Name: Patrick Naifsey
Unit/Regiment: 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards
Service Number: 6534
Date of Death: 27 September 1915
Memorial: Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Patrick Naifsey is one of the County Mayo-born men on the St Mary’s War Memorial. I will use the St Mary’s War Memorial spelling of his surname for consistency. But Naifsey is one of those Irish surnames with a multiplicity of spellings. It originates from the Gaelic surname Ó Cnáimhsighe, and it is the surname of my 2x great grandmother. In her records alone I have over 20 variants. Patrick Naifsey similarly has several surname spelling versions, including two medal index cards with spellings Neafsey and Neafsy – with the later variant being used on the Loos Memorial. If you say the name out loud, and think in an age before formalised education and with accents, you can imagine how easy it is to achieve a vast number of permutations – including all the ones around Knavesay, as well as Neafsey and Naifsey. It’s all part and parcel of Irish family history research!
Patrick Naifsey1 was born on 2 February 1890 at Cloghvoley,2 one of the 73 townlands in the civil parish of Aghamore.3 It is in the east of County Mayo, around 1.5 miles south of Kilkelly. His parents were Martin and Catherine Naifsey (née Henry). They married on 3 February 1873 at Aghamore Chapel. Martin’s occupation is typical of so many others in this rural area of Ireland – a farmer. As was his father, Michael. Catherine’s father, James, was also a farmer according to the marriage registration information.
Patrick was the ninth child I have identified as being born to the couple. Their firstborn was a daughter, Mary, whose birthdate was 11 November 1873. She died in 1897 after suffering peritonitis for four days; son Michael was born on 12 April 1876; Thomas on 3 August 1877; Bridget on 22 January 1879; John on 1 February 1881; daughter Margaret, born on 20 July 1882, died on 8 March 1883 after suffering from pertussis (whooping cough) for four weeks; Ellen, born on 10 December 1883, died on 3 April 1889, age five. Her death registration makes for difficult reading. It gives her cause of death as ‘burns 3 weeks no medical attendant’. Burn injuries were not unusual. Long, trailing clothes, open fires with spitting embers, even boiling pans of water, were a mix which could and did have horrific consequences, particularly for toddlers or the elderly; son Martin was born on 9 September 1888; and then Patrick in 1890.
Two significant events took place locally during the early years of the growing Naifsey family: one spiritual; the other of a more material impact.
Knock is around seven miles south of Cloghvoley. On the evening of 21 August 1879, a heavenly apparition was witnessed on the gable wall of the parish church. It involved Our Lady, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and a Lamb, all positioned before a Cross on a plain altar surrounded by angels. The Apparition lasted for around two hours, with witnesses standing transfixed in the pouring rain, reciting the Rosary.
15 subsequently gave testimonies to the Commission of Enquiry convened in October that year. Its conclusion was that ‘the testimonies of all, taken as a whole, is trustworthy and satisfactory.’
News of the Apparition quickly spread, attracting an increasing number of pilgrims to the scene. With worldwide press coverage, visitors from overseas began to arrive as early as 1880. Reports of miracle cures also started to surface in the newspapers, attracting even more pilgrims. This was a village in the rural west of Ireland, with no direct train link. The journeys made by these pilgrims would have been far from easy. Particles of Knock cement were sent to those unable to visit the village, again eliciting reports of further cures for the long-term afflicted, and those for whom conventional medicine had failed to help.
One wonders if the Knock phenomenon touched the lives of the Catholic Naifsey family, especially given the protracted periods of suffering leading up to the deaths of the three daughters, Margaret, Ellen and Mary. Did Martin and Catherine seek divine intervention for their children, beyond prayers?
The other event, or rather a lengthy dispute, surrounded the land which the Naifsey family lived on and farmed. This was part of the estate of the Right Honourable Arthur Edmund Denis Dillon-Lee, Lord Viscount Dillon of Loughglynn. In 1876 his estate included 83,749 acres in County Mayo.4 Martin Naifsey was one of his tenants.
This was the pattern in Ireland – land owned by a small number of landlords, many of them absentee. Rather than farm it themselves they rented it to tenant farmers, essentially tenants-at-will with no security of tenure. These tenant farmers were forced to pay rack-rents – in other words excessive ones. Often, especially in Mayo, the land was too small a parcel to viably farm. Many tenants and their working-age sons, including those on the estate of Lord Dillon in County Mayo, were forced to work on seasonal harvests in England in order to earn money to pay the rents. As a result, they lived under the constant threat of arbitrary evictions, especially in periods of famine, when the rents became simply impossible to pay. And famine was never far away.
When it struck yet again in 1879, Michael Davitt – the son of a previously evicted County Mayo farmer – founded the Land League of Mayo in Castlebar in 1879. Later that year it developed into the Irish National Land League. Seeking land reform to help tenant farmers buy the land they worked on, its aims were fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale of a tenant’s interest in a property – the so-called ‘three Fs’. There was also a nationalist political element to the movement.
A dispute known as the land wars followed, with community calls for rent reductions, coupled with active eviction resistance. Revenge was taken on landowners and their agents who refused these rent reduction requests, or continued to pursue evictions. This revenge took many forms – from withholding rents, arson and maiming stock to physical attack and the phenomenon of boycotts. The word itself has County Mayo origins, derived from the communal shunning of County Mayo land agent Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott.
The British response was a mixture of conciliation and coercion. The 1881 Land Act in theory granted the ‘three Fs’, but it was not without major issues: amongst them that the definition of a fair rent was left to Land Court judges – although it is true that rents did reduce; and initially those in rent arrears could not use the fair rent clause.
But showing the iron-fist side of the response, the British government took action against the Land League and its members, with the organisation outlawed. The situation was far from resolved. However, that particular incarnation of the cause had arguably run its day. It was succeeded in 1882 by the Irish National League which had a more overt political dimension, campaigning for Home Rule for the Irish.
And if the British government thought the banning of the Land League, combined with the ‘conciliatry’ 1881 Land Act, would put a stop to protests they were wrong.
Bad weather in the mid-1880s resulted in further crop failure and rent difficulties. This led to the Plan of Campaign phase between 1886 and 1891, aimed to seek rent reductions in the face of these poor harvests and subsequent depression. If the landlord refused to accept a lower rent, the tenants en masse would withhold rents in their entirety, and instead pay these over to the National League who would use the money to assist those evicted. Lord Dillon’s tenants in Aghamore were involved in the Plan of Campaign. As reported in the United Ireland on 27 November 1886:
Not less than 25 per Cent
Mr. Jackson, under agent to Lord Dillon, attended in Ballyhaunis, on Tuesday, for the receipt of rents. About 700 tenants from the parishes of Aghamore, Knock, Beckan and Annagh, headed by the Rev. Canon J. Waldron P[arish] P[riest], Annagh, and Rev. J. Keaveny, C[atholic] C[urate] Beckan, proceeded to the rent-office. A deputation consisting of the two rev. gentlemen and six of the tenants presented a petition, signed by 506 tenants, asking a reduction of 25 per cent. on the year’s rent now due. Mr. Jackson, replied by saying the petition would be forwarded to Lord Dillon. The tenants then left, expressing their determination not to pay unless the reduction was granted.
The dispute was prolonged but, following the Land Law Act of 1887, it seemed things were drawing to a conclusion on Lord Dillon’s estate, with newspapers, including The Weekly Freeman of 3 December, reporting a settlement.
THE RENT QUESTION.
END OF THE DISPUTE ON LORD DILLON’S MAYO ESTATES.
A REDUCTION OF 30 PER CENT ON JUDICIAL RENTS
A convention of delegates from all branches of the National League on Lord Dillon’s Mayo estates was held to-day at Aghamore, near Ballyhaunis. The Rev Father M’Alpine presided, and amongst those present were Mr. Crilly, MP, and Mr. Conway, M.P. The chairman announced that Lord Dillon had consented to give all the tenants a reduction of 30 per cent on judicial rents. The offer was unanimously accepted and amid great enthusiasm. This decision puts an end to a long-standing and acrimonious dispute.
(PRESS ASSOCIATION TELEGRAM)
The tenants not entitled also participated in the concession. The decision was received with great enthusiasm, and the proceedings closed with addresses by the members of Parliament.
But even this did not mark the end of the disputes between Lord Dillon and those on his land. Tenants who, for example, withheld or fell behind in rents for whatever reason were still evicted, or were reduced to caretaker status. This move often marked a prelude to eviction. Martin Naifsey5 was amongst several in Cloughvoley who features in the Ballyhaunis Petty Sessions books of 12 January and 9 February 1891 charged as follows:
Defendant having been put into possession as a caretaker of all that, and those, part of the lands of Cloughooly [sic] in said Petty-Sessions district, and County, the property of the Complainant under the Land Law Ireland Act 1887, did on demand made by the owner thereof or his known Agent or Receiver refuse or omit to quit and deliver up possession of said premises.
He, alongside the other defendants, failed to appear.
But by the 1901 census the situation had changed. Martin Naifsey was the landholder, not only for his own farm, but also of the house and land farmed by Patrick Adams. Incidentally, there had been a dispute between the two families over land in 1889.
The catalyst for this change was likely Lord Dillon’s estate in Mayo being sold to the Congested Districts Board6 in May 1899 at a cost of £290,000.7 Along with his lands in Roscommon this amounted to 93,652 acres.8 The intention was to improve and enlarge some of the holdings and then to resell all the holdings to the tenants through the Land Commission. According to The Freeman’s Journal of 13 May 1899 the County Mayo estate had between 4,000 and 4,500 tenants.
This therefore was the backdrop to Patrick’s formative years. A time of uncertainty, with his father constantly struggling to remain on the land he farmed to provide some measure of security and certainty for his family. A period of emerging nationalism. And a period of concerted pressure to achieve a fair deal for those who farmed the land, a movement with its origins in County Mayo. It was also a time when the eyes of the Catholic world were drawn towards a tiny nearby village, with the faithful holding onto to the promise of miracles engendered by the Knock’s heavenly apparition.
The 1901 census provides an indication of the type of house the Naifsey family fought so hard to occupy. Of stone, brick or concrete construction and with a roof of perishable materials (thatch or wood for example), it had between 2-4 rooms, with three windows at the front. It was amongst the better dwellings in Cloghvoley, rated a 2nd class house. In addition, it had four out-offices/farm buildings. Unfortunately the form which specifies their use is not with this suite of documents, but from the 1911 census they included a cow house, piggery and barn. This was home to Patrick, his parents, and siblings Michael, Thomas, Bridget, John and Martin. The four older Naifseys were described as either farmers sons or farmers daughter, so helping on the land. 10-year-old Patrick, and 12-year-old Martin were at school.
By 1911 the household head was eldest brother Michael. Patrick’s father had died on 5 May 1910, as result of asthma which he had suffered for three years, and a shorter six-month period of valvular disease. The other household members were their widowed mother Catherine, Michael’s wife Mary, and his youngest brothers Martin and Patrick. These two were described as farmer labourers. All the family were English and Irish speakers.
Some point after this census Patrick came to Batley. His involvement with the St Mary’s community included membership of the St Mary’s Batley Branch of the National Catholic Benefit and Thrift Society.
Patrick enlisted in Dewsbury, joining the Irish Guards. At this point the Irish Guards consisted of the 1st Battalion and the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion, with Patrick being in the latter.
It was on 17 July 1915 at Warley Barracks in Essex that the King approved the creation of an additional Irish Guards battalion. The day after the authorisation the formation of a fully fledged 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards commenced, essentially made up of personnel from the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion. In turn the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion was re-designated the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion.
Throughout the remainder of July and into early August, formation and training continued in England. The Unit War Diary notes that on 6 August a 16-mile route march took place, where full packs were carried for the first time.9
It was during this period at Warley Barracks, and with embarkation for France and the Front Line looming, Patrick wrote his will. He used the standard Army Form designed specifically for the purpose. The harsh reality that he may never return may have struck home by filling in this one basic form. His will, dated 30 July 1915, was witnessed by two fellow Irish guardsmen, former Royal Irish Constabulary policemen Charles Hempenstall and Denis Kelly. It was approved by the Medical Officer who confirmed that Patrick was of sound mind. In the event of his death, and following discharge of debts and funeral expenses, everything was to go to his mother.
On 10 August the Battalion received orders that they were to prepare to embark at Southampton on 16 August. On 13 August Field Marshall Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, Colonel of the Irish Guards, came to inspect them. After which he complimented them on their appearance, stated his pride in them, and expressed his confidence that they would be a credit to the Guards Division being formed in France to which they would belong. In return the men gave three vigorous cheers for their Colonel.
The final days in England were filled with kit inspection, church parades, and preparation for the issue of rations, ammunition etc. Then the men marched from Warley Barracks to Brentwood railway station on 16 August, accompanied by the beat of the drums. The band entrained with the men, ready to play once more on the quay at Southampton as the two tightly packed ships, SS Anglo-Canadian and SS Viper, drew out of the docks under escort of destroyers, bound for France. They docked at Le Havre at around midnight and disembarked later that morning.
Their arrival in France on 17 August 1915 coincided with the 18th birthday of one of the battalion’s Lieutenants – John Kipling. He was the only son of author Rudyard Kipling and his wife Carrie. And this connection, and the events of the Battle of Loos, was to have a profound effect on the life of Rudyard Kipling. His son was reported missing (subsequently killed) during the Battle of Loos. His death date was 27 September 1915, the same day as Patrick Naifsey. Rudyard Kipling’s search to find out what had happened to his missing son, and then to locate his burial place, inspired him to become closely involved with the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission. We know the organisation today as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
Rudyard Kipling was invited to become a Commissioner in 1917. He was responsible for suggesting the phrase ‘Their Name Liveth For Evermore’, which was accepted as the inscription for the Stone of Remembrance (also known as the War Stone) found in many British and Commonwealth military cemeteries located around the world, depending on their size. He also suggested the words ‘Known unto God’ for an inscription at the foot of a headstone marking the remains of an unidentified British or Commonwealth soldier – something of particular poignancy for the Kipling family. In fact, it was not until the 1990s, decades after Rudyard Kipling’s death, that the CWGC established that a previously unidentified Irish Guards lieutenant – whose body was found on the battlefield and buried at St Mary’s military cemetery in Loos – was Kipling’s long-missing son.
Kipling’s familial link with the Irish Guards also led him to write the official history of the Irish Guards in the Great War. It is this, and the 2nd Battalion’s Unit War Diary, that I have drawn upon for the details of the final few weeks of Patrick Naifsey’s life.
Patrick and his battalion left Le Havre by train on 18th August bound for Lumbres, from where they marched to billets at Acquin, a few miles from St Omer. Here they were billeted in disparate barns, each of which held around 40 to 50 men. And, maybe in an echo of a past life in Ireland for Patrick and other rural Irishmen in the battalion, they helped the villagers cart their corn “precisely as our own sons would have done.”10 In later years the villagers recalled “Monsieur, if you drew a line in the air and asked those children not to cross it, it was as a wall to them. They played, monsieur, like infants, without any thought of harm or unkindness; and then they would all become men again, very serious – all those children of yours.”11 They also took part in sports competitions, and attended church services.
But it was far removed from all play and domesticity. The men were preparing for the forthcoming Battle of Loos. They dug trenches which included laying out a line of trenches by night, did drill of various forms (company, skirmishing), undertook field training, practiced artillery formations and attack, and the worst shots were given extra rounds to fire to up their game. On a wet 1 September, they joined up with the wider 2nd Guards Brigade to practice coming into the line. Other scenarios rehearsed during this time included seizing a village and making good the ground gained. They were also instructed in the care of ‘smoke-helmets’. These had been issued on departure from England, but it was discovered in the intervening period that a large number of the tale eye pieces had cracked rendering them useless. During this period they also practised for the first time firing ten rounds whilst wearing their smoke helmets.
They finally left Acquin on the evening of the 22 September, marching to Dohem, and then in heavy rain they made their way to billets in Linghem. At 5.15am on the 25 September they were once more on the move, marching with the Brigade to Burbure (arriving at 9am) and from there onwards to Haquin. It was a march punctuated by frequent halts, the road also being used by Cavalry going forward usually through them, and the battle wounded being evacuated back down the line. During the halts on the march a message from the Major General wishing the men “God Speed on the eve of the World’s greatest battle” was communicated to them. 12 The Battle of Loos, towards which they were heading, had started in the early hours of that morning.
After over 20 hours on the move, they arrived at Haquin “very wet and tired” at around 1am on the 26 September.13 They were issued with breakfast at around 4.30am as a further move was expected at any time. In the event it was after noon before orders came for them to move via Noeux-les-Mines, Sally-Labourse, Noyelles and Vermelles to trenches in front of Le Rutoire. And it was nearly midnight before they got into the trenches they were to take over, an old line of captured German trenches in front of Lone Tree. As Kipling wrote in their official history:
At a moderate estimate the Battalion had now been on foot and livelily awake for forty-eight hours; the larger part of that time without any food. It remained for them merely to go into the fight at half-past two on the morning of the 27th of September…14
At this point they received instructions to push forward 500 yards to another line of captured German trenches and relieve any troops there. It was nearly broad daylight by the time this was accomplished.
As the attack progressed during that day, the 2nd Guards Brigade’s objectives were developed. A heavy bombardment was scheduled at 2pm lasting one and a half hours, after which the 2nd Irish Guards would advance through the smoke on Chalk Pit Wood, establishing themselves on the north-east and south-east faces of it, supported by the 1st Coldstreams. The 1st Scots would then advance to the right rear of the Irish Guards, and attack the battered bulk of the colliery head and workings known as Puits 14 bis.
A few casualties were incurred as a result of shellfire during the deployment of the leading companies. But at the appointed hour, and under a thick smokescreen, the Irish Guards led by 3 and 2 Companies and followed by Numbers 1 and 4:
…advanced to the attack keeping their direction and formation perfectly…The companies advanced rapidly and without hesitation and joined the further edge of the wood with small loss.15
The 1st Scots Guards, in accordance with their orders, came partly through and partly round the right flank of the 2nd Irish Guards to attack Puits 14 bis, but this is where they were halted by machine gun fire. As Kipling put it:
The Battalion had been swept from all quarters, and shelled at the same time, at the end of two hard days and sleepless nights, as a first experience of war, and they had lost seven of their officers in forty minutes….No counter-attack developed, but it was a joyless night that they spent among the uptown trees and lumps of unworkable chalk. Their show had failed with all the others along the line, and “the greatest battle in the history of the world” was frankly stuck.16
When they finally came out of the line on the 30 September the Unit War Diary noted that those few days between 27 and 30 September, in addition to the officer casualties, there were also 324 other ranks casualties. These were made up of 25 killed, 198 wounded and 101 missing. Though there is an addendum which notes:
The majority of those missing were eventually found to have been admitted to some field ambulance wounded.17
However, Kipling in his official history states this number of official dead must be well below the mark. And so it was. Looking at the CWGC records 30 officers and men from the battalion died on 27 September 1915. The CWGC records a further 51 battalion deaths on the 28 to 30 September.
Patrick was amongst those killed on 27 September. He was buried on the battlefield by Father Simon Knapp, chaplain to the 2nd Irish Guards, who was therefore able to officially confirm his death.18 Of the 30 deaths recorded that day, only two men now have known graves (one of which is John Kipling). Patrick’s grave was subsequently lost after its battlefield burial. He is therefore amongst the 28 who have no known grave and are commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
Although he only spent a short time in Batley, Patrick Naifsey was remembered here years after his death in 1915. His name is on the St Mary’s church War Memorial, as well as the War Memorial for the town of Batley itself.
He is also honoured in Ireland, both on the Mayo Great War Memorial in Mayo Peace Park, Castlebar and in Ireland’s Memorial Records of the Great War. The eight volumes of the Memorial Records contain details of more than 49,000 fatalities. The men and women commemorated either served in Irish Regiments or were born or resident in Ireland at the time of their death and were serving with units from Britain and its Empire.
Patrick was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. His mother, Catherine, was still alive at the end of the war, so the medals would have been sent to her as his next of kin. The Pension Ledgers also show his mother was given a pension of 5s a week as a result of his death. This was paid from 12 September 1916. Catherine died on 28 May 1943 in Cloughvoley, age 96.
Although Patrick Naifsey spent his life overwhelmingly in County Mayo, the County Mayo connection is also there for many others who attended St Mary’s church in this period. In fact many parishioners today, and people in Batley generally, can claim County Mayo descent. Hopefully the background details here, although specific to the Naifsey family, will therefore also provide relevant context for the ancestors of many others locally.
I will end with a few lines penned by Donegal-born poet and author Patrick MacGill, known as The Navvy Poet. He served with the London Irish Rifles as a stretcher bearer at Loos. This is from his book The Great Push: an Episode of the Great War, published in 1916.
OVER THE TOP
Was it only yesterday
Lusty comrades marched away?
Now they’re covered up with clay.
Hearty comrades these have been,
But no more will they be seen
Drinking wine at Nouex-les-Mines.19
At some point I will be obtaining the service records of Patrick Naifsey. When I do I will update this biography.
1. Birth registered as Naefsey;
2. As with many Irish records, the spelling of Cloghvoley varies. This includes Clougholly according to CWGC, Cloughwilly in SDGW and on pension records, plus Cloughvilly in Ireland’s Memorial Records of the Great War;
3. 73 according to the Irish Townlands website https://www.townlands.ie/, but 74 in Slater’s Royal National Directory of Ireland 1894;
4. Landed Estates Database http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=121;
5. Spelling of surname Knafesy;
6. The Congested Districts Board was established in 1891 with the aim of alleviating poverty in Ireland. The identified areas, as listed in the first report dated 1894 included Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway, Kerry and Cork – so the north-west, west and south-west of Ireland;
7. Hansard, HC Deb 16 June 1899 vol 72 cc1361-2;
8. Landed Estates Database http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=121;
9. Unit War Diary, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, The National Archives Reference WO95/1220/1;
10. Kipling, Rudyard. The Irish Guards in the Great War. Edited and Compiled from Their Diaries and Papers. London: Macmillan and Co., 1923;
12. Unit War Diary, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, The National Archives Reference WO95/1220/1;
14. Kipling, Rudyard. The Irish Guards in the Great War. Edited and Compiled from Their Diaries and Papers. London: Macmillan and Co., 1923;
15. Unit War Diary, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, The National Archives Reference WO95/1220/1;
16. Kipling, Rudyard. The Irish Guards in the Great War. Edited and Compiled from Their Diaries and Papers. London: Macmillan and Co., 1923;
17. Unit War Diary, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, The National Archives Reference WO95/1220/1;
18. Edward Neafcy. Visit from Moleskin Joe: The Irish in Scotland, England and on the Western Front. October 2011. http://docshare04.docshare.tips/files/20416/204167727.pdf
19. MacGill, Patrick. The Great Push: an Episode of the Great War. London: H. Jenkins, Limited, Arundel Place Haymarket, 1916.
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission website;
• Irish Civil Registration;
• Irish Census – 1901 and 1911;
• Irish Petty Sessions;
• Irish Soldiers Wills;
• Medal Index Cards and Award Rolls;
• Newspapers including The Weekly Freeman and The Freeman’s Journal;
• Pension Index Cards and Ledgers;
• Soldiers Died in the Great War;
• Soldiers’ Effects Registers.