Prince Charles Unveils Memorial To Thurles Soldier

Resting place of Corporal Patrick Cunningham, younger brother of Thurles born Corporal John Cunningham, latter honoured by His Royal Highness, Charles (Prince of Wales) and his wife Camilla (Duchess of Cornwall) in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin today.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

“The road is long, with many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where, who knows where,
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him,
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”.

(Lyrics – Bobby Scott and Bob Russell.)

His Royal Highness, Charles (Prince of Wales), unknowingly, just got a little bit closer to his ancestral home of Thurles, today (May 12th, 2017), when he unveiled and paused before a memorial paving stone, dedicated to Corporal John Cunningham, while at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla (Duchess of Cornwall), were taking part in a ceremony to unveil remembrance stones to World War I Irish-born Victoria Cross recipients (1917) – namely Company Sergeant Major Robert Hill Hanna (Kilkeel, Co. Down & Canada); Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey (Wanderers & Ireland Rugby player, Athboy, Co Meath & Canada); Private Michael James O’Rourke (Kildimo, Co. Limerick & Canada) and the aforementioned Corporal John Cunningham (Thurles, Co. Tipperary).

Corporal John Cunningham VC.

Son of Joseph Cunningham and Johanna Smith, natives of Stradavoher, Thurles, Co. Tipperary; Corporal Cunningham was born on October 22nd, 1890 in Thurles and died on April 16th, 1917, at the age of 26 years, while a member of the 2nd Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment fighting in Barlin, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, in France.

An Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, [VC. (without Bar)]; latter the highest and most prestigious award given to British and Commonwealth forces, for gallantry in the face of the enemy; Corporal Cunningham today is buried in Barlin cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, (Plot 1, Row A, Grave 39).

Perhaps the outstanding bravery carried out by Corporal John Cunningham on that fateful day in April 1917, may have been partially influenced by the loss of his brother Corporal Patrick Cunningham, also a member of the Leinster Regiment, who tragically lost his life some twenty two months earlier, on June 4th 1915, at the tender age of just 20 years.  Corporal Patrick Cunningham, is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, St Mary’s Lane, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. (See picture above, left.)

Corporal John Cunningham’s citation published in,’The London Gazette’, dated June 8th 1917, relates to a deed performed on April 12th 1917 at Bois-en-Hache, near Barlin, and reads as follows:-

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in command of a Lewis Gun section on the most exposed flank of the attack. His section came under heavy enfilade fire and suffered severely. Although wounded he succeeded almost alone in reaching his objective with his gun, which he got into action in spite of much opposition. When counter-attacked by a party of twenty of the enemy he exhausted his ammunition against them, then, standing in full view, he commenced throwing bombs. He was wounded again, and fell, but picked himself up and continued to fight single-handed with the enemy until his bombs were exhausted. He then made his way back to our lines with a fractured arm and other wounds. There is little doubt that the superb courage of this N.C.O. cleared up a most critical situation on the left flank of the attack. Corporal Cunningham died in hospital (later) from the effects of his wounds.”

The medals belonging to Corporal John Cunningham, we understand remain on loan to the Imperial War Museum in London, however his name and that of his brother are recorded on the WW1 Memorial Wall, (Separate from Patrick’s grave site), situated in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Thurles, Co. Tipperary

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

[Extract from poem “For the Fallen”, by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943).]


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