“AT a hallowed place such as this there is only one appropriate thing to say, one correct command to give; Soldier! At Ease!” With these words, spoken with the clear authority of an Officer with a lifetime of high command, Retired Brigadier General James P. Cullen ended a stirring oration over the grave of Private 1st Class William Tally Mallon in Galbally graveyard last Saturday evening.
Ninety years ago to the very day, on the third Saturday in May 1922, a large concourse of mourners had gathered at this very place to lay to rest the mortal remains of a young man who had been born in Germantown, Philadelphia and had then moved at the age of six to live in New York City. There, in early April 1917, just before his 17th birthday, William Mallon joined the New York 69th Regiment.
In a moving and stirring address Jim gave a fascinating resume of the role that this famous Regiment has played in American military history and how that in turn helped the large Irish immigrant community assimilate into wider American society.
Recalling also the almost mutual dual membership of the 69th and The Fenian Brotherhood, he highlighted the idealism that bonded them tightly together. Central to that idealism was an absolute determination that the next attempt to drive Britain out of Ireland would be led by men with a high degree of military training.
That same idealism was central to the 69th’s commitment to serve their adopted country in WW1. For them “it was as right to fight for Belgium’s freedom as it would be to fight for Ireland’s freedom.”
Sadly he recalled that the devastating carnage that ensued throughout the Battlefields of France and beyond had annihilated the ranks of the Irish New Yorkers, and had laid waste to their desire to return to their native land to fight for its freedom.
Earlier, a large congregation had gathered for a special commemorative Mass for the fallen soldier at which his relatives from both sides of the Atlantic played a central role.
The specially chosen music and hymns was both entirely fitting and uplifting with the uillean pipes particularly haunting. Ninety-six year old Margaret (Maggie) Donnelly, who remembers her father and brothers leaving her (McGaughey’s) home in the nearby townland of Shanmaghery to go to “the wee boy’s funeral,” was there to mark the occasion. Old photos that Maggie retrieved from a trunk, and lovingly kept, are absolutely central to the research in this remarkable story.
Afterwards, the Acting Deputy Consul General, Penny Wilkinson, had unveiled a new memorial stone to Private 1st Class Mallon at the recently renovated grave which was then blessed by Fr. Gerard McAleer.
Then in keeping with the 69th tradition, Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Rouge Bouquet” was recited at the graveside by Mr Nan McCartan, who’s father was a first cousin of the young man being honoured. Attending along with her colleague Mr. Ron Waller in an official capacity, Ms. Wilkinson outlined her own family’s wide military connections.
On behalf of the United States Government, she thanked the people of Galbally “for the care and attention they had taken of the grave and for the respect afforded to the memory of Private 1st Class Mallon”. Local girl Caron Brannigan then brought proceedings to a close with outstanding renditions of The Star Spangled Banner and Amhrán na bhFiann. Before leaving, the official guests visited the graves of Fr. John Rafferty, Dan Kerr and Thomas Donoughue who had all served with distinction in the United States Army in Korea.
This brought an end to a remarkable evening; an evening that has forever entwined the local history of Galbally and the tumultuous worldwide events of the early part of the twentieth century.
Sometime later after refreshments, as the last of those gathered left for home, they could not help but notice that a great calm, quiet and stillness had descended over the adjoining graveyard. Private 1st Class William Tally Mallon was, perhaps, finally resting in peace forever in the sandy soil of his ancestors after a truly remarkable Long Journey Home.