Tuesday 15 March 2016

Who was Gunner J Connell? Clare Museum seeks public assistance

A few years ago a member of the public donated a British War Medal to Clare Museum that he had found in his garden in Station Court, near Ennis Railway Station, in the about the late 1990s. The medal was missing its bar and ribbon and shows some signs of damage, as can be seen in the photographs.

Dating from the end of the First World War, this silver British War Medal was issued to all officers and men who served in the British and Imperial forces following its successful conclusion. They usually carried an inscription around its rim and the Station Court medal is no exception. It reads:

SR 5978 GNR. J Connell R.A.

This information tells us that the medal was awarded to Gunner J Connell of the Royal Artillery. The ‘SR’ indicates he was a Special Reservist - a part time soldier - and the four digits are his service number. But who was this soldier and how did his medal come to be in a suburban garden in Ennis?

A search of the 1911 census revealed a strong lead. There was a John Connell employed by the West Clare Railway and who lived at Ballaghboy, Doora, both of which are in the vicinity of the find place. He was 36 years old and married with two children but the census information does not tell us if he was a Special Reservist in the military.

Prior to the discovery of a John Connell in the census, extensive research had been conducted on Gunner Connell amongst the lists of First World War fatalities from County Clare. He does not appear in either these lists, or amongst the lists of known survivors of the war that local historians have compiled for the county.

This raises the possibility that Gunner Connell was not a Clare man at all. As the medal was found in a garden in a housing estate, could it have arrived in top soil taken to the site from some other location during the construction of the houses? With this scenario it is possible that the medal came from the neighbouring county such as Limerick or Tipperary or perhaps even further afield.

So Clare Museum is reaching out to any readers who might specialise in researching Irish soldiers of the First World War and asking for your help.

If you know who Gunner J Connell was, if you can link John Connell from the 1911 census with the medal or if you can provide any information on how we could extend our research, please contact the museum at claremuseum@clarecoco.ie.

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