In 2008, Clare Museum received a British War Medal from a man who found it while digging in the garden of a house. The house was on Station Road, Ennis and he found it while living there in the late 1990s. The Medal was missing its bar and ribbon, leaving only the round silver disc.
All officers and men who served in the British and Imperial forces during the First World War received a British War Medal.
The medal carried the name, rank, regiment, and service number of the person who received it along its rim. It reads:
SR 5978 GNR. J Connell R.A.
This told us that the medal belonged to a J Connell. He was a part time soldier known as a Special Reservist (SR), and he was a Gunner (GNR) in the Royal Artillery (RA).
A search of the Commonwealth War Graves database of the dead from the First World War failed to find a match. This told us that J Connell had survived the war. It was there that the research ended for a time and the medal went into storage for cataloguing later.
The 2015 search
In late 2015 there was a fresh search for the identity of J Connell. A search of the 1911 census revealed a strong lead. A man named John Connell, employed by the West Clare Railway, lived at Ballaghboy, Doora. This is in the vicinity of the find place. He was 36 years old and married with two children. Yet, we could not link him to the medal.
In March 2016, we decided to make an appeal to the public to see if anyone could identify the soldier. The medal was the subject of a post on the Clare Library blog, and it immediately resulted in a response. Ger Browne, a local historian contacted the museum with information on J Connell. He checked his own research and told us that our soldier had joined the Connacht Rangers when the war began. He then later joined the Royal Artillery. It suggested he may have deserted only to join a different service of the army a few months later.
It was there that the story came to an end – we had solved the mystery of who J Connell was – or so we thought.
In August 2021, a woman called Patricia Curran contacted the museum. She informed us that she was the granddaughter of Connell. She had become aware of the medal from a relative who in turn had come across the blog post from 2016. Patricia was able to provide even more information on J Connell. This helped to fill gaps left in the military records and give us a sense of the man behind the medal.
John Connell was born John O’Connell at Corkalley Lane, Ennis on 19 May 1872. Patricia confirmed that he was the same man we had identified in the 1911 census. In the census John recorded that he had two children, Gerald aged 2 and Christopher aged 1. Patricia told us that in about 1912, the family moved to a new house in Cappabeg, Barefield.
John enlisted in the Connaught Rangers on 9th September 1914 at the age of 41. He signed up for one year, having served in the Special Reserves before the war broke out. The day after he joined the Connaught Rangers in 1914, his youngest son Alfred was born. That child was Patricia’s father.
In our blog post, we had speculated that John Connell had deserted from the Connaught Rangers. Patricia told us that her grandfather was not a deserter. She said that one day when he was returning late from furlough, he borrowed a bike without permission. The army dismissed him for this offence. After a short period as a civilian again, he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery on 9 April 1915.
Gunner Connell went to France in September 1915 and served there until October 1917. His army records state that he suffered a gunshot wound around this time. Once again, Patricia was able to tell us that the gunshot wound happened at home in Barefield in 1917. He was on furlough and while at home, John Connell went to the woods to shoot rabbits with his gun. The gun was a was double-barrelled fowling piece. When he tried to fire it, the gun exploded in his left hand and almost blew off his fingers.
Patricia’s told us that her uncles and father told her when she as young that their mother put a coat over John Connell’s shoulders. He then walked to Ennis from Cappabeg for treatment. This was a distance of about six kilometres. He spent some time in hospital in Fermoy, where his index finger was removed. Upon discharge from the British Army in March 1918, he was granted a pension. The war was over for Gunner John Connell.
After the war, British and Commonwealth servicemen received three service medals. These were:
- 1914-15 Star
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
John had one daughter named Lily. She went to London in the early 1930’s and brought the family photograph collection with her. The photographs fell victim to the destruction of The Blitz and no longer exists. There are no known photographs of John Connell in existence.
It is not known what happened to the other medals or how one of them ended up in a garden in Station Road.
We know little today of John Connell’s post-military life. One story in the family tells is that Connell trained as a cobble after his discharge from the army. Patricia recalled that there a lot of shoemakers lasts in the family home at Cappabeg when she was young.
On 1 January 1936, John Connell left Mass in Barefield in an agitated state. He went home and went to bed and never woke up. He died from a brain haemorrhage aged 63.