Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New York.

The older gravestone for Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh
The older gravestone for Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh

Patrick McDonagh (Padhraig MacConnachadh[1]) was born on 16 March 1895 in Claddagh, a fishing village on the western outskirts of Galway in Ireland. He was the fourth of the nine children of Thomas and Kate McDonagh, who lived at Rope Walk in the centre of the village.[2] His father was a stone mason but Patrick became a fisherman, like the majority of men in the village.

Claddagh in the early 20thC
Claddagh in the early 20thC

He enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve on 20 June 1913 and was allocated the number 5050A. Between August and November he underwent training at Portsmouth and in the gunnery training ships HMS Duncan and HMS Albemarle, and in the Home Fleet in the battleship HMS Bulwark. In the period before the war he returned to Galway, initially fishing as a crewman on the trawler Star of the Sea, before joining the liner SS Merion for a crossing to Philadelphia, and then the White Star liner SS Suevic for a journey to Australia between March and July 1914.

On the outbreak of war Seaman McDonagh was mobilised and ordered to report to HMS Excellent, on Whale Island at Portsmouth, for gunnery training. On 20 September 1914, now rated ‘Able’, he joined HMS Calgarian. Calgarian was an armed merchant cruiser, originally a trans-Atlantic liner of the Allen Line, which had been requisitioned for service with the Royal Navy when war began. She took part in blockade operations at Lisbon and New York and acted as a troop transport between Halifax, Nova Scotia and Liverpool.[3]

HMS Calgarian
HMS Calgarian

Able Seaman McDonagh left HMS Calgarian with 52 other ratings on 31 October 1916 and the next day rejoined HMS Excellent for training as a gunner on defensively armed merchant ships. He joined the crew of the cargo ship SS Oristano on 6 December.[4]

SS Oristano after the war as the Ryokai Maru
SS Oristano after the war as the Ryokai Maru

The Oristano arrived in New York from Cardiff on 19 March 1917. Able Seaman McDonagh drowned in an accident at 11.40pm on the night of 20 March; the exact circumstances are unknown. His body was recovered the next day. He was buried in the Seaman’s Church Institute plot at The Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn in Grave 3 on 23 March. A new CWGC gravestone was recently erected a few feet from the original CWGC gravestone—one of them is obviously in the wrong place—and both show his rank as ‘Seaman’. There are 12 other CWGC burials in this cemetery.[5]

The two gravestones of Able Seaman McDonagh
The two gravestones of Able Seaman McDonagh

His medals group comprises the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and the Victory Medal.

Acknowledgement:
William P. Gonzalez for the photograph of Able Seaman McDonagh’s grave.


1. (Back) ‘McDonagh’ is an Anglicised Irish surname most commonly spelled ‘Mac Donnchadha’ in Gaelic. The family compiled the census of 1911 in Irish and used the form ‘Mac Connachadh’. It is the only use of this name in the entire Irish census. The form ‘Mac Donnachadh’ is used by another family in Galway.
2. (Back) Thomas McDonagh (Tomás MacConnachadh) (c1860-NK) and Kate (Cáit) (née unknown) (c1862-NK): Mary (Máire ) (c1892-NK); Mark (Marcus) (c1894-NK); Ellen (Neille) (c1897-NK); Michael (Micheal) (c1899-NK); Thomas (Tomás) (c1900-NK); Bridget (Brighid) (c1903-NK); Martin (Máirtin) (c1904-NK); Una (Una) (c1908-NK).
3. (Back) HMS Calgarian was sunk by U-19 on 1 March 1918 off Rathlin Island with the loss of two officers and 47 crew.
4. (Back) SS Oristano was sold after the war to a Japanese company and renamed Ryokai Maru. She was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Plunger on 22 August 1943.
5. (Back) See also: Serjeant George Birkenhead, Trimmer John Walter Bowles, Able Seaman Thomas Drinkwater, Private William Richard Eveleigh, Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves, Trimmer Percy Hyett, Stoker 1st Class Henry John Gardner Miller, Leading Seaman Sydney Stephen Milliner, Fireman Low On, Scullion William B. Parr, Stoker 1st Class Alfred Weeden, and Leading Seaman Sam Gordon Wills.

5 thoughts on “Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh

  1. This is great stuff. I just have a question about his birth date. On the 1911 Census it says he was 14 on April 1, 1911, which would mean he was only 16 when he enlisted in the Navy. Do you think he lied about his age? Just curious, it’s not a huge issue.

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    1. Hi John, thanks for the question. Firstly I am always wary about taking a census record as an absolute. For example, in this case the 1901 census shows his age as ‘5’ and shows his brother Thomas as being ‘1’, yet in 1911 Thomas is only ‘9’. Nonetheless, the regulations for enlistment into the Royal Naval Reserve were such that a prospective Seaman had to be 18 and with two years’ sea service under his belt. It is very possible that he knocked a year or so off his birth year but there is no way of proving it without a birth or baptismal record. He wasn’t a big lad (5’4½”) so I’d suspect that if he was underage it wasn’t by much. Maybe a fact finding mission to Galway and Connemara is required!

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  2. I’m impressed that you found them in the 1901 census. I couldn’t.

    Yes, ages on consecutive census forms are often in conflict. You’re right to be a skeptical about them.

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    1. Never mind that above about the 1901 census. i found it now.

      I would love to know who filled in the 1911 census. It wasn’t the father seeing as he’s made his mark on both the 1901 and 1911 forms.

      I’ve looked at quite a few Irish census forms and I’ve never seen one written in Irish before.

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      1. Yes, it is interesting. It’s not just the language, it’s the style of script – this person was a student of the language. I’ve looked at thousands of Irish census forms and I have never seen one in Irish but I’ve not looked at many from the west/south-west coast. Your comment prompted me to look at the returns for Rope Walk and it appears that the majority were written in Irish by, as far as I can see, one or two hands. Those who could sign did so in obviously different script, many others made their mark. It may have been a local priest or, possibly, someone who was politically active in the area who sought to complete as many as possible in Irish to make a point. Galway was, of course, one of the counties in which Irish was spoken routinely (with Clare, Cork, Donegal, Kerry, Mayo & Waterford).

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