According to an item in a paper last week “There was a particularly strong response to recruitment in the Kesh and Pettigo areas in World War 1.” The reality is as far removed from this quote as could possibly be. Farm prices rose enormously at this time and the farming community reacted by keeping their sons and labourers at home to make the best of this financial bonanza. William Copeland Trimble of the Impartial Reporter was particularly scathing about this as regards the Kesh/Pettigo area as can be seen from the following. There were brave men and women who did volunteer and died in the 1914-18 War including relations of mine but the reality was that a great number were content to view it from a safe distance.
Impartial Reporter 12th November 1914. VOLUNTEERING. Kesh 9th November 1914. Sir, – Allow me through the medium of your much circulated paper to make a few comments on the above subject. The first, I would like someone to inform me whether a man who has a place to look after and no one but himself to work at, would be doing his duty to his King and country by going away and leaving it waste. If so, where is the rent and taxes to come from? Would the Government keep his farm for him, and not ask any rent or taxes for three years, or until the war is over? I know plenty of young men in this district who would be willing to go to fight for the King and country, but they would be leaving their places much the same as Belgium is at the present time – waste. A company of Fermanagh Infantry were in Kesh on Saturday, and they are a fine body of men. I don’t think there were many recruits from it, but Kesh has a good many men at the front, and some at Finner. There are not many more could very well go, and because men don’t rise up and leave all and follow them they are branded as disloyal, and cowards, but this is not so. I heard some of the ladies proposing to do postman’s duty, if they would go, but you know they are always good with the tongue. I would like to see them going over the country on a snowy morning. Thanking you for your little space, – I am, yours very truly Tom from Kesh.
***There are numbers of men in the district from Kesh and Ederney to Pettigo; dozens of them who are physically fit who ought to be in the army, and who are at home. In fact this district, and that of Coole are said to be the two worst districts in the country for loyal men of deeds. This statement may be incorrect; but we do know as a matter of fact that Magheraboy and Glenawley of County Fermanagh are in the front rank; and the two we have mentioned are a long way behind. – Ed. Impartial Reporter.
Impartial Reporter 19th November 1914. THE RESULTS OF THE MARCH. ALMOST 100 RECRUITS. Sergeant J. B. Stewart, who by official orders accompanied the men on the march as recruiting sergeant, was energetic at all times. And he had the assistance of many men in the Company, who took delight in coaxing men to enlist. Sergeant Stewart did his work well. Recruits were taken as follows – Kesh, 2 recruits; Irvinestown, 17; Ballinamallard, 3; Enniskillen, 26; Lisbellaw, 5; Tempo, 10; Maguiresbridge, 4; Lisnaskea, 11; Newtownbutler, 8; Crom, 1; Pettigo, 5; making a total of 92. This now brings Captain Falls’ Company to over full strength and the overflow will form the nucleus of a new company.
Impartial Reporter 19th November 1914. PETTICOATS WANTED. Dear Sir, – will you allow me to answer your question: what are the Kesh men doing? One man named Corporal Brown of the Royal Artillery (a number of years of the service), from Tubrid, volunteered and went to Finner, leaving a wife and six small children, the eldest seven. He saved his crop, hay and corn before he went, but left a valuable field of potatoes to be dug. I may mention here, Brown for the last two years spent two nights in the week drilling 50 men. Well a gentleman named ex-Sergeant Brimstone says we can’t let Brown’s crop be lost. I will set an example. They started with eight men; two of them volunteers dug one day. They waited a fortnight; not a man of the 50 men at Tubrid turned up. Sergeant Brimstone started again with seven men, some of them Roman Catholics and dug another day. The Sergeant says some of the men Brown drilled will dig them out; there they lie now, and £10 of potatoes are about to be lost on the poor woman, so that is what the men between Kesh and Pettigo are doing. I think if someone could start of fund and supplied each of these 50 men at Tubrid with a hobble skirt, I will supplied each of them with a white feather for their Volunteer hat.
B. Cunningham (Excerpts above from forthcoming book “Sleepwalking into War – Fermanagh and surrounding counties in 1914.”)
John Cunningham, Erne Heritage Tours.