Recruited brothers, James and Robert Davis.

James Davis joined the Army in 1885. Searches of the military archives throws up no record of him. It is likely that he enlisted in the Royal Artillery in Derry, as did his younger brother the following year.

Robert Davis attestation form.

James appears to have been discharged a few years later after he developed tumours on his knee. He died at the young age of 26, in the winter of 1894 in the new farmhouse at Boggaun, having suffered from bone cancer for a number of years. My Grandfather, Richard was only three or four years of age when the brothers enlisted and had little recollection of them. James is buried in Manorhamilton Parish Church.

Robert signed up to the Royal Artillery in Derry a year after his brother. Elward Burnside recorded my grandfather, Richard’s recollections of Robert as “on police force, twice married, died County Sligo”. A little research shows that although he died relatively young at 47, his life was considerably more tortuous than these few brief words suggest; in fact, his colourful life may in have led to the rather abridged recollection of him.

When the brothers enlisted the rural economy was shrinking with a general collapse in farm prices, and their large family would have been under some considerable stress. Looking through police recruitment records for their Uncle, Thomas Davis, who joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police thirty years earlier, it is interesting to see the number of men from surrounding townlands who were recruited at the same time, neighbours among them.  It is likely that there was a similar pattern when the brothers signed up.

As part of their training, the brothers would have gone on long route marches, their presence an attempt to control the ‘lawless countryside’ eager for land reform.  Evictions in Ireland remained high throughout the 1880s, running as some three and half thousand per year, until land reform legislation was enacted towards the end of the decade. These evictions saw the army and police back up the landlords and their bailiffs in what the Nationalists saw as an ‘unholy trinity’.

Eviction at the house of land activist ‘Dr’ Tully 1916.

For whatever reason Robert did not remain in the army for his twelve-year enlistment and after three years moved to the police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). His RIC’s service records show that he was posted to Longford in 1889, Belfast 1890, Cavan 1901 and Armagh 1905, from where he retired as ‘medically unfit’ with TB in 1911 at the age of 42. These probably indicate administrative regions as the constable was stationed in Castleblaney barracks in December 1900 when he married Mary Draffin.

Mary, a Presbyterian, was born in the Castleblaney workhouse where her father, Samuel was the Master.  On the night of the 1901 census Mary records herself as being ‘head of the family’, and a ‘married farmer’ living at Corfad near Ballybay; her husband was probably stationed in Castleblaney barracks that night. At that time, she had a large, thatched cottage with many outhouses suggesting a sizable farm. Mary died suddenly of a heart attack in 1904. It appears that the farm was not left to Robert.

Robert remarried in 1906 in Lurgan. His second bride was Anna Maria McTernan from County Sligo, suggesting he kept up regular contact to the north west of the country. Anna Maria was Roman Catholic. They were married in the Church of Ireland parish church in Lurgan. When he was discharged from the police, they retired to Easkey in County Sligo where he farmed on his wife’s family lands until his early death from TB in 1915. There were no children.

Robert is buried in Manorhamilton Parish church.  Anna Maria died in 1922 and she willed her estate for the repair of her local Roman Catholic churches and for ‘masses to be celebrated for the repose of the souls of the said deceased, her husband, parents, brothers and sisters’.  She is buried in County Sligo.



 Counter Recruiting in Parnell’s Ireland 1880-1892, Alan Drumm, UCC. An informative study on army and police recruitment during the period of James and Robert’s enlistment.

Brothers James (1867-1894) and Robert Davis (1868-1915) were born at the original cottage at Boggaun, County Leitrim.

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