WW1 and the GAA - John Fox
When John Fox, the last surviving member of Clare’s 1914 All Ireland winning team passed away in June 1967, it would be another 28 years before another living Clare man could boast possession of an All-Ireland hurling medal when Ger Loughnane and his team of young bachelors brought home the Liam McCarthy Cup in 1995. Fox was only 22years old when he lined out at right half-back on the Clare team that defeated Laois by 5-1 to 1-0 in the 1914 All-Ireland final.
The life of John Fox would take a dramatic turn when a year later, he was one of 80 young men from Newmarket-on-Fergus who joined the British Army. He is the only Clare man to have won an All-Ireland senior hurling medal and to have fought in World War I.
When John Fox joined the Munster Fusiliers Regiment of the Irish Guards in 1915, The Clare Journal of July 19, 1915 noted his enlisting as follows: “John Fox, the well-known and popular Gael from Newmarket-on-Fergus, who was on the All-Ireland winning team last year, volunteered for The Irish Guards this weekend and got a great send off on Tuesday evening”. Fox’s enlistment was perceived as a minor propaganda boost by British recruitment officers. He certainly met the criteria laid down by Lieutenant General Sir Lawrence Parsons when he said he wanted “to see the clean, fine, strong, temperate, hurley-playing country fellows, such as we used to get in the Munsters, Royal Irish, Connaught Rangers.”
While John survived the war, he didn’t go unscathed. During the Battle of the Somme, he received a serious head injury and returned to hospital in Dublin to recuperate. A piece of shrapnel, lodged in his head, was never removed and, according to his grandson, also John, was still lodged in his head at the time of his death.
While John Fox rarely discussed the war after his return to County Clare, his descendants have shared an anecdote concerning Martin Faulkner, an itinerant Clare man and how he came to his fellow county man’s aid following his injury. Faulkner, who survived the war and lived out his life travelling the highways and byways of his native county is said to have carried the injured Fox from the Somme battlefield to a field hospital. On their way there, they were arrested by the Germans, who let them go when they heard they were Irish!
These men all went for different reasons – economic, reasons to do with John Redmond and Home Rule, reasons to do with the protection of small nations. Above all, John Fox and these men went for pure and legitimate personal reasons. Another reason may have been his connection with John Redmond’s brother Willie, Irish Parliamentary Party MP for East Clare. Willie Redmond had been involved in training the Clare hurlers and he led the team out onto Croke Park on All Ireland final day in 1914. Redmond spearheaded the call for members of the Irish Volunteers to enlist, hoping this would strengthen the case for later implementing the Home Rule Act. Although in his mid-forties by the time war broke out, Willie Redmond enlisted himself and was one of the many Irish victims of the ‘war to end all wars’
For John Fox and so many others, the war must have brought its own traumas and sad experiences. A man who had hurled for his parish and for his county could not do so when he returned from the war. However, he did make some appearances in the Newmarket colours. He remained a great hurling supporter and led many teams out on County final’s days.