101 Years since Martin O’Meara VC honoured in his home town

On 24 November 1916 Private Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was honoured at a well-attended ceremony at Lorrha, his home village in County Tipperaary in Ireland. Except, however, that he wasn’t actually present to be honoured.

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The Kings County Chronicle reported that:

The little village of Lorrha in North Tipperary was en fete last Friday on the occasion of the presentation to Martin O’Meara, V.C., who hails from the district. By motor car, by brake, by side car, by cycle, and by foot came hundreds of people to testify their pride in the bravery displayed by the gallant North Tipperary man. A platform was erected in a ball alley by the side of a venerable old abbey. Gaily decorated poles with the Union Jack and the Shamrock added a bright appearance to the scene. Fortunately the weather was sunny and bright if a trifle windy.

The ceremony started at 1.00pm. The list of attendees included a broad cross section of the notable personalities from King’s County (no Offaly) and County Tipperary, as well as Meara’s brothers (presumably Thomas, Hugh and John O’Meara), his sister Alice, and his cousin John O’Meara (‘better known as Doctor’, according to the Kings County Chronicle) who made a brief speech.

Another newspaper account noted that ‘a very large gathering’ saw his sister Alice O’Meara presented with a ‘valuable gold watch.’ Alice received the watch on behalf of her brother who had left Ireland by this time and was in England.

We do not know exactly why Martin O’Meara did not attend the ceremony. It is possible that he did not want all the attention, or perhaps he was uncomfortable with being involved in what was, more or less, a recruitment rally for the British Army. He was a devout Roman Catholic and nationalist political views, even if he was not a Sinn Féin supporter.

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These factors in tandem suggest a tendency towards uneasiness about being publicly identified with the British Army.

Previous Irish Victoria Cross winners had been regarded with contempt by some of the more radical nationalists; Michael O’Leary VC, of County Cork, had addressed several meetings in Ireland during 1915 and received a mixed reception:
They brought Michael O’Leary, who had won the Victoria Cross, to one of their recruiting meetings but we gave them a bad reception by continuously boohing, shouting and singing rebel songs.

This story forms part of my biography of Martin O’Meara which is now available from various places. This biography provides an account of Martin O’Meara’s life from his birth in County Tipperary in 1885 to his death at the Claremont Mental Hospital in Perth, Western Australia, in 1935.99

A Christmas gift for those interested in the Victoria Cross

Looking for a Christmas gift for those interested in recipients of the Victoria Cross? Or perhaps somebody interested in Irish or Western Australian military history?

Here’s the updated list of the places where you can purchase my biography of Martin O’Meara VC, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War.

Amazon

Angus & Robertson Bookworld

Boffins

Bol (Netherlands)

Book Depository

Booktopia

Fishpond

Imprimatur Books

Lulu

Regimental Books

 

99 Years since Sgt Martin O’Meara VC admitted to a mental hospital

Today marks the 99th anniversary of Sergeant Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born VC of the First World War, being hospitalised in Western Australia following a mental breakdown. O’Meara had arrived back in Western Australia on the troopship Arawa a week or so earlier, but had been in quarantine at Woodman’s Point Quarantine Station due to concerns about possible flu cases on that ship.

On 13 November 1918, he was transferred to the 24th Australian Auxiliary Hospital (‘Stromness’), a thirty-bed army facility for the mentally ill located on the corner of St Leonard’s Street and Monument Street at Mosman Park in suburban Perth. Stromness had been established by the Australian Government to accommodate returned soldiers with mental problems who were being accommodated (unsatisfactorily) in the Western Australian Government’s mental health system.

It had earlier been described as ‘a well built stone house with nine good lofty rooms … It is an ideal place for mentally afflicted cases.’ Stromness was under the command of Captain (later Major) J. Theo Anderson, who was also the Western Australian Government’s Inspector-General of the Insane under the Lunacy Act 1903. Anderson travelled to Stromness from the nearby Claremont Hospital for the Insane on a regular basis to attend to the patients.

In December 1918 Captain Anderson reported that ‘this patient is suffering from Delusional Insanity, with hallucinations of hearing and sight, is extremely homicidal and suicidal, and requires to be kept in restraint’.

The West Australian newspaper reported on 14 November 1918 that ‘arrangements which were made to tender a civic reception to Sergeant O’Meara V.C. and other returned Anzacs unfortunately have to be postponed owing to the serious indisposition of the V.C. winner’.

On 17 November 1918 the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Martin O’Meara had returned to Perth ‘but is unfortunately ill’, but did not elaborate on the nature of his illness.

Martin O’Meara remained in mental hospitals in Western Australia for the rest of his life, and passed away at the Claremont Mental Hospital in December 1935.

He is buried at Perth’s Karakatta Cemetery.

His story is told in my biography The most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen, which was published in 2016.