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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.

Michael Feeney

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)

Latest News
Christmas Truce 1914

The Anniversary of Soldiers Christmas Truce of 1914, will be commemorated at 2.30pm, on Christmas Eve, in the Mayo Peace Park, Castlebar .  The programme will commence with  a novel football game  Germany v The Allied Army. Castlebar Marching Band and Piper Pat Conlon will entertain the troop's. A lovely selection of Christmas Carol's will be sung by a choir drawn from the ranks of the Men's Shed in Castlebar and St Josephs Girls Secondary School.  Everyone is invited to come along to join in the spirit of the occasion, around a specially recreated trench. 

Jeff Kildea
Mayo Historical & 
Archaeological Society.
Lecture at GMIT, on 
Wednesday,December 10th 
at 8 pm.
Prof.Jeff Kildea.Australia
More than 70 men and 
2 women from County
enlisted in the Australian 
forces during the First 
World War. Of these 
15 were killed or died 
as a resultof their war 
service. In this talk 
Professor Jeff Kildea 
will examine Mayo's 
contribution to the 
Australian war
effort and tell the 
stories of some of 
theIrish Anzacs 
from Mayo who fought
 and died in the war.


Armistice Day 2014,

The Annual Armistice Day event for 2014, will take place at the Mayo Peace Park at 10.30am on Tuesday the 11th of November 2014.

Prayer's  and  Poem's  will be followed by a wreath laying in memory of all who served and  died  in the world war's.  The Last Post will  be sounded in memory of the fallen at 11am.

All are welcome.

Remembrance Sunday 2014.

The Annual Remembrance Sunday Mass & Ceremony to commemorate  the world war dead of County Mayo will take place in Achill Sound Church at 11.30am on next Sunday the 9th of November 2014.

It has been arranged by the Achill Historical Society and a world war one exhibition is running  in conjuction with the Mass in the Parish Hall on Sunday and will be on public display at  the Library for the next few weeks.

The major contribution of the people of Achill, will be  a feature of the event's.