The village of Lorrha and Collie, Australia, were united last Saturday as both paid tribute to local World War I hero Martin O’Meara.
In appalling rain reminiscent of that suffered by those in the trenches, Cllr Wayne Sanford, president of the Shire of Collie in Western Australia, laid a wreath at Lorrha’s memorial plaque to Mr O’Meara, pausing, along with his wife, Mary, to bow their heads in tribute to one of Australia’s greatest war heroes.
Cllr Sanford was accorded a civic welcome by Tipperary County Council to mark his visit, with the ceremony starting with a colour party from the Ormond ONE marching through the village to the memorial site.
Martin O’Meara left Lorrha for Australia in 1913, ending up in Collie where he worked as a railway sleeper cutter. He joined the Australian Imperial Forces in 1915 and eventually ended up as a stretcher bearer at the front at Pozieres in 1916 during the battle of the Somme.
Over a three-day period, he braved merciless German artillery fire to rescue at least 25 wounded men. He also brought ammunition and supplies to troops who had been cut off during the battle.
Cllr Sanford told the Tipperary Star that his message to the people of Lorrha was that Martin, who rose to the rank of sergeant, was a a brave man who was respected and honoured by the people in his adopted town of Collie.
“People in this community should know and understand that Martin O’Meara is honoured and his memory will always be upheld by the people of Collie,” he said.
Earlier, chair of Lorrha Development Association Rose Mannion said Cllr Sanford’s presence showed how impressed the people of Australia were with Martin O’Meara.
“Until two years ago, very few in this parish knew of Martin and how he spent his life. However, attitudes changed and that led to the erection of the memorial plaque,” she said.
Local author and historian Seamus King outlined the life of Martin O’Meara, who had 11 siblings, of which only seven lived.
Mr King said that Martin survived what was a “suicide mission”, and believed his faith had brought him through. He always carried a Rosary given to him by his mother and said that it had saved his life.
Martin returned to Lorrha in 1917 to a different world, and was already showing signs of insanity that would see him die in Clermont mental hospital in 1935, having spent 16 years there as a patient.
“His heroics were forgotten. The unveiling of the plaque was the first step in undoing that. Today’s events are a further step in recognising the extraordinary narrative of Martin O’Meara,” he said.