John Cleary, a Bray man in the Great War


From 2014 to 2018 all across the world countries and communities will come together to commemorate and remember those who fought and died in the First World War. Mermaid Arts Centre is delighted to host an exhibition by Bray native Seán Downes entitled “Remembered – a Bray man in the Great War”.

Seán’s maternal grandfather died when his mother was still very young. It was around this time too that his Mam remembers her own mother bringing her to the memorial at the Carlisle Grounds in Bray, and pointing to John Cleary's name there. He was her Dad's uncle, and he had disappeared during the Great War. Nothing else was known.

A few years ago she saw his name again, amongst those of other men from the Bray area, at a memorial event at Christ Church on Church Road. Her own research had already discovered that his wife's name was Elizabeth, and that they had lived together for a while at Bowden Cottage on the Strand, near Bray Head.

Seán’s mother still remembers Bowden Cottage, and her grandmother Agnes well. Agnes Cleary was two years younger than her big brother John, who had gone away to war, and never come back. She never forgot him.

In recent years resources have become available which can help to shed some light onto what happened to John and to men like him during those years. Many records, which for decades had been classified or were simply difficult to access, have been digitised and made available online. Unfortunately this still does not mean that everyone can access them easily, and not everyone is familiar with how to go about doing so. This exhibition draws on these resources, and its intention is to share them with anyone who has an interest in them.

John Cleary, like so many others, has no known grave, and no photograph of him exists that can be found. But he was never forgotten. This is the story of private 21526 Cleary, John of 'D' Company, 9th Dublins, but it is also the story of his comrades. By citing extracts from their surviving letters, Seán’s intention is to let them speak for themselves about what they witnessed. Some of the men who wrote these words now lie in graves that bear their names, close to the little villages in France that they had briefly come to know. Others, like John, do not.

And some of them, despite it all, somehow managed to survive and make it back home, to a very changed country. Their names are not listed on the Bray Memorial, but this is their story too.

They all deserve to be remembered, and their stories should be told.

The exhibition is part of YARN Storytelling Festival Bray and will also be supported by Bray Cualann Historical Society. It opens on Thursday 10 November at 6pm and runs until Saturday 26 November. Admission is free.