Looking much younger than her eighty-eight years would suggest, Frenchpark’s Mary Lynch has never forgotten a black day in her native Wexford, which occurred when she was just sixteen years old.
Now a resident of the Oakwood nursing home in Roscommon, a young Mary O’Neill witnessed a Nazi German Heinkel bomber on it’s way to carryout an air raid of the Shelbourne Co-Operative in Campile, County Wexford. In all four bombs were dropped.
The raid would claim three lives, in the first fatal Luftwaffe bombing on Ireland during the Second World War. It claimed the lives of 34 year-old Mary Ellen Kent, manageress of the staff canteen, and her sister, Kitty, aged 25, who had been delayed to serve a late customer and Kathleen Hurley, aged 25, of Garryduff.
“It was in 1940 (August 26th), and I was home alone while my mother was in town. I heard the plane and I went out and climbed up on a ditch. It was flying so low it looked as if it would hit the chimney pot before it turned and went out over Slieve Coillte where the battle of ’98 was fought.
“Then I heard an explosion and I saw a man coming up the road on a bicycle. I told him the plane was after crashing but he just laughed at me. What I had heard were bombs being dropped on the co-op, and they had been supplying Britain with butter and other products.”
Up to 85 people had been working in the creamery when the bombing occurred but almost all had left the dining area a short time before.
“That evening I heard that Campile had been bombed, and that two sisters and a cousin had been killed. I saw no smoke (that day); just the sound of what I thought was a plane crashing.
“I thought it was awful that they would bring terror to my parish and the people that died came from there. It was about one o’clock when I spotted the plane, and flying so low I could read what was written on its side.
“I didn’t know what it was at first but you would see planes flying high, going over and back but nothing like this one.
“My brothers and sisters were in school. I had left at the age of fourteen and at that time there was no going to secondary school, you just went to work.
“A number of farmers who had lived nearby confirmed the news. Those that died were buried in the same graveyard as my father.
“He had fought in the First World War but had died two years earlier in 1938, after he had been suffering from shell shock.
He had a pension but when he died it was stopped. We were told that if he had married my mother before the war then the pension would have continued.
“There were eight of us but at fourteen years of age, you don’t ask many questions. I went to work on a farm and continued to work hard all of my life. I worked in Enniscorthy and with Hattons for many years. My wage was two (shillings) and nine pence.”
Mary later immigrated to England and would meet and marry Roscommon native John Lynch and they would raise their five children. Amongst the many jobs she held down was in a hospital, later an ammunitions factory, a launderette, and various other professions.
“We came back from England because my husband had always wanted to return to Frenchpark in County Roscommon. I had been living and working in Crew.
My oldest son Jack became a Garda and served for a time in Kinlough, and then spent many years in Athlone. He has since retired.”
Mary’s husband John passed away in 1974 some time after he suffered a heart attack. He had worked on a farm and in a quarry when he returned home.
There have been many theories concerning the bombing of Campile. One suggestion was that Natzi soldiers, following the evacuation of Dunkirk, uncovered butter boxes with the Shelbourne Co-op emblem, and the Germans may have thought the creamery was supplying the allied armies with their products. The truth is, it was supplying the British market and not the armed forces.
Over seventy years have passed since that fateful day in 1940 but the memory of the Heinkel bomber on its mission that would claim three lives of the women working in the kitchen, lives on in the memory of Mary Lynch.
Issue dated: 15 June 2012
© Roscommon People