A 92 year-old Cahir man who has dedicated his life to honouring the memory of men from the area who died in the two world wars has been included by the Queen of England in her New Year’s Honours.
Johnny O’Brien, from Mountain Road, Cahir, has been awarded a British Empire Medal ‘for services to the country of Ireland’ for his community work in maintaining the town’s war memorial.
The annual New Year’s Honours List recognises people who’ve made great achievements in public life and people who’ve committed themselves to serving their communities. They will usually have made life better for other people or been outstanding at what they do.
Johnny is a veteran of World War II and is accepting the medal not only for himself but in memory of his father and brother who also served in the world wars.
In August 2011 Johnny was honoured by Ireland’s own President Mary McAleese for his tireless efforts in maintaining his hometown’s war memorial for more than 20 years.
Johnny visits the memorial on Castle Street in Cahir several times a week, often accompanied by his daughter, to ensure it is kept clean and to tend to the flowers, plants and wreath at its foot. He started looking after the monument more than 20 years ago because it had become dilapidated after years of neglect.
“It was gone grey and dirty looking, and children, being children, were just running, climbing and jumping around the place. I had it power washed and then I got going with the planting. I put a poppy wreath there all year round and place a fresh wreath there on Armistice Day every year.”
On Armistice Day (November 11) every year Johnny pays his own private homage at the memorial to the soldiers of the Great War and his comrades who fought in World War II by laying a wreath of poppies and singing the Last Post.
It’s a ceremony he repeats in the cemetery of Cahir Abbey at the grave of his father Michael, who fought in some of the major battles in the fields of Flanders in World War I and was seriously wounded twice.
In the summer of 2011 President McAleese sent the retired gardener a letter praising and thanking him for his “tireless efforts” and “long and faithful service” in maintaining the memorial. In the letter, President McAleese expressed the hope that his “noble work will inspire others in the community to continue to cherish the memory of those Irishmen, who died on foreign battlefields”.
Cahir’s War Memorial was erected in 1930 to commemorate 88 soldiers from Cahir and its hinterland including the villages of Ardfinnan, Ballyporeen and Clogheen, who died in the Great War (1914-1918).
Their names are engraved on the monument, which was built on a parcel of ground on Castle Street donated by the late Lt. Colonel RB Charteris of Cahir Park and funded by public subscriptions. The memorial was rededicated in 1996 to include all local men and women of Cahir and district, who died in armed conflict at home and abroad.
Johnny’s father served in the Royal Irish Regiment for 23 years and fought in some of the bloodiest Western Front battles during World War 1 including Ypres and Mons.
“My father fought in the Boer War at the turn of the (20th) century. He was just 16 at the time. A lot of Irish boys, and English lads too, put up their age by two years to join up,” he recalled.
“He came home safely after three years and then the Great War began in 1914 and he was called up straight away because he was in the reserves. He went with his brothers and was severely wounded twice.
“He got a bullet in the lung at Ypres (Story continues on Page 3)