Thomas Donlan (Senior)

Name: Thomas Donlan1
2nd/4th Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
Service Number
: 3179

Thomas Donlan enlisted with the army shortly after the outbreak of war. Although his period of service was very brief, it does mean he falls within the category of St Mary’s parishioners who served and survived.

I have referred to him as Thomas Donlan (Senior) in the title. This is to differentiate him from his son, also called Thomas Donlan, who served and died during the war, and whose name is inscribed on the church War Memorial.

Thomas Donlan came from Glenamaddy, County Galway. Glenamaddy Townland, in which the town of Glenamaddy is located, lies in the north-east of the county, close to the border with the counties of Mayo and Roscommon. Other forms of the town’s name include Glenamaddy, Glanamadue and Glanamada.

Laying in the parish of Boyounagh, Glenamaddy evolved from a village into a small town as the 19th century progressed. In 1820 a new ‘slated’ church was built, and the OS maps show by 1840 it had a police barracks. The workhouse opened in 1853. Street markets were well established in the town before the first fair in 1888. The good road network within the parish, and to neighbouring towns, and the arrival of the railway stations at nearby Ballymoe and Tuam in the 1860s, all helped facilitate transportation, communication and travel, growing the town

According to censuses and prison records, Thomas Donlan was born between April 1860 to March 1863. His death record puts his birth year to 1866. This information, combined with his parish register marriage entry where his father is named as Michael, ties him down to a 27 May 1860 baptism in Boyounagh parish to parents Michael and Margaret Donlan (née Dolan). Married in 1848 their other children included Patrick (1850), John (1852), Michael (1855), Catherine (1861) and Margaret (1866).

Betty Longbottom / St Austin’s Catholic Church – Wentworth Terrace / CC BY-SA 2.0

Thomas married on 4 July 1883 at St Austin’s Catholic Church, in Wakefield. Built in 1828, this is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Leeds diocese. His wife Catherine McDermott, daughter of John McDermott, also came from Glenamaddy. At the time of their marriage the couple were living at Altofts.2

Thomas’ work as a coal hewer resulted in the family living in a number of West Riding coalfield associated towns. The couple’s first three children (Margaret, known as Maggie, born in 1884; Mary born in 1886; and Catherine, known as Kate, born in 1888) had birthplaces in the districts of Wombwell, Normanton and Barnsley respectively.

By July 1890, with the birth of twins Ellen and John, the family were in Batley. These children, along with their final child, Martin (born in 1904) were baptised at St Mary’s, Batley. Also born in Batley,3 but baptised elsewhere, were six other children – Honora (sometimes known as Annie) born in 1892; Thomas (born in 1894); Winifred (born in 1897); Bridget (born 1899); and twins Michael Martin and Patrick (born in 1901).

Of the twelve Donlan children, nine were still living in 1911: One of each set of twins died in infancy (Ellen in June 1893 and Patrick in March 1903); Mary died at the age of 20 in September 1906. 

The frequent local moves by the Donlan family is illustrated by addresses given in just a selection of records:

  • April 1891 – New Street, Batley;
  • June 1893 – The Crofts, Staincliffe;
  • March 1901 – Thornton Street, Staincliffe;
  • August 1901 – Common Road, Staincliffe;
  • March 1903 – Spa Street, Batley;
  • April and September 1904 – Hume Street, Batley;
  • September 1906 – Harrison’s Yard, Dark Lane; and
  • April 1911, November 1914 and November 1915 – Hume Street, Batley.

Thomas had frequent brushes with the law. By August 1901 he had accumulated seven convictions. These included two serious assaults on policemen, both resulting in lengthy prison sentences.

The first of these assaults occurred on 24 June 1893, within weeks of the death of his young daughter Ellen. A matrimonial dispute broke out between Kate and Thomas at their home at The Crofts, Staincliffe, Thomas being described as “maddened by drink.4 Kate brought in police-constable Baldwin. Thomas was undeterred. In the policeman’s presence he once again assaulted his wife. As police-constable Baldwin tried to handcuff Thomas, the dispute degenerated into a brutal assault on the policeman, with Thomas violently resisting arrest. As he and the policeman rolled on the ground, Kate also set upon P.C. Baldwin “in a most brutal fashion, kicking him on the face and striking him on the head whilst he was on the ground” in order to assist her husband’s escape.5 Thomas appeared in Batley Borough Court on 26 June 1893, charged with being drunk and riotous, and assaulting a police constable while in the execution of his duty. He pleaded guilty. The assault landed him a two-month incarceration with hard labour in Wakefield gaol. Kate’s involvement meant she too got off with a more lenient sentence. She was fined 10s. and costs, or 14 days in prison if she failed to pay.

With some similarities, the second assault on a policeman occurred on 24 August 1901. At 11pm that Saturday night Police-constable Vayro spotted a drunken Thomas creating a disturbance on Common Road. This included trying to get into the Commercial Inn, and demanding a poker to split the landlord’s head open after his entry was barred. After being spoken to by the policeman, Thomas returned home where another domestic dispute ensued, with Thomas described as behaving like a madman. It was claimed the children were so frightened of him during the row that they escaped out of the window. A quarter-of-an-hour later Thomas emerged from the house too, and promptly turned on the policeman saying “I’ll have a go with you now.6 A twenty-minute struggle ensued, corroborated by witness Arthur Cockin, a gardener from Bunkers Lane. Police constable Hubbard, on White Lee Road, was urgently summoned to assist his colleague. It took both Vayro and Hubbard to restrain Thomas and take him into custody. Thomas was duly charged on 26 August with being drunk and riotous, assault, and damage to the policeman’s clothing. It earned him a huge aggregate fine of 35s and costs, as well as a further seven-week detention in Wakefield prison.

And yet again Kate, along this time with daughter Maggie, were charged – this time with using obscene language. In her defence Kate pleaded:

What can we do with a man who drinks. He (her husband) has gone down for seven weeks, and if it had not been for him we should not have got here. We have only the Bench and God for us. We are very poor.7

Once more a lenient stance was taken, with a fine for Kate and Maggie of 2s. 6d. and costs apiece, with time given to pay.

Thomas did have a previous military connection, serving with Liverpool Milita. When Britain entered the war, two of his sons – John and Thomas – were serving with the local Territorials, the 1st/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). They went into immediate training.

Thomas was not long behind his sons. On 6 November 1914 he attested in Batley, joining the 2nd/4th KOYLI, a second line unit formed on 30 September 1914. The newly enlisted Private Donlan agreed to serve outside the UK in the event of a National emergency, making his mark on the relevant forms.

Although the 5’ 6” miner was considered fit for the Territorial Force, it quickly became apparent this was far from the case. After a mere eight days, on 13 November 1914 he was discharged as not likely to become an efficient soldier. Even after this brief period with the KOYLI his character was described as indifferent. Perhaps his discharge was not unsurprising. Despite claiming to be 39 years on his attestation form, this is totally at odds with his census and prison record ages. He was probably nearer to 54.

Thomas returned to his Hume Street home. During the course of the war he lost both his son Thomas and son-in-law Lawrence Judge (husband of daughter Maggie). His other son John survived the war.

Thomas and Catherine subsequently moved to 2 Woodwell Street, Batley. It proved to be his final address. Thomas also changed occupation in his later years, leaving mining to become a labourer. The 1920s marked a period of downturn in the local pits. But his age was against him too. Labouring was his job at the time of his death in February 1927. On a cold and breezy 21 February he was laid to rest in Batley cemetery, in the same plot as his children Ellen, Patrick and Mary.

Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

1. Donlan is a surname with a multiplicity of spellings, including Donlin, Danelan and even Donald. I have stuck to the conventional spelling of Donlan throughout this piece for consistency;
2. St Austin’s Wakefield marriage register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference RC24/2/3;
3. One record source, Soldiers Died in the Great War, indicates son Thomas had a Heckmondwike birthplace;
4. Batley News, 30 June 1893;
5. Ibid;
6. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 30 August 1901;
7. Ibid.

Other Sources:
• 1891-1911 England & Wales Censuses;
Baptism records;
Boyounagh Parish records – marriages and baptisms, National Library of Ireland;
Batley Cemetery Records;
Glenamaddy Boyounagh Heritage Project website,;
GRO Indexes – Births, Marriages and Deaths;
• Newspapers as named, but also various other editions of the Batley News and Batley Reporter and Guardian from 1893, 1901, 1903 and 1906;
• Wakefield Prison Records,
West Yorkshire Archives, Nominal Register Number 34; Year Range: 1893 Jan – Jul; Reference Number: C118/144 and Nominal Register Number 49; Year Range: 1898 May – Aug; Reference Number: C118/159;
• WO363 Service Records – Thomas Donlan.