Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Royal Irish Rifles: Robert W.

Livingston War Memorial

There is a correspondence going on at the present time on the Internet site called the 'Great War Forum' initiated by 'alf mcm' who is researching Private Robert McIlhagga who served in the Royal Irish Rifles. He had found out that there is a memorial to him in Ballyweaney Presbyterian Church and he was hoping for a photograph or a description of it. It is possible that he discovered this from our Clan Newsletter because in October 2007, to follow up at article I had written in 2006 on 'The Clan in the Military', I printed the following: 'There is a British TV Channel 4 web-site called "Lost Generations" on which you can search names and memorials. "McIlhagga" brings up a World War I commemoration that I don't think we included last time. He is Rifleman R.W. McIlhagga whose name is on the Ballyweaney Presbyterians Memorial in Ballyweaney Presbyterian Church, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. There are four other names on the memorial: H.Rock, T.Turner, D.Johnston and R. Turner'.

Alf.mcm's problem is that the memorial doesn't seem to exist, if it ever did. I tried the 'Lost Generation' site today and again put in 'McIlhagga' but got a 'No Information' message. The information seems to have been deleted. I suspect the site got it originally from the 'Roll of Honour 1914-1919 of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland'. The extract for the Congregation of Ballyweaney has 15 names on it including the four above, with the remark against each 'Killed in action'. It states that Robert's address was Knockahollet. There is a UK National Inventory of War Memorials which lists 'Ballyweaney Presbyterians'. reference 47464, giving the church address as 'Ballymoney'. It gets its information from a publication by Robert Thompson (1999) called 'Ballymoney Heroes 1914-1918', but unfortunately doesn't give any details of a Memorial. Robert's actual grave can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site. It is in the Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt, Somme, France: Rifleman Robert McIlhagga 12/7536 Royal Irish Rifles, grave I.B.20. There are two villages in the Department of the Somme, about 13 km. north of Peroune, 12 km. southeast of Bapaume. The cemetery lies half way between the villages of Rocquigny and Equancourt on the north side of the road, just west of the crossing road from Etricourt to Ypres.

The '12' stands for the 12th Battalion. The Royal Irish Rifles, otherwise known as 'The Central Antrim Volunteers' has its own internet site where there is a famous WW1 photograph and a short article under the title 'Who shall separate us?' - the traditional motto of the Irish Regiments. The photograph, called 'The Ration Party' is one of the most famous images of The Great War. According to records in the Imperial War Museum it depicts soldiers from the 12th Royal Irish Rifles allegedly on 1st July 1916. There are certainly men from the RIRs in the picture. The Regiments' site has an introduction which reminds us of its origins. Many in the north of Ireland opposed the British Government's proposals for 'Home Rule' - see the Ulster Covenant of 1912 - and in 1912 the Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled thousands of rifles and tons of ammunition into the Province. These were dispersed around the countryside of Ulster. Among those taking part in the gun running exploits were men of the 'North Antrim Regiment' of the UVF. It was these men who, only months later, flocked to the call 'For King and Empire'. They were the 'originals' who formed the 12th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Central Antrim Volunteers).

'Robert W. McIlhagga was born in County Antrim. His death records in 1917 give his age as 25, giving us a birth year of 1892. However, the 1911 Census shows Robert aged 16, giving us a birth year of 1895. This may mean that he went into the army younger than he was legally allowed - very common in the First World War. His parents were Daniel Maitland McIlhagga and Elizabeth Ann Wright. They had a large family of nine children. Robert was their second child and eldest son. They probably lived in Ballyportery where Robert's grandfather James was born in about 1840. He was a farmer and butcher who in about 1865 married Jane Maitland. Daniel was born 21st September 1868 and married Elizabeth about 1890. His occupation began as a Farm Labourer and Flax Scutcher; he was then a 'Contractor' and finally a 'Shale Miner'. Occupations are usually known from birth, marriage and death documentation and are often 'enhanced' versions of the actual jobs people did. Robert was Daniel's second child and eldest son. At some stage the family moved from Northern Ireland to Scotland and settled in Livingston in Mid-Lothian. They probably moved in the early years of the 20th Century. The family address there was 104 Main Street, Livingston Station. Although Robert's official medal cards use the name variants McIlhaggar and McIlhagger, these are army mistakes. He was always a McIlhagga. According to Alf mcm on the Great War Forum his name is on the War Memorial in Livingston Kirkyard. The official army record says 'Died of wounds 4th Sep 1917, Age 25'. But he was probably only twenty-two!

There are many members of this family living today, in County Antrim, in Perth, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, and in Bathgate, Edingurgh and Glasgow, Scotland. I have a Family Tree for them with 391 people on it. I wish Alf mcm well with his research and would be most interested to see the result of it.

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