Michael O’Leary, V.C
Michael O’Leary, V.C
Michael O’leary was born at the Gearagh, between Macroom and Inchigeela in 1890.
Having spent some time in the Canadian Mountain Police he joined the Irish Guards at the start of the Great Way in 1914.
It was at Cuinchy, on February 1st 1915 that Lance-Corporal O’Leary, orderly to Lieutenant Innes, won his V.C.
On the evening of Friday February 19th 1915 the London Evening newspapers carried the following headlines:
“How Michael O’Leary won the V.C”. –
“How Michael O’Leary V.C., Kills Eight Germans and Takes Two Barricades” – “The Wonderful Story of Michael O’Leary.”
The Victoria Cross, a plain bronze cross with the simple motto
“For Valour” was, and is, one of the most coveted military decorations in the world.
The Coldstream Guards had lost a trench to the Germans and couldn’t recapture it. The Irish Guards were ordered to take it. The No.4 Company were driven back, their leader and another Lieutenant being shot. No.1 Company, which was O’Leary’s formed the next storming party.
Before advancing they knelt in silent prayer for a minute with their chaplin Fr. Gwynn. The area in front of them was very flat and the only cover available was occasional stacks of bricks, or a railway embankment. O’Leary, who was off duty and need not have involved himself at all, slipped away towards a railway cutting. He raced along the cutting and reascended on top of the embankment, where he found himself in direct line with the first German barricade – with five shots he killed the five German defenders.
He then emerged at a second barricade where a German machine-gunner was about to shoot at O’Leary’s comrades who were advancing towards the barricade. O’Leary shot him and two other Germans. Five others surrendered. O’Leary was promoted full sergeant on the field by his company commander.
He was received enthusiastically in London and drove through the street in his war-stained uniform with T.P.O’Connor to speak in Hyde Park on July 10th 1915.
He received the V.C. and was promoted to Lieutenant. He then became a recruiting sergeant, especially in recruiting Irishmen.
While many might consider he was fighting with the wrong army,in the wrong war, he was nevertheless a very brave,resourceful and capable soldier who deserved the honours bestowed upon him.
George Bernard Shaw based his play “O’Flaherty V.C.”, on O’Leary