Thomas McGarry

Thomas McGarry, Fireman in the Mercantile Marine Reserve, was born in Liverpool in 1878, eldest child of Patrick McGarry, a shoemaker, and Sarah Ann.

He was 24 years old and a soldier when he married Bridget (‘Delia’) Moran on January 23rd 1904, in Limerick. Thomas was lost at sea when the Laurentic sank, leaving Bridget widowed with five children one of whom served during the second world war and survived being torpedoed by a German submarine (losing only a toe). His only brother Joseph also lost his life in World War 1; he died 19th May 1915 in Flanders.

Around five decades later, Tom Murphy was digging in the garden of his home in Limerick’s Clancy Strand when he found a bronze memorial plaque bearing Thomas McGarry’s name. Memorial plaques (also known as a Dead Man’s Penny or a Widow’s Penny) were issued to the next-of-kin of all service personnel who were killed in World War One.

The plaque lay in a drawer in the family home of Killian Downing, Tom Murphy’s grandson, for decades. In 2013 Downing began to research its provenance and links to McGarry’s next of kin. He shared his findings on Europeana.eu, the EU digital platform for cultural heritage. When Thomas McGarry’s grandchildren discovered the story on Europeana, they contacted Downing, who, to their delight, generously returned the plaque to them just a few days before the centenary of the ship’s sinking. Thomas McGarry’s body was never recovered after the sinking, so the return of this plaque to his descendants was particularly meaningful for them. For McGarry’s grandchildren it is their only physical connection with a man they never knew and for whom there is no grave. When Thomas died his wife was residing at 8, King’s Island, Limerick City, near to where the memorial plaque was discovered.

Thomas McGarry was awarded the Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.

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Sources: Europeana.eu; limerickleader.ie; Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll Record, British Commonwealth War Graves Registers, General Register Office UK, nationalarchives.ie, irishgenealogy.ie

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