independent

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Journey into the past 100 years after WW1 death

Margaret Cogley and grandson Brandon were the first relatives ever to visit the Belgian grave of Wexfordman Mogue Murphy

Margaret touching the headstone at her grandfather’s grave. It was the first time that any member of the family had seen or visited his final resting place
Margaret touching the headstone at her grandfather’s grave. It was the first time that any member of the family had seen or visited his final resting place
Margaret and her grandson Brandon on the flight to Brussels
Moses (Mogue) Murphy
The grave of Wexfordman Moses Murphy in Le Bizet

A trip to a cemetery in a remote village in Belgium brought the past and present together in a wave of quiet emotion for Wexford woman Margaret Cogley and her grandson, Brandon.

It was the first time that anyone in the family had ever seen or visited the grave of Moses (Mogue) Murphy, a Wexfordman who died fighting with the Royal Irish Rifles in the First World War more than 100 years ago.

Mogue was Margaret's grandfather whose wife Catherine (nee Kenny of Blackwater) was three months pregnant with their fifth child (Margaret's father) when he joined the British Army in September 1915.

He fought in Flanders over Christmas and was killed on January 27, 1916 in a small rural village in Belgium called Le Bizet, on the border with France.

'No-one in the family knew where he was buried, except that it was somewhere in Europe', said Brandon, a history teacher in the Presentation secondary school, who decided to search for his great-great-grandfather's grave and began trawling through War Commission archives.

'I found a diary of his Captain or Commander - there had been a lull in fighting for a few days and the Germans started bombing again because it was the Kaiser's birthday.

'They had to leave the trenches and go fighting into Le Bizet and he and two other Irishmen were killed that day', said Brandon.

Mogue was in his early thirties when he died while the two other Irish casualties were still teenagers, aged just 18 and 19 years.

'He never got to meet his fifth child, Aidan (also known as Mogue) who was my father', said Margaret of 54 Liam Mellows Park. Aidan's siblings were Johnny, Bridie, Margaret and Dan and the family lived in Duke's Lane (beside Cafolla's Takeaway)

Margaret recalls hearing about her grandfather as a child. The story of his death was always there in the family background.

'My grandmother had letters with bloodstains on them, letters that she had sent to him, which were sent back to her, along with a photo and a hankie. She always had them', she said.

'She lived with us. We called her mother and we called our mother mammy. She always spoke about him', said Margaret.

Three years after her husband's death, Catherine received compensation of £4.24. She eventually remarried and lived to the age of 93.

The story of Mogue was passed down to Brandon by Margaret whose storytelling he credits with helping to encourage his love of history.

When it came to finding his great-great-grandfather, he said all he knew was that he had fought in the First World War and may have been killed in France.

He searched War Office and War Graves Commission records online for months but came to a dead end because he was confining his search to France.

'When I widened the search I came across two Moses Murphy's who had died in Belgium and one of whom was the husband of Catherine Murphy of Duke's Lane and was buried in a war cemetery in Le Bizet where there are 300 soldiers interred. His name and address are listed in the book that is in the cemetery,' said Brandon.

He told his grandmother and the rest of the family that he had found him. 'My nanny had always said that she would love to see the grave because no-one in the family had ever seen it', he said.

Margaret's children decided to chip in and present her with a gift of plane tickets to Belgium.

'Who's coming with me', she asked as everyone watched her opening the card. 'I am', Brandon piped up.

Margaret and her grandson flew to Brussels, staying in Lille in France before taking a train and a bus to Le Bizet.

'It was in the middle of nowhere, there was a cafe, a tobacco shop and a sweet shop', said Margaret.

'We went out to the cemetery on a bus. There is a shuttle bus that goes out there three times a day. All you could see was field after field with the odd house. There is a farmyard in front of the graveyard'.

'There is a monument with a sword at the entrance to the graveyard. I thought it was a cross. I can't explain it but I walked straight over to the grave. I always knew he was buried under a tree but I don't know how I knew that'.

Brandon said he had found a map of the graveyard online and knew that Mogue was buried in 'Row A, Grave 10' in Tancrez Farm Cemetery.

'When we were at the grave, it was so calm but when we walked away, I couldn't keep my hood on it was so windy', said Margaret.

Margaret's son is the international athlete and coach Kevin Cogley who gave his mother his All-Ireland medals to place in his great-grandfather's grave.

'He had them wrapped up with a little note in with them. We put them under the soil. There was no-one in the cemetery except me and Brandon', said Margaret.

'It was very special being there. We were kind of speechless', said Brandon. 'We left little Wexford and Irish flags on the grave. I wore my Wexford jersey'.

'My youngest sister wanted something off the grave. We brought a few stones and a little piece of wood', said Margaret,

'The graves had white headstones with a little flower growing on each plot. It was kept immaculately', she said.

'It was lovely to go there. It was what I always wanted. I always spoke about him to my children and my grandchildren. It seemed such a lonely thing that nobody had ever been to his grave.'

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