The people of Lorrha face an anxious wait to see if the Victoria Cross awarded to one of its sons will be returned to the village on loan.
The medal is currently on loan from the Australian Government and is being temporarily housed in the National Museum of Ireland (Collins Barracks) in Dublin. The medal was on loan for a year but, because of Covid, that time has been extended.
The community of Lorrha has been campaigning for its visit to their village ever since it arrived in Ireland but they haven’t yet got a firm commitment from the Australian Embassy.
Martin O’Meara's medal could return to Australia some time next year and the Lorrha community is worried this will happen without it visiting their village.
They would like to see it return to the village next April.
They were heartened, therefore, when the Australian Ambassador, Gary Gray, agreed to visit last Friday and he was shown around the village by locals.
The morning began in the Scéal Community Shop where tea and coffee were served, a few words were said and a drawing by local artist Ute Duggan was presented to the Ambassador. The community also presented a gift to embassy official James O’Donoghue who accompanied the Ambassador.
Pat Cahalan, chair of the Scéal shop, welcomed both men to the village and said the community was very glad to see them as they were keen for Martin O’Meara’s VC to visit the village before it returns to Australia.
“Martin O’Meara arrived in Port Augusta in South Australia in the second half of 1912 where he got a job constructing the new Transcontinental Railway Line. Port Augusta is about 50 miles from Whyalla, where I grew up and where my mum still lives. The Transcontinental Railway Line was a massive project at the time, running from Sydney to Perth, and Martin was employed as a sleeper cutter. Martin also spent some time in Fremantle, where my wife is from,” said Mr Gray.
The Ambassador said Martin O’Meara had a reputation for being a proud and decent human being, a reputation which stayed with him whether he was a civilian or a member of the Australian infantry.
The ambassador said his grandfather fought at the Battle of the Somme.
“My granddad was there on the first day of the Somme when 20,000 men lost their lives. Against all the odds Martin O’Meara managed to survive. His superior officer said he was ‘the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen’. In the most terrible circumstances imaginable he went above and beyond the call of duty,” he said.
He praised his predecessors Ruth Adler and Richard Andrew who served as Australian ambassadors in Ireland, who visited Lorrha and were very aware of Martin O'Meara’s story.
Local artist Ute Duggan presented a drawing to the Ambassador, depicting Martin O’Meara rescuing wounded men in No Man's Land.
Local historian Ger O'Meara said he published a book a few years ago called Lorrha people in the Great War.
“Lorrha had a reputation as being a republican place,” said Ger, “but when I did a bit of research it in fact transpired that many people from the parish had lost their lives in the Great War,” he said.
During a tour of the village, Mr Gray chatted to Lil O’Meara in The Friar’s Tavern and to Pat Hough and Chrissie Dooley in Hough’s pub.
The ambassador laid a wreath at Martin O’Meara's memorial in the village.
“Martin O'Meara is not a great human being because of his soldiering skill and prowess but because he was so decent in his dealings with people. He is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth, where many great Australians are buried. Whilst we of course acknowledge his Irishness we also take great pride in the fact he was an Australian as well,” he said.
Bill O’Hara, Martin O’Meara’s grand-nephew, read out the Citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to his grand-uncle: “During four days of very heavy fighting he repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from No Man’s Land under intense artillery and machine gun fire.”
Ger O’Meara read For the Fallen in Irish, whilst Michael Hoctor read the English version.
“Today,” said Ger O’Meara, “we remember the heroism and the very challenging life of our fellow parishioner Martin O’Meara VC whose parents and family’s resting place is only a few hundred yards away.”
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