On May 21, 1922, an English ship – HMS Stillwater – arrived in Dublin Harbor with the remains of 62 Irish men killed in action during World War I. Their families had requested that their loved ones’ remains be brought to their home soil for burial. The political unrest in Ireland in the 1920s led to opinion being against Irishmen who had fought with British forces. The men whose remains were on Stillwater had actually fought with the U.S. military – but no distinction was made. So for more than 90 years, these men lay in unmarked graves.
That started to change about three years ago when the board of directors of the Mayo Peace Park & Garden of Remembrance (MPP) in Castlebar, County Mayo, asked a member of the board – Ron Howko, commander of Commodore John Barry American Legion Post IR-03 in Claremorris, County Mayo – if the post could help with a family’s request to honor their loved one, who had served with the U.S. Army. This request began a series of graveside services for the veterans. Today, out of the 62 men, Post IR-03 has conducted 12 services, as well as one for a fallen World War II soldier who spent 33 years in an unmarked grave.
The latest service was held on Oct. 27 in Johnstown, County Kilkenny, for Pvt. Michael K. Holmes. Holmes left Ireland for the United States in 1914 and was drafted in 1916. On Oct. 27, 1918, he was hit by a shell while standing next to a truck, and was never found. He received a posthumous Purple Heart. A frequent co-conductor, John F. Kennedy Post IR-63 in Dublin, also participated in the service.