Lisburn Catholics and the Great War Project featured in the Decades of Centenaries Toolkit

Lisburn Catholics and the Great War Project featured in the Decades of Centenaries Toolkit

Lisburn Catholics and the Great War Project featured in the Decades of Centenaries ToolkitThe Lisburn Catholics and the Great War project features in the Community Relation Council’s (CRC) 2017 Updated Decade of Anniversaries Toolkit. .  The guide is an update of the Decade of Anniversaries Toolkit first published in 2014. Since then, the practice around acknowledging Decade of Centenaries anniversaries has developed strongly. The update of best practice has been developed  for community and voluntary organisations, arts and heritage groups, and cultural and history bodies considering their own commemorative projects or events, to learn and to be inspired.

The Curious Case of Private James Sterling

Pat Geary has uncovered the curious case of Private James Sterling, who is commemorated on the 1916 Lisburn Roll of Honour (Lisburn Standard) and the Lisburn War Memorial, but whose death has seemed slipped through the official records of the war, including the Commonwealth War Graves.

Sterling, Rifleman James

Born in Lisburn , probably in 1888 or 1889 by 1901 he was living with his widowed mother Agnes and three siblings, Margaret (23), Annie (21) and Patrick (14) at 67 Gregg Street in the town. Roman Catholic by faith, James the youngest member of the household, was the only one not working and he would be the first to leave.

While by 1911 the other members of the family were still in Gregg Street, now at number 91, James had enlisted in the Army and was serving with 1 Royal Irish Rifles somewhere in Burma or the Andaman Islands. In the absence of his service record it is impossible to say when he joined up or whether or not he ever returned home but that, it would seem, is extremely unlikely.

At the outbreak of war in August 1914 the Rifles were in Aden where they would remain until the end of September. Stationed at the Infantry barracks at Steamer Point they busied themselves strengthening the harbour defences. Detatchments were also despatched to the island of Perim to act as guards and escorts for the German “prize ships” that had been captured there.

Relieved by the Lancashire Fusiliers on the 27 September 1914 the battalion left Aden the following day on the ‘Dilwara’. However, when they arrived at Liverpool three and a half weeks later , James Sterling was not with them. He had died on the 5 October 1914 in Lady Strangford Hospital, Port Said. The circumstances of his death are unknown as is his final resting place; it is as if he had disappeared. Not only is there no record of him in “Soldiers’ Died in the Great War” or “Ireland’s Memorial Record”, but it appears that the Commonwealth War Commission have no record of him either. The only public recognition of his service is on Lisburn War Memorial and on the Roll of Honour for Lisburn Roman Catholic Church published in the Standard just before Christmas 1916.

As for his family there would be another tragedy to endure. Patrick Sterling, James’s elder brother had also enlisted and served with 1RIR. In April 1915 he was wounded by a German rifle grenade and, as a result, had his left leg amputated. Subsequently discharged, he would survive the war but only just, dying at home on the 30 November 1918. Having lost her youngest son right at the start of the war, Agnes Sterling lost her eldest right at the end.

Private Patrick McPhillips * New Update*

As outlined in the introduction,  although the project is largely confined to men who

regularly attended service [at St Patrick’s]; family members of parishioners;  men who briefly attended St Patrick’s when visiting the town, for example visitors working in the linen industry, and; individuals whose justification for inclusion is not obvious (i.e. they appeared on the Roll of Honour but the research team can not establish why).

There are those, as the last point highlights, whose inclusion in the database in not obvious.  An example of this is the case of Private Patrick McPhillips, 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.

Pat Geary has recently forwarded some research on Private McPhillips who was born into a Louth family, who by 1911 were living in Camlough, Co. Armagh.  While the family were living and work in Armagh town Patrick joined the 6th RIR (April 1915), training in Cork.  The same year, as Pat notes, the family moved to Bridge Street Hilden, staying until September 1916.  Patrick was killed KIA in August 1916 and his death was reported in the Lisburn Standard.  He does not appear on the Hilden War Memorial, nor the Standard’s Roll of Honour, although there is justification for adding him to the database on the basis that:

  1. The Lisburn Standard, a contemporary voice in the town, recognised Patrick’s death as worthy of record
  2. The McPhillip’s family potentially lived in the town for 4 years (post 1911 to 1916); the data are inclusive.


Project Update: March 2016

Rising Voices Lisburn at Easter 1916 Exhibition


The initial phase of the project – the collection of names, and gathering of information – is largely complete.  Thanks to the effort of the project’s volunteers, we have identified over 320+ men from St Patrick’s Parish, Lisburn, that fought in the Great War.   It is unlikely that we will ever have a full picture of the Lisburn volunteers, the lack or records make this almost impossible.  We have, however, filled out the biographies of many of these men, and we now have a rich array of ephemera in the museum: photographs, booklets, medals, pennants, trench art and, perhaps most importantly, stories.

While the initial fact-finding stage of the project has slowed down, we will continue to explore the topic. and collect material relating to these volunteers.  On March 24th 2016 the museum will open its new exhibition ‘Rising Voices: Lisburn at Easter 1916’ featuring much of the material gathered through the project.  The display also explores the history of Lisburn’s battalion of the Irish National Volunteers, whose story emerged from work carried out during the project.

Thanks, again, is due to Pat Geary, Gavin Bamford, Pearse Lawlor and Ted Rooney for their hard work and patience.





New Addition: Kingsmore

Courtesy of Pat Geary, Private Patrick Kingsmore and Private Joseph Kingsmore (Alias: James McPhillips) have been added to the database.

New website: LC&TGW Research Project

Lisburn Catholics Research projectWelcome to our new website.  Whether you’re just visiting, or you’re researching your family background, please browse the database.  Get in touch if you can help our, either by supplying additional data, or correcting existing entries.