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Irish soldiers in the Great War: Tracing your family history in WWI

Readers share their family links to the Great War with some tips on how to begin your search.

War - First World War - Buses bound for Trenches - France The bus taking troops up to the trenches . Topham Picturepoint / Press Association Images Topham Picturepoint / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago, World War One was under way, changing the landscape of families both in the UK and Ireland.

No matter what your views of the War are, the fact remains that 150,000 Irish men enlisted to fight in the British Army and 49,000 of those Irish men, many with families, died overseas.

Irish volunteers came from all backgrounds and religions, from every county in Ireland, with many enlisting for different reasons.

This year, marking the centenary, many people are looking back into their family history, myself included, to find out what links they have to World War One.

My link to the Great War is my great grandfather, Patrick Carroll, who died in France in 1917. He was 34 years old, he had a wife and five children. But there are many stories like this dotted around the country.

You shared some of your stories with us last week.

patrick 1

War - First World War - Troops in the Trenches - France Hot tea for men on their way out from the trenches. Topham Picturepoint / Press Association Images Topham Picturepoint / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Aoife Brogan told us about the research she had done so far into her great grandfather John Brooks.
I don’t have much information from my mother as he was not mentioned much in her childhood, my grandmother was a young girl when he died in October 1914 . All of the information I have gotten so far has come from the Find My Past website and from the National UK Archive online records.

John Brooks was born in 1876 to John and Ellen Brooks in Enniscorthy, County Wexford.  He had served in the British army prior to World War One in the Boer War. I am unsure of dates as records of the Boer War are difficult to find however I believe that he was awarded medals and clasps for this service.

In 1901 he married my great grandmother Margaret Brooks, also of Enniscorthy. They had three children (Margaret, Elizabeth and Mathew). In the First World War he served with C company, 2nd battalion, Royal Irish Regiment

I don’t know what happened to him but have found a medal card with evidence of a medal awarded  on 7 October 1914.

Margaret Brooks had no contact from her husband but had no official conformation of his death until 1916.  In 1916 a statement was taken from a Private P Brien (also from Enniscorthy) in the Brompton Hospital, London which reported the death of Private John Brooks on 19 October 1914.

There is no grave but he is named on a memorial in Northern France (Le Touret Memorial).  A family gathering of grandchildren, great grandchildren and great,great grandchildren at Le Touret Memorial is planned for October to mark 100 years since his death.

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First World War - Gallipoli - Turkey A Royal Irish fusilier teases a Turkish sniper. Topham Picturepoint / Press Association Images Topham Picturepoint / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

patrick 3

Where do I begin my search?

Now that people are finally recognising and acknowledging the bravery of the men in their families, many would like to know how to go about researching their family history connections to WWI.

My search began with a simple Google search. I knew the name of my great grandfather and his registration number from old army documents we had in our possession. If you know your relatives regiment such as Royal Irish Regiment or the Royal Field Artillery, this is a great help.

The best place to start is the UK’s National Archives ‘Looking for records of a British Army soldier after 1913‘ section. You can also access the World War One diaries section here.

With a simple search you can access records for a nominal fee (about €4). This is where I found my great grandfathers Medal Card:

mead British Archives British Archives


Through my search I came across the cemetary, Lijssenthoek Military Cemetary, where my great grandfather is buried. They have carried out a project that documents all the men buried there, which includes their records as well as a photo of the grave.

A good place to start looking for a relatives grave is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Other useful websites include and

Another project, launched by the former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in January allows people access death records of the Irish in WWI. The project, undertaken by Google, the In Flanders Fields MuseumEneclann and the Department of Foreign Affairs sees an attempt made for the first time to make the details of the Irish who died in The Great War available to the public.

A simple search in showed my great grandfather’s name on Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial:


His is just one of thousands of names featured on the memorial.

DSCN5806SmallJPG Press Association Press Association

Belgium Great War Armistice Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Although there are passionate views about the Irish in World War One, the important thing to remember is that they were members of Irish families up and down the country.

Without them, many of us would not be here today and regardless of why they fought, their bravery and their lives deserve to be remembered.

Read: The story of my great grandfather who died in WWI: Patrick Carroll, Gunner 100938>

Read: Poignant 1914 newspaper turns Irish clocks back to WWI>






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