now donated his war medals to the town, in the safekeeping of Ernie Sweeney, so that if and when a permanent exhibition of such historical items are displayed in the Town, Private John Roach’s medals can be proudly displayed for all to see. I think that this is an excellent idea and maybe this might be taken up at a later stage as there are laterally dozens of such items in the drawers and presses of Castlebar, that have never see the light of day.
For Mr Joe Redmond -- Castlebar Parish Magazine
Photo of John Roach with his war medal will follow
A Brave Castlebar Soldier
Many local people will recall the late John "Botha" Roach, who lived at McHale Road, Castlebar. He was one of the town's great characters, a strict disciplinarian with a distinct military bearing.
In his later years he walked with the aid of a stick and as youngsters everyone was in awe of him as he kept the queues at the County Cinema in Spencer Street in order. No one stepped out of line when "Botha Roache" was in charge.
In his younger days he was by all accounts a fine cut of a man, tall and handsome, and he was popularly known as "Botha," a nickname given to him after General Botha, one of the central figures in the Boer War before the turn of the last century.
John Roach served with distinction in World War I and showed gallantry and bravery far beyond the call of duty. His bravery in the face of enemy fire was recognised when he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1918.
The DCM presentation was made by Colonel Meldon, R.M.
Also present at the ceremony, which was held at the Courthouse, in Castlebar, were County Court Judge Doyle, K.C.; Mr A. C. Larminie,J.P., and Mr M. Horan, J. P.
A large company of soldiers from Castlebar Military Barracks were in attendance as well as members of Comrades of the Great War and hundreds of local people.
Making the presentation, Colonel Meldon said he had been asked to present a medal for distinguished conduct on the field to Private John Roach, late of the Connaught Rangers. It was always a pleasure for him to pay tribute to a fellow soldier for gallantry on the field. Private Roach had been an outstanding soldier, extremely brave in the face of enemy fire and had shown great resolve and commitment.
The particular act of bravery by Private Roach was set out in the "London Gazette" of the 29th August, 1917:
"Private John Roach, Connaught Rangers, awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry in action. When all the bombs of his party were expended and the bomb carrier killed, he volunteered to go back for more bombs. He brought these up across the open under heavy fire. On finding that the enemy had reoccupied part of the trench, he reorganised fresh bombing parties on his own initiative and proceeded to attack it. He only retired when ordered by his superior officer."
Colonel Meldon said it had been a most gallant act by a soldier who had put his life at risk so that others could be saved.
Mr. A. C. Larminie said he had known John Roach and his family for many years, and they were decent, hardworking people.
Many other Castlebar people served with distinction in the first World War. Most of them joined for economic reasons; others for a sense of adventure. Many endured great suffering, particularly from the after-effects of gassing. Their bravery was incredible, the fought for what they regarded as a just cause at the time . Thank God we have lived to see the day when those who lost their lives in all wars are now being officially recognized and remembered.
The most amazing thing about this story is that Pte John Roach, who was undoubtably a very brave world war hero, had lain in an unmarked grave in Castlebar old cemetery, ever since he died at a relativly advanced age. Some concerned members of the Mayo Peace Park Committee, were wondering where he was buried and why there was no memorial for him, so local historian Ernie Sweeney took on the task of finding his grave, it was not an easy task, as no one seemed to know for sure. The actual grave site was finally identified by a local man named Jackie Duffy, from McHale Road, Jackie remembered that a special slab of flat stone had been laid on top of the grave as a marker .
Ernie Sweeney and Michael Feeney started work on the grave and sure enough the large stone marker was there under the grass, exactly where Jackie indicated, they were assisted in the work by John Basquille and very soon a number of relatives came foreword to support them and help finance the grave development .
On a lovely sunny morning Saturday the 16th of March 2007, the grave was rededicated, John Roache was finally remembered in his native town , all of his relatives and many neigbours from the area gathered to acknowledge a true war hero.
Mr Oliver Fallon, representing the Connaught Rangers Association read out his DCM bravery citation at the graveside, Michael Feeney , the chairman of the Mayo Peace Park , thanked the Roache and Cunningham families and the other relatives who helped give respect and dignity to a brave soldier and true war hero. John Roache had in fact gone to the war with Michael Feeney’s grandfather Patrick Feeney who was killed in action in 1915.
When the Last Post was sounded by buglar Debbie Clarke, in the old cemetery in Castlebar, there was a great pride that “ Bata“ was no longer forgotten, he would be for ever remembered in his home town.
Last Updated (Monday, 14 May 2012 12:13)