University of Limerick’s fascinating collection maps 350 years of one family's history and personal accounts.
The Armstrong family lived at Moyaliffe Castle, County Tipperary during World War I. In 2014, their emotional personal experience was opened to the public online in the project “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary: An Irish Story of the Great War.”
Hosted by the University of Limerick, the online diary follows the lives of the Armstrong family through the Great War, illustrating the impact of the war from a social, physical and emotional point of view. The weekly installments show the conflict at an individual level and the irrevocable personal, cultural and societal changes wrought by the war.
Between 1914 and 1918, the Armstrongs lived at the castle in County Tipperary, and their diaries, correspondence, photographs, and memorabilia were donated to the Glucksman Library, at the University of Limerick, in 1999.
The diaries and correspondence have been transcribed and every week new extracts chronicling their experience are published. The collection includes 50,000 items, including 13,000 photographs and encompasses 350 years of family history from the Armstrongs, and the related families of Maude of Lenaghan Park, County Fermanagh, and Kemmis of Ballinacor, County Wicklow.
The curators and historians have created an online diary of a family's life that makes fascinating reading. Here’s just a short sample of a recent installment in the lives of the Armstrongs:
“WEEK 44: THE RESPIRATORS ARE SPLENDID BUT I HOPE NEVER TO HAVE TO USE THEM
“Monday 26 April to Sunday 2 May 1915
“The Second Battle of Ypres continued with terrible violence. The town of Poperinge, an important railway centre and a gateway for the British Army to the Ypres Salient, was shelled on 26 April with Austrian Howitzers. One of the shells hit the garden of General de Lisle’s staff night quarters blowing out every window in the vicinity and creating a hole 20 foot deep. After a restless night amidst terrific explosions, the headquarters were evacuated and new billets were arranged in the nearby town of Wormhoudt. As the Second Battle of Ypres intensified, General Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British Second Army, recommended a strategic withdrawal to Sir John French. French, who disliked Smith-Dorrien, disagreed and used the opportunity to replace the commander with General Plumer, who also recommended withdrawal. At home, the mystery surrounding Roger Wakefield’s death was finally beginning to unravel, only to be replaced by another alarming rumour in a letter from Gordon Elton.
“Monday 26 April
“Muz’s birthday. Tom gave Muz a silver salver, & Ione & I gave her salt cellars, Muz stayed in bed for breakfast, & then came down. Tom & I went all round, leaving notes about my fund. I think we left four dozen. After lunch I wrote more. Mrs Thurburn & Mrs Collins sent me 1/- each. Ione stayed in bed all day. Muz heard from Mrs Wakefield to say that they have heard again, that Roger is dead, so they have given up hope. Wrote more post cards after dinner, & we went to bed at about 10-30. Muz went out with Heppie for a little while before tea.”
The collection is made up of diverse material, from admin papers and estate records, to private correspondence and personal items, such as Jess’s diary and even a baby’s slipper. A set of early eighteenth-century sermons serves as a reminder of the many distinguished clergymen which the family produced.
Of unique significance are the letters and diaries of Captain William Maurice (‘Pat’) Armstrong written during the First World War, which provide a first-hand account of events as they unfolded in the various theaters of war.
All original material in the Armstrong Archive can be viewed, by appointment, in the Special Collections and Archives Department of the Glucksman Library, University of Limerick.
The title “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” was fittingly chosen as it was adopted as a marching tune, by the Connaught Rangers, many of whom were stationed at the Tipperary Barracks before the war.
Here’s an original recording of the song from 1914, sung by John McCormack:
* Originally published in 2015.