My name is Amelia Laughlin and I am 17 years old. I am entering my final year in Glenties Comprehensive. This piece is about my wonderful experience of the My Adopted Soldier project overall and how it has touched me in many ways.
I have been eager to do this project since I first heard about it in 3rd year which was nearly three years ago now. After submitting my second entry this year I got picked for the project but I had no idea how eye opening and unforgettable it would it really be. I was delighted when Mr Moore my history teacher and the co-ordinater of this event told me I had been chosen to represent Ulster.
Researching my soldier
My soldier was a man named James McGee, who lived only a short 20 minute drive from me. As I learned more and more about James I felt attached to him. I was quite lucky to get in contact with Carmel Boyle a great niece of my soldier and she shared so much information and pictures which painted a real image of the life James lived and really helped me to put the piece of his story together. I also got in contact with a local historian, Jimmy Duffy who had previously researched James and 8 other Mullaghduff men who had fought in the Great War. His website www.donegalheritage.ie was also really helpful. Most of my other information came from ancestry.com, findmypast.com and the National Census of Ireland.
Belgium - 2018
During our time in Belgium, I got the chance to not only experience some life changing events but I made three amazing and intelligent friends. Word can't explain the feelings I felt throughout this project start to finish.
This was the day we traveled from Dublin to Brussels. We were all so excited and eager to get going. Mr Moore done a great job zooming us about in the mini van, but only because of my great co-piloting skills! We checked into the Leuven Institute that evening and went for a meal and done a little bit of exploring around the square but we were ready for bed that evening.
We traveled to Ypres on the second day while making some stops along the way. The first stop was Mesen, where we visited the Irish Peace Park. I think this might have been one of my favourite places as it felt like a piece of home in Belgium. The round tower was made from stones from an Irish work house which I thought was an extremely lovely idea. Beside the tower engraved on one of the stones was the words of a famous poem by Patrick MacGill, the poet from my hometown, on one of the stones beside the tower. I will never forget the emotions and pride I felt seeing the name of a man who is so honored in my home place.
We took a trip to Aoife O'Gorman's soldier grave which was located in the huge Lijssenthoek cemetery. Here, she laid a piece of soil from Ireland.
The next visit was the German trenches at Bayernald. This was truly eye opening as I began to realise the conditions the soldiers were in all year around, whether it was the freezing cold winters or the scorching summers!
We then went to the pool of peace, although this was very sad to think about all the men who died there it was such a beautiful and peaceful place, definitely one of my favorite stops along our journey.
When we arrived in Ypres, we went for dinner and then made our way to the beautiful Menin Gate where me and the other students had the pleasure of laying a wreath for all the Irish soldiers. This meant so much to me as I wore my Donegal Jersey with pride for all the men who honored us. After this ceremony, I was approached by one man who had told me when we laid our wreath the lady beside him was in tears as she was so touched by our presentation.
After the beautiful ceremony we took a trip to Caitlin's soldiers grave where she laid an amazing homemade plaque!
On my second last day we got a chance to explore Ypres. We visited the Flanders Museum. This was so fun as we got to watch the WW1 commemoration parade from the high tower!
We also got to make a trip to Aoife Graorke's soldiers grave where she laid a little stone from home.
Next, I visited James’ grave and laid a St. Brigid’s Cross which was blessed from home. This was the highlight of my trip as it became so real, I felt so overwhelmed and emotional. When you learn so much about someone you become so invested and involved in their life, it was such a great feeling to finally see James' grave.
We then traveled by train back to leauven where we stayed for out last night.
We spent this day getting a last few hours around Leuven before traveling home from Brussels, we got ice cream and done a little bit of shopping.
I'd like to say thank you to everyone who helped me with my research especially Carmel Boyle, James's great niece who took the time to send me all the information she had! It was a pleasure and an honour to learn about him. I'd also like to give a big thanks to Jimmy Duffy for all his help with my work, he helped to fill in a lot of gaps which i couldn't have figured myself. Also a thank you to Helen and Eimear who came on the trip, we had a great few days with you both! Thanks to Aidan Rafferty who done lots of work with the website behind the scenes and everyone else I haven't met but helped with funding and organising!
Lastly, I have to mention the impact Mr Moore and his work with this project has had on me. Gerry Moore has been my history teacher since first year and he is the reason my heart was so devoted to not only this programme but history in general. His encouragement and enthusiasm inspired me to work even harder on my project. I have never met someone so passionate about his work and the My Adopted Soldier programme. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, teacher and organiser. As I now approach my leaving cert year, I am confident knowing that my knowledge on WW1 has grown immensely! This project was so beneficial to me as my leaving cert history project is focused on a nurse from WW1 and I am so grateful for the opportunity. From this experience, I take with me better social skills, research skills, a better insight on WW1, new friends for life and awareness of the effect WW1 has had on everyone around me. I will forever recommend the My Adopted Soldier programme to everyone I know as it has been the most overwhelming and eye opening adventure I have ever been on.