The Band Played …..

I was listening to Eric Bogle’s anti-war song, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, when I recalled the local story of the same ilk – indeed the same period.

Ninety years ago, in the midst of the Great War, there was a great recruitment drive for volunteers for the British Army. Even as dreadful as all war is, this was a particular brutal conflict: opposing forces dug trenches, occasionally emerging to fling themselves uselessly against rifle and small arms fire, and even machine-guns and tanks. Months, even years passed like this with no progress recorded, while ‘the corpses piled higher’. 

This was far from how the conflict was portrayed by the recruitment officers.  It was their job and duty to paint a rosy picture, of the camaraderie, the chance to use firearms and ‘modern’ war machinery and the sheer privilege of recruits fighting to stop the evil Kaiser 

– ‘Your Country Needs YOU!’ 

Ironically Ireland North and South (Ireland was still united under British rule) provided – as it always had done – a ripe recruitment area, despite the nationalist-minded majority. 

Terry Ruddy’s Independent Band – based in the Kilmorey Street building that is still the Independent Club and associated with Charles Parnell and Irish Nationalism! – was hired to lead the great recruitment parade all around the town of Newry on that fatal day in 1915. The marching tunes beat a rousing tattoo and inspired many of the young men of the town. 

My friend’s father Terry Quinn Senior was standing there with up to a dozen of his male friends: in the excitement they all joined the march, and when the parade was over, all signed on the dotted line to join the Army. It was paid employment when none such was offered at home.

Margaret McLoughlin, Terry’s girlfriend of the time – later his wife – was left on the roadside and saw no more of him – except for a one-week home leave [story already told of Addy McLoughlin’s shot-off finger!] – for four long years. 

She was one of the very lucky ones. 

Of six colleagues, only one other ever returned at all.

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